The title of the 2011 ArtServe Conference is Discovering Gifts, Discovering God – somewhere in this theme, I also want to add Discovering Self
. We don’t get to discover about another person just by one encounter and we don’t get to discover about our self
as a one-off exercise – as we all know, this process of discovery is a lifelong process.
Our deepest desire is not something that we create: it is something we discover.
‘Finding God in all things’ is one of the phrases most associated with Ignatian spirituality. There is nothing which God has made that cannot be used to speak to us of God and to lead us to God. If we want to explore the length and breath, the depth and height of God’s love, then we must look all around us.
The theme of this year’s conference is based on offering our different gifts and insights, to be multiplied by the grace of God and shared among us. And as we bring what appears to be differences to God, and on their own perhaps not very promising parts, he blesses them and makes them into a whole which is far greater than the individual different fragments, far beyond our imagination.
I wonder what this says about our lives. So often we only see, and we are impatient and frustrated by, all the fragmented and seemingly completely disjointed parts of our lives. It is only with God’s grace, and in God’s time, that we can gradually come to see the bigger picture, and the journey we have made along the way.
Quite a few years ago when I had my first exhibition in Oxford, I painted a series of what I refer to as stained glass paintings, inspired by the words of the hymn ‘I heard the voice of Jesus say’ (see Gallery). For me, the stained glass says something about this piecing together, which ultimately we have to trust God to take control and do with each of our lives. The fragmented colours and patterns and sizes of individual pieces of a stained glass window come together to make a beautiful picture, but we can’t always see it – not if it isn’t in the right light and not if we don’t take the time to really open our eyes and see.
And the key message here is about really opening
our eyes and seeing
Michelangelo claimed that he didn’t create his sculpture, but he uncovered them, hidden in his marble. Something about discovering what is already there
: discovering and learning about the mystery of God if we truly open our eyes and use all our senses which God has given to each one of us.
Jesus’ first miracle in his ministry provided the abundance at a wedding feast. Jesus didn’t make a big fuss of this miracle. He transformed water into wine, using something very basic and simple, and transforming it into the best wine. So often, we look for God in the big things. And yet the whole world can be a moment of discerning God’s face, if we are ready to see it.
The English Mystic, Julian of Norwich, wrote a well-known reflection on a hazelnut, in which she saw the whole of God’s creation. A couple of years ago, I attempted to enter into a similar kind of reflection as Julian of Norwich did on a hazelnut – I spent time over and over again looking at a single red rose. I discovered that this one rose is made up of many different connected parts and many different shades of red. This resulted in one of my most popular paintings, ‘The Rose’ (click image to see Gallery).
What we see is less important than the way we see it – this is a sacramental view of life.