Women of Holy Week

Last year I worked on a project with the fabulous Paula Gooder to illustrate her nine short stories entitled ‘Women of Holy Week’. The resulting book was hugley popular last Lent, and I suspect it will be again this year, so it’s absolutely not too late to get hold of copies and use them in your church or in your personal devotions, or as a gift for friends. It’s wonderfully readable, and includes ideas for reflection as well as historical / scriptural details drawn from Paula’s scholarly wisdom that really enrich the narrative.

Buy the book here (links to Church House Publishing)

If you would like to use the images alongside the book in worship or Lent groups etc, you can download them from my book illustrations page. There are nine individual paintings, and one large composite image, to be ‘read’ in a spiral direction starting at the top left hand corner, following the order that the stories appear in Paula’s book. Because the stories are all interwoven with each other, so are the paintings – you can enjoy them separately or together.

NB if you don’t have the means to do high quality colour printing you may find projecting the images more satisfying.

Women of Holy Week

As we prepare to enter Holy Week, I wanted to post something about the wonderful collection of stories by Paula Gooder, which explore the events of Holy Week and Easter through the eyes of nine of the women. It was my absolute joy and privilege to provide the artwork for the book.
You can buy the book directly from Church House Publishing (and from other online and high street bookshops) and you can also download the pictures (for a limited time only) so you can use them in your own personal reflections or in Church over Holy Week and beyond.

Paying attention

There are many ways to pay attention, but one of the ways that I have found myself exploring more recently is paying attention through art. The more I draw and paint, the more I find that it allows me to pay attention, and I want to reflect very briefly on four of those ways:

Attending to one thing
I am easily distracted. What I see out of the window or the corner of my eye will always take me away from what’s right in front ot me. Except when I’m painting. When I paint, I often find myself in a state of intense, yet calm, concentration. I’m able to focus on the thing in front of me, and distractions fade away, I lose my habitual impatience, and time starts to flow in a way that isn’t demanding or controlling or threatening. The texture of the paint on the pallet, and feel of the brush on the canvas, the smell of the paint, the way the brush feels in my hand, the emerging image and its shapes, colours and contours: these are my horizson, and I am rooted in the moment in a way that almost feels timeless. I know that painting doesn’t do this for everyone, and that there are many activities that have the capacity to offer something of the same experience. I hope that there is something that does this for you, especially if much of the time you struggle, as I do, to ‘monotask’, or if the circumstances of your life make this hard.

Attending to place
In Church of England ministry there is a concept called the ‘cure of souls’. It’s hard to put into ordinary words what this means, but to me it has been a shorthand for the love that I have always felt for the places and their people that have been given to me, as a priest, to love and care for. As a vicar I felt it as I walked the streets of my parish, my footsteps becoming a prayer of blessing on the physical location and all that happens there, as well as in my interactions with the people of that place. It felt as if my presence there was (or, at least should be, if I was doing it right!) a means of God’s blessing. That place, and those people, had my attention, my care. I am now chaplain of a College, and I feel the same way about that as I did about my parish. During the initial COVID 19 lockdown, I couldn’t be in College at all – almost nobody could. And some instinct led me to paint the places I could physically get to. I started by creating some line drawings of the College, to offer as colouring-in pictures on the welfare pages of the College website. Then, I painted my Chapel, and the view from my office window. It gave me back a sense of the place for which I had cure of souls, and allowed me a way to emotionally, psychologically and spiritually reconnect with that place and its community, dispersed though we all were. As I drew and painted, I found my thoughts and prayers echoing the blessing that I would usually express through my footsteps.

Attending to stories
Before COVID most of my paintings were biblical. I would use the act of painting as a form of scriptural theological reflection, finding that the process of working out how to convey a story on canvas raised many more questions than I would have thought of without that physical process. Even the question of which moment in a story to choose carries with it a whole set of things to reflect on – and there are some stories that I have painted several times, choosing different ‘moments’. And there are some ‘missing scenes’ that I have also tried to fill out – the gaps in scripture, the parts of the story that we know must have happened, and yet are left to our imagination. I’ve also really loved it when people have asked me to paint a particular story, or part of a story, or missing scene, because it gives me a chance to engage with how the story sounds to someone whose life experience and theology may be very different from mine, and who may be connecting with scripture in ways I’ve not thought of. This paintings below are: the risen Jesus meeting his mother just after he’s seen the disciples in the upper room; the woman with the bleeding, and Mary in the garden.

Attending to people
Finally, I wanted to reflect briefly on using art to attend to people – real people. With my biblical paintings I started looking at photographs of real people to enable me to learn how to paint human faces – and this immediately confronted me with how white most of the western art tradition is (and also, that trying to make everyone look ‘middle eastern’ also isn’t quite right either – when we treat people generically we are straying into the territory of stereotyping, which can lead to much worse). I looked back at the wonderful resource ‘The Christ we share’, which gathered images of Jesus from a huge range of traditions and cultures, and started trying to pay more attention to this diversity in my paintings. I stopped looking for a Jesus who looked like me or like the stereotyped image of someone from the middle east, and started trying to see Christ in all people – not just as a theological idea, but as an enacted idea, through painting.

This month I have set myself a further challenge. Having become reasonably competent at painting people who do, at least, look like people, it’s another whole level of skill to depict actual people in such a way that they are recognisable! So for Black History Month I am trying to draw or paint or sketch one mini-portrait a day to help me celebrate or learn about someone I hadn’t celebrated or learned about before. I won’t be sharing all the pictures, but I’ll try and share some of them. Here is the first: Alfred Francis Adderly, CBE, who was the first black student at St Catharine’s College, and in whose honour the College flew the flag of the Bahamas on October 1st (and will do so again of October 31st). You can read more about him here. It’s just a pencil sketch, but it’s my first attempt during this BHM to start paying more attention not only to the diversity of humanity, but to particular people from whom I could learn a lot.

All these ways of paying attention are works in progress – but they are things I’ve thought about for a while and never quite felt able to commit to in writing. Maybe something in one or more of these forms of attention-paying through art will have resonated with you. Maybe you’ve not picked up a paintbrush for a long time and this has made you want to try it again. Or maybe this whole post has made no sense at all! Comments and disagreements are always welcome, but remember to be kind, because we are all works in progress, still learning, still making mistakes.

Mothering Sunday – art

Here are some of the paintings I’ve done that might possibly be useful for Mothering Sunday, if you half shut your eyes. Help yourself if you like them.

Mary hugging Jesus after the resurrection when he comes downstairs from seeing the disciples in the upper room.
It’s a hug. It could be the holy family, or the Trinity, or just a hug.
Ruth and Naomi
This one’s called ‘the one with the crumby dog’ and features the woman with the sick child who answered back. You go, mamma bear!
This is Mary and Joseph, just after Joseph wakes up from the dream in which the angel tells him they have to leave everything and run to Egypt.
Another Holy Innocents picture – hiding from the soldiers
If you really look you can see the four women who each played a vital part in saving the baby Moses. But you might not find them because women’s roles in salvation history aren’t always celebrated.
Mary and Elizabeth, both discovering that mothering is best done in solidarity rather than alone.
From my line drawing Stations of the Cross – Mary and John are made into a new family

Easter Pictures

I’ve wanted to do this for ages, and tonight I did. I took home some of the charred wood from the Easter Fire, and used it to sketch some images of the resurrection.

Mary in the garden

Jesus and Mary in the garden on Easter morning, drawn in charcoal
Mary and Jesus in the garden, drawn in charcoal

Jesus came and stood among his disciples
and said, ‘Peace be with you’.

charcoal sketch of Jesus with arms outstretched saying 'Peace be with you'.

Jesus showing the disciples his wounds and saying 'Peace be with you' - drawn in charcoal

Jesus made himself known in the breaking of the bread

Charcoal sketch of Jesus breaking bread at Emmaus

Jesus at the supper at Emmaus - drawn in charcoal

The reconciliation of St Peter

Charcoal sketch of Jesus and Peter embracing when Peter has had his chance to say 'I love you' three times to make up for his three denials

Jesus and Peter embracing after the resurrection, drawn in charcoal