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Holding on or letting go

Last month, I wrote of how I had been drawn back to the spiritual discipline of the Rule of Benedict. I haven't managed to read the Rule every day since (not least because on one occasion I was away from home and managed to leave my book behind!) but I am keeping up with a pattern of readings. So it has been, over the past week or so, that I have been reacquainted with St Benedict's twelve steps of humility. St Benedict's first step is a simple one, not dissimilar from the opening words to the Ten Commandments set out in Exodus, chapter 20.

"I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery"

Exodus 20.2

St Benedict invites us to accept first of all the simple truth that God is God. Humility begins, we are told, with the acknowledgement of who God is, and the corresponding surrender to the will of God in our lives. By the time we get to the fourth step of humility, the outplaying of these principles becomes clear: our complete surrender to God and God's will for our lives means that we will face times of great challenge, struggle and even suffering, yet we are invited to persevere, to endure, and most importantly of all, to trust.

I have made no secret of the fact that the current season of life in which I find myself has been extremely difficult. Just at a point when my unfolding artistic ministry seemed to be opening into exciting new opportunities, just as I made my return to leading public worship, everything crashed around me and I was required to set it aside for a while. It is so easy in these times to question what God is doing, to seek to hold onto everything that I felt I had built up. Yet, this is not the way of Benedict. Trusting that God is God, that God has everything in hand, is never easy, which is no doubt why St Benedict felt the need to remind us up front. He knew that our human nature seems always to tell us that we must work harder, do more, keep on holding on. So I was reminded once again of a moment very early on my journey towards ordination - the first "image" I was given by the Divine in prayer and which became my first piece of intentionally theological art. It is the design that now adorns my ordination stole (courtesy of a very skilled friend and embroiderer).

Imagine, if you will, an action-adventure movie. Our intrepid star has run across the desert, jumped in and out of numerous moving vehicles, and is being chased by a villainous crowd, all to a frenetic orchestral soundtrack. Just at the moment when they make their final escape, the rope that was to carry them to safety instead leaves them suspended above a deep chasm, holding on by their fingertips lest they plummet to almost certain doom. The music is deafening and the rope fraying. This is my interpretation of that moment in our Christian life, when we have expended all our energy in running, in keeping going against the odds, and here we are, holding on by our fingertips, trusting in our own strength to hold on.

This art piece is called "Release". At the centre of the image is a person, left arm reaching upwards to hold on, the chasm swirling below them. The person's image is broken into pieces. The right hand has already lost its grip.  It is a reminder of that call to allow God to be God, and to let go of the rope. We are invited to trust in God's will for us. The figure may no longer be holding on, yet in the very pattern of the broken pieces is the shape of the cross, centred on the person's heart. By the power of Christ we are saved and held, no matter what is going on around us.

This past week, I have returned home on a more permanent basis and, after a time of recuperation and rest, I will be returning to my studio and to work. I still feel exhausted by all that has taken place and it is by no means "over". Yet I am excited for what lies ahead, delighted to be getting back to commissioned projects and thinking again to the shape of my priestly ministry. Perhaps I need to ponder this particular image a while longer. Allowing God to be God is not just for the times of challenge but also for the every day. Trusting that God has called me to this shape of artistic ministry means trusting the future unfolding of that ministry to God too. So whatever you face in life right now - great joys, challenges, or the everyday, perhaps be reminded of St Benedict's first step and allow God to be God in your life - let go of the rope.

Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the Lord God is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation

Isaiah 12.2


I did manage to complete one commission over the past month. It is an ordination gift so the identity of the saint in question and a photo of the finished icon are still under wraps until Petertide. My prayers are, as ever, with all those preparing for ordination and especially with those for whom the journey to ordination has been particularly challenging or stressful.

Plans are coming together well for my artist residency at St John the Baptist Church, Cirencester. If you are in the area, do pop by and say hello. I shall be at work in the church from 13 to 26 July, Monday to Saturday, 9.30am to 5pm (subject to the church being needed for additional services). As part of my residency, I shall be giving a talk "Seeing God's world differently" at 3pm on Saturday 20 July in the church. Entrance to the church and talk is free of charge and all are welcome.

There is just one place remaining for my retreat at Launde Abbey, "Praying with Icons". For more details and booking, click here

I am also really excited by a new booking to lead a "Creating art in response to Scripture" workshop in June 2025. That's just a working title and more details will follow once I've met with the planning team, but it has the potential to weave together threads of iconography, Celtic design, and Scriptural teaching.

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