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  • Angel Advent - Day 15

    Part of the Wilton Diptych, an art work commissioned by Richard II of England, and in which he is depicted as kneeling before the infant Christ.

    The detail shows angels in a vareiry of poses, all clad in a rich blue, and badged with a white hind/deer, the insignia of Richard II.  All the nagels are fair-haired - whether blonde or auburn, Saxons or Celts, is debateable - reflecting the context in which it was painted.  All the angels are female and are wearing necklaces, they are crowned with white flowers. It's the facial expressions and the arms/hands that intrigue me.

    Behind Mary, stands an angel with arms folded and a face that suggests mild irritation; next to her on the left a very tall, slightly haughty looking angel, whilst to her right stands one with a look of mischief on her face.  I find myself wondering what they are thinking, what whispered conversations they might be sharing, and how they are feeling.

    I like the idea that, outwardly uniform and regimented, these angels are individuals with unique personalities.  I like that very human emotions are expressed.

    I wonder which angel you are drawn to in the image?  I wonder why that is?

    Thank you, God, that we are all different,

    That we may react differently to any given set of circumstances

    And yet are still part of your 'big picture', your story.

    As we stand with angels, watching Mary with her son,

    Draw us into the hope, love and joy of that moment.  Amen.

  • Angel Advent - Day 14

    This painting - and variants of it - must be one of the most famous, even iconic images involving an angel.  certainly I have seen it on countless Christmas cards over the years, and know someone who had not one, but two copies of it hanging in their home.

    Fra Angelico was beatttified by Pope John Paul II, and made patron of Catholic Artists.  I am sure this tender portrayal of Mary and the angel was influential in that decision.

    It seems Fra Angelico was a mendicant Dominican friar, who employed his skills as an artist overtly as Christian service.

    Does this image differ, in some way from those painted by people whose work is not informed by Christian faith?  If so, how?

    How does our Christian faith inform our own work, in whatever sphere that may be?

    Perhaps also images such as this, purloined by greeting card manufacturers give us pause for thought about the cards we select, and the underlying reasons.  There isn't a 'right' or 'wrong' answer; overtly Christian images are not inherently 'better' than robins or reindeer, snowfolk or anything.


    Creative God, thank you for own unique gifts, whatever they may be.

    Help us to recognise how we serve you in the everyday,

    And how, through us, you bless others.


    At this season of sending and receiving greetings cards,

    May we enjoy the choices of others for us,

    And may we aso choose thoguhtfully those we send.



  • Angel Advent - Day 13

    By Scottish artist John Duncan, this is St Bride being carried by angels from Ireland to the Holy Land (demonstrating that Blake's 'Jerusalem' is by no means the only twaddle that gets perpetuated! ;-) ).

    It's a lovely, vibrant image, rich in colour and detail - look at the scenes depicted on the angels' robes, or the face of the seal, or gulls who seem to me to be smiling!

    St Bride - St Bridgid - St Bridget - appears all over these islands, perhaps most notably in Ireland and Wales, where she supplants a pre-Christian guardian of wells who has the same name.  In our age of clean water at the turn of a tap, and high tech taps able to deliver either chilled or boiling water according to our demands, it's hard to imagine how significant Bride/Brigid/Bridget was... and still is in many parts of the world today.

    She no longer comes in supernatural form, but in organisations such as - but not limited to - BMS World Mission, Christian Aid, Operation AGri, and Water Aid.  Tube wells, irrigation schemes, sanitation projects, long-drop toilets... all 'good news' brought by messengers of hope, often in the name of Christ.

    We can enjoy the myths and the mystery, we can delight in amazing art, and we can give thanks for the work of real life Brides in our own time.

  • Angel Advent - Day 12

    'The Wounded Angel' by Hugo Simberg, a Finnish artist whose 1903 painting is set in Helsinki.  The landscape would have been recognisiable to viewers, who would have known that adjacent to the park were homes for blind children and for children with physcial disabilities.  Two healthy boys carry a girl angel with bandaged eyes, using a simple stretcher type device.  The angel holds a small bunch of snowdrops - a symbol of healing and rebirth.  The artist offers no interpretation of the painting, leaving that entirly to the viewer.

    I think what strikes me most is the accusative expression on the face of the boy looking out of the painting.  That it is somehow my fault that he has been forced to assist in carrying this wounded angel through the park.  Am I, somehow, responsible for her injuries?

    If angels are God's messengers - human, animal or supernatural (bear with me!) - then what injury arises when we fail to listen to, receive or heed their messages?  Does our cynicism, scientific rationalism or other sophistication bind, cripple or otherwise hinder those who bring good news?

    And, if the angels can no longer see or walk, who will be conscripted to carry them to a place of safety and welcome? Who will take up their song, or pass on their message?


    Lord God, have I, in my sophisticated, scientific certainty wounded your messengers?

    Wounded Christ, have I, willingly or otherwise, been chosen to carry your messenge?

    Gentle Spirit, show me how I, in my own woundedness be carried to safety, renewed and made whole


  • Angel Advent - Day 11

    Yesterday, as part of morning worship, we had a quiz that included a round with angels in art... that gives me five images to share this week!

    Tobias and The Angel, by Andrea del Vorrochio, is a 15th century altar piece, now displayed in the National Gallery in London.

    The painting is inspired by a rather strange story from the book of Tobit, that expounds the healthgiving properties of fish gizzards!! 

    The young man [Tobias] went out and the angel went with him; and the dog came out with him and went along with them. So they both journeyed along, and when the first night overtook them they camped by the Tigris river.  Then the young man went down to wash his feet in the Tigris river. Suddenly a large fish leapt up from the water and tried to swallow the young man’s foot, and he cried out.  But the angel said to the young man, ‘Catch hold of the fish and hang on to it!’ So the young man grasped the fish and drew it up on the land.  Then the angel said to him, ‘Cut open the fish and take out its gall, heart, and liver. Keep them with you, but throw away the intestines. For its gall, heart, and liver are useful as medicine.’  So after cutting open the fish the young man gathered together the gall, heart, and liver; then he roasted and ate some of the fish, and kept some to be salted.

    The two continued on their way together until they were near Media. Then the young man questioned the angel and said to him, ‘Brother Azariah, what medicinal value is there in the fish’s heart and liver, and in the gall?’  He replied, ‘As for the fish’s heart and liver, you must burn them to make a smoke in the presence of a man or woman afflicted by a demon or evil spirit, and every affliction will flee away and never remain with that person any longer.  And as for the gall, anoint a person’s eyes where white films have appeared on them; blow upon them, upon the white films, and the eyes will be healed.’

    Whatever we may make of the story - and it is weird - the painting is worth spending time with, to enjoy the colours, to note how the young man's cloak emulates the wings of an angel, to see the dog trotting at the angel's feet, to wonder at the total lack of visual perspective, to wonder what any of it means...

    What I love best, I think, is the way the two have linked arms, and the angel walks slightly ahead, drawing the young man onwards.  There is a look of absolute trust in the face of the young man as he steps into the unknowable, unknown.  I wonder who I, who we, trust like that?


    Lead me Lord, lead me in thy righteousness, make thy way plain before my face.

    For it is thou, Lord, thou Lord only, that maketh me dwell in safety.