day 16

[Art is] contemplative because [it] ignites memories of the awe and wonder that we tend to discard after childhood. . . . When we decide to live in our heads only, we become isolated from the God who is closer than our next breath. To subject everything to rational analysis reduces the awe to ashes. The restoration of wonder is the beginning of the inward journey toward a God who people of faith aver is always waiting in the seeker’s heart. For some, the call to worship comes as joy spurts from jazz riffs, wonder thunders from tappers’ feet, as we ponder Lamar’s prophetic insolence and Beyoncé’s black girl magic. Each artistic moment is just slightly beyond our horizon of understanding. Perhaps we are confounded so that we might always have much to contemplate. 

Barbara Holmes, Joy Unspeakable: Contemplative Practices of the Black Church (198)

As Annie Dillard says, ‘I cannot cause light. The most I can do is to put myself in the path of its beam.’  This JoyPilgrimage seems to be suggesting that I need to learn once more how to walk in the darklight of God, restoring my childlike sense of wonder with every step.  God wants to break the simplistic binaries of my thinking.  The effects of light are easiest to see when there is also deep shadow alongside.  I was brought up in a Church that emphasised the Light over the Dark, where what was dark was to be feared, avoided, excluded from my thinking and my faith.  Living in a very prosperous area of England the congregation who heard such exhortations to follow the Light at all costs, was largely made up of White middle-class members.  Such thinking gave me a very bad preparation for the real world.  I found I could not impose light on my own circumstances.  I found the God given the name of Light was not who I thought God to be.  As Mark Longhurst remarks, 

God speaks from within, and through, the dark mystery, and the mystery arranges itself: light and dark, together. … But light supremacy, to use a term by theologian Catherine Keller, can easily turn into white supremacy. Instead of a loving God creating a very good world, in a system of white supremacy, darkness is no longer beautiful, and the white master-god speaks his command to “Let there be” something and expects absolute obedience.


My pursuit of Light in everything can all too easily lead me into a dangerous binary: Light = Good; Not-Light, Other-than-Light = Bad.  And all Good Christian girls get taught that what is Bad is to be feared.  I rush to impose Light wherever I can, shouting “let there be” as I attempt to control my psyche and my world to fit the constructs of what I have been told is Good; what I have been told is God. Such skewed thinking reflects a skewed theology of what it is to be human.  Such impatient, fear-filled activity, risks cementing over the rich treasure of what “already is” in places where I cannot bear to look.  Barbara Holmes offers me a different view:

We are told that Jesus hung out with publicans, tax collectors, and sinners. Perhaps during these sessions of music, laughter, and food fellowship, there were also . . . moments when the love of God and mutual care and concern became the focus of their time together. Contemplation is not confined to designated and institutional sacred spaces. God breaks into nightclubs and Billie Holiday’s sultry torch songs; God tap dances with Bill Robinson and Savion Glover. And when Coltrane blew his horn, the angels paused to consider.

Some sacred spaces bear none of the expected characteristics. The fact that we prefer stained glass windows, pomp and circumstance . . . has nothing to do with the sacred. It may seem as if the mysteries of divine-human reunion erupt in our lives when, in fact, the otherness of spiritual abiding is integral to human interiority. On occasion, we turn our attention to this abiding presence and are startled. But it was always there.

. . . Art can amplify the sacred and challenge the status quo. The arts help us to hear above the cacophony and pause in the midst of our multitasking. The arts engage a sacred frequency that is perforated with pauses. Artists learned . . . that there were things too full for human tongues, too alive for articulation. You can dance and rhyme and sing it, you almost reach it in the high notes, but joy unspeakable is experience and sojourn, it is the ineffable within our reach.

Joy Unspeakable: Contemplative Practices of the Black Church (183-185)

God breaks into nightclubs, God is expressed in things too full for human tongues indeed.  Joy unspeakable, overwhelming Joy, breaks out of the darkest places in my spirit, just as much as it bursts forth from the lightest places in my world.  And in both places I can behold the abiding Presence.

Creator of the Dawning Sun

draw me with your eternal energy.

Filter your transforming glow

through every inner fibre of mine

until I am transparent with

the power of your enlightening beauty.

Joyce Rupp

abiding presence. Canon 7D. f40. 1/6. ISO 100.

Published by Kate Kennington Steer

writer, photographer and visual artist

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