day 5

Once in the Advent season
When I was walking down
A narrow street

I met a flock of children
Who all came running up to me
Saying that they were prophets
And for a penny they
Would prophesy

I gave them each a penny

They started out
By rummaging in trash-cans
Until they found
A ragged piece of silk

It’s blue, they said
Blue is a holy color
Blue is the color that
The mountains are
When they are far away

They laid the rag
On a small fire
Of newspaper and shavings
And burned it in the street

They scraped up all the ashes
And with them decorated
Each other’s faces

Then they ran back to me
And stood
In a circle ‘round me

We stood that way
In a solemn silence
Until
One of the children spoke

It was the prophecy!

He said that long before
The pear tree blossoms
Or sparrows in the hedges
Begin to sing

A Child will be our King.

‘Prophets’
Anne Porter

Is blue a holy colour as Anne Porter suggests?  It certainly figures dominantly in many paintings of the Madonna and Child.  It is after all, one of three primary colours, from which all other hues can be made.  In that sense it might be called an incarnational colour.  But any easy assumption that the sky is blue risks blinkering myself by my own expectations, and expectations are a major handicap on any spiritual pilgrimage.  As I set my heart’s intention of being a ‘joy pilgrim’ for this Advent, I need to be intent on being curious about every facet of every blue that may appear during these days, to see where joy might be revealed.  The English historian A.L.Rowse described such an encounter with blue:

The peculiar purity of the blue sky seen through the white clusters of the apple-blossom in spring.  I remember being moon-struck looking at it early one morning on my way to school.  It meant something to me; what I couldn’t say.  It gave me unease at heart, such reaching out towards perfection such as impels men to religion, some sense of the transcendence of things, of the fragility of our hold upon life.

(found in John Pridmore, Playing with Icons: The Spirituality of Recalled Childhood)

cloudscape (original artwork by Kate Kennington Steer)

Where might joy be found in this ‘unease at heart’?  How does my attraction to blue clothing, for example, sit next to my recognition of Rowse’s description of perfection, transcendence, purity, fragility?

How simple is it to be ‘moon-struck’ by blue?  In Underland the poet Robert Macfarlane explored some of the deepest places below the earth’s crust:  

Crevasses open around us, a few feet deep only at first, soon dropping to twenty, thirty, fifty, countless feet deep.  Colours change.  The surface ice is whiter than at the snout.  The crevasses glow … Here the blue is even more intense, more radiant, older … Ice is blue because when a ray of light passes through it, it hits the crystal structure of ice and is deflected, bounces off another crystal and is deflected again, bounces off into another, and another, and in this manner ricochets its way to the eye.  Light passing through the ice therefore travels much further than the straight-line distance to the eye.  Along the way the red end of the spectrum is absorbed, and only the blue remains. (385)

Be ‘moon-struck’ by blue; be awed, silenced, confronted by depth and immensity.  Yet it might also be easy to be over-awed, overcome perhaps by joy, but perhaps too, by an ‘unease of heart’. In an attitude of wonder Mcfarlane writes: 

Ice has a memory and the colour of this memory is blue… The colour of deep ice is blue, a blue unlike any other in the world – the blue of time.  The blue of time is glimpsed in the depths of crevasses.  The blue of time is glimpsed in the calving faces of glaciers, where bergs of 100,000-year-old ice surge to the surface of fjords from far below the water level.  The blue of time is so beautiful that it pulls body and mind towards it. (338-9)

I am on a journey that follows in the footsteps of wise ancients being pulled toward joy – mind, body and spirit.  I am intent on choosing joy.  Yet I also recognise that in the making of that choice, I need to see the flip side, to hear the pain that the Blues songs express so powerfully.  Similarly, next to Macfarlane’s experiences sits an acknowledgement of the pain the earth itself might feel.  This is clearly seen in the photographer Timo Lieber’s images of the Arctic, where beautiful, but hugely troubling pools of water are forming on the melting ice cap. “There are so many lakes, it’s scary. A landscape you’d expect to be pristine white is just littered with blue”, Lieber says.

Blue might be holy, and perhaps part of its’ intrinsic holiness is a sacred ability to warn us; its’ sacred duty is to draw us in, confounding our expectations and easy assumptions.  If joy is blue to me today, it seems to suggest that deliberately choosing joy must always be a commitment made from the wisdom of compassionately seeing the pain sitting alongside the joy.

Wise women also came.
The fire burned
in their wombs
long before they saw
the flaming star
in the sky.
They walked in shadows,
trusting the path
would open
under the light of the moon.

Wise women also came,
seeking no directions,
no permission
from any king.
They came
by their own authority,
their own desire,
their own longing.
They came in quiet,
spreading no rumors,
sparking no fears
to lead
to innocents’ slaughter,
to their sister Rachel’s
inconsolable lamentations.

Wise women also came,
and they brought
useful gifts:
water for labor’s washing,
fire for warm illumination,
a blanket for swaddling.

Wise women also came,
at least three of them,
holding Mary in the labor,
crying out with her
in the birth pangs,
breathing ancient blessings
into her ear.

Wise women also came,
and they went,
as wise women always do,
home a different way.

Jan L Richardson

singing the blues. iPhone image.

Published by Kate Kennington Steer

writer, photographer and visual artist

3 thoughts on “day 5

  1. Love your blessing and curse of blue. Like you, I am drawn to blue and as an artist I have pushed myself to embrace other colours. But ultimately I use other colours to deepen my awareness of blue. With orange, blue pops off the page. Perhaps it is through pain that joy becomes radiant. Blessings on your day.

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    1. ‘perhaps it is through pain that joy becomes radiant’ – yes indeed – one of those Kingdom paradoxes… And coincidentally, or synchronistically depending on your worldview, I have a friend who encourages me to put orange into everything when I get stuck!

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  2. Blue can be icy cold and also vibrantly alive, vast as an ocean’s depths, expansive as a summer sky, shimmering and sparkling as sunlight dances on sea, or giving us the frozen shoulder of otherness we dare not approach. I love the different shades in your watercolour painting. As I gaze at it I can see clouds and sky, but also hints of looming mountains and a flock of tiny birds in flight. As you have indicated, blue can take us on a journey down into the deepest, snowiest depths, and up, up into the unfathomable universe. Thank you, Kate. I’m loving your Advent reflections! x ❤️

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