TALKING PICTURES; IN THE BLEAK MIDWINTER
The photograph to the right (you can click on it for a larger version) was used on the front-cover of our St Mary's Christmas card this year. It was taken by Bennet Smith. Below he has written a piece which describes some of the technical challenges, the inspiration he took from a flower arrangement he saw in the past, and the deep spiritual meaning it has for him.
One of the hardest areas to create flower arrangements at St. Mary's are the window ledges with the light streaming in from behind turning colourful arrangements into monochromatic silhouettes. There are solutions - clever placement of flowers or offsetting the arrangements against the side walls - but one Christmas I was particularly struck by Elaine Hanham's solution. Elaine quite literally saw and celebrated the window's light. A contemplation of the photograph I took of her creation, printed on this year's Christmas card, has focused my mind on what the simplicity of the scene and more importantly the window itself might represent over and above what initially seems to be just a pleasant wintry scene.
The beautiful form of a simple bare stem adorned with just a few well-placed robins (dare I say pre-empting the Waitrose advert by some two years!) stands out gracefully against the cool tones of one of the simplest windows at St. Mary's. There is no fancy stained glass here, just a simple window, so easy to walk past, so easy to miss. Elaine's simple act of placing the stem in front of the window draws attention back to the window and allows us to reflect on the qualities of the glass and the true beauty of its simplicity - each plain pane created equally but turning out slightly differently with subtle tonal differences. For me this concept of simplicity is hard to find at Christmas, buried somewhere in all the hype, wrapping paper and mince pies. But it is crucial that it is something that Christians seek. A calm place where the hype does not matter but where simple things - humble things - are immensely valuable. Appreciating beauty in simplicity shows us that luxury is not important or even relevant: even if we have nothing else we still have the beauty of the natural world around us and we have the unconditional love of God.
Further, in focussing our attention on a down-to-earth window the image underlines that the church - the house of God - is built just the same as our own homes with bricks and mortar, doors and windows. It underlines that every piece of the building is just as important as the next and we must not just concentrate our attention on the elaborate bits. Indeed, one must remember that the primary function of a window is to bring light into a darkened space. The birth of Christ on Christmas morning - a simple event in a simple unadorned stable - brought light to the whole world. Christ came to earth as a simple baby and His light has shone light into dark corners ever since. The first Christmas offered us a window, allowing divine light to flow into our lives and into our homes, just as it still illuminates the church today.
Of course, the exact tones of the window at St. Mary's are influenced by the fleeting weather patterns outside and the more I contemplate the window as a representation of Christmas and Christ's arrival on earth, I begin to consider the nature of that light, its meaning for us in the current climate and the challenges and storms it will face in the future. I suppose we must now assume the role of the window, taking on the responsibility for bringing the light of Christ to others. How does the light shine through us? Do we perhaps go unnoticed too easily?