Month: March 2022

Play the Piano for me.

I call this ‘Broken Music’. It is by the Afghan street artist Shamsiah Hassani.
She did much to inspire women in Kabul to be empowered and confident in a male dominated society.
After the Taliban took over, she moved away from Afghanistan and her work now has a global perspective. One of her recent paintings, Damn the War, was addressed to the people of the Ukraine.
I have chosen this one to illustrate a poem I wrote on International Piano Day.

A poem on International Piano day  

Play the piano for me.
I wish to hear music.
Play notes to calm my fears,
Soothing my soul from anxiety.

I live in a world ripped apart by sounds
gurgling up from the bowels of hell.
Bombs, missiles, bullets,
Angry tanks, guttural sounds of soldiers.
Many are far from home, tired too, hungry.
Sucked in by masters whose only language is hatred.
Their words a cacophony of crashing disharmony
mixed with disillusionment.
Such cankered and disfigured hearts,
no longer at one with the music that created them.

Buildings shake and discard the rubble of their former life.
Incessant noise, unceasing ruin.
No symphony.
No sympathy.

Wars begin in hearts crumpled by demonic blackness.
Is this hell?
Despair. The concerto of annihilation.

But, if you play music to us,
We may find a way out of all this.
Your sound of note caressing note,
sprinkles  kindness over us ,  and love;
showing us where we need to be.

As the piano music  lifts my heart,
I hear it’s tune –
There is more than hell on earth.
There is earth raised up to heaven.

Mr G. 29.3.2022

Please look at the work of Shasiah Hassani either on Instagram or by Googling her name.
There are a number of interesting and informative articles about her,

In love is our strength

My friend Joyce has sent me this lovely picture tweet. She writes,
This sleepy wood pigeon is enjoying the warmth of the sun and the beauty of the blossom before it is blown away. With my love and prayers. God bless, Joyce

There is a call to stillness as nature and the natural world bring forth the joy of creation. The blossom heralds Spring and, though fleeting, it is a sign of hope.

We all know that there is so much darkness and despair right now. Ukraine weighs heavily on our hearts and other places are unsettled. The girls denied an education this week in Afghanistan are only part of the problem there, as children and families suffer increasingly from malnutrition.

We need to remain aware, too, that there are many in Russia who oppose the war at their peril and yet are brave enough to speak out. They too need our prayerful support.

So whilst all around us there is destruction and fragility, it is good to be reminded that the earth still blossoms with beauty and the promise of new life.

Two years ago we went into the first Lockdown against Covid.  That virus in differing forms is still with us. I myself am battling it at the moment, as are about a million others in the UK alone. Maybe we didn’t really learn the lessons. Maybe we should have taken up the opportunities of a new way of living and so developed new values by which to be truly human and truly at one with each other and creation.

At the time of the first lockdown, the artist, David Hockney, painted a series of paintings. Alongside them he said, Do remember, they can’t cancel the Spring! Maybe, in the midst of all that is besetting and destroying humanity in a maelstrom of the demonic, we need to pray and work for that truth.

Spring is God’s time of renewal and re-birth. To give us that gift, however, he had to take on the demonic of evil by dying on the Cross. It was the triumph of love and light against evil and darkness and, in the words of the poet T.S.Eliot, it cost God not less than everything. For Ukraine and other places of suffering, that is a personal reality for many right now, not least their inspirational and dedicated President, Volodymyr Zelensky. It is costing the Ukrainian Nation not less than everything.

Many of us are deeply humbled by the people of Ukraine and by the multitude of people who are receiving the victims of the war by opening their countries, their hearts and their homes with a generosity, compassion and love which is rapidly enfolding those for whom life has changed so deeply.
In such hospitality the demonic is being confronted and in many ways defeated by love.
God is enthusing and empowering that love.

Our little wood pigeon surrounded by blue sky and gorgeous blossom is, in its own way, a reminder that not only has spring not been cancelled but also, neither has love. It may be very fragile but it cannot be broken.

[Mr G]

Fra Angelico, Annunciation

Annunciation to Mary by Fra Angelico

Fra Angelico shows us something of the message that Gabriel brought from God to Mary.

I have never been a great artist, despite all the best efforts of my art teacher at grammar school. He did, however, inspire me to appreciate art and that has become an important part of my life. Amongst the paintings we studied was Fra Angelico’s The Annunciation, painted about 1450. It is a fresco painting in the Convent of San Marco in Florence. Fra Angelico was a Dominican monk who was a master of Renaissance art but his purpose was always to teach. His paintings were always to illustrate the message of God.

Fra Angelico’s painting of the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary (the feast day we celebrate today) is one of the most moving and well-known of this event in St. Luke’s Gospel. There is a quiet stillness and a sense of gentle conversation and attentiveness; of revelation and eventual acceptance of God’s plan for the salvation of the world. A plan which needed Mary’s ‘Yes’. Though Fra Angelco’s scene captures very little of the surprise and turmoil the Angel’s message brought to Mary there is a sense that something deeply significant is going on in the quietness of the scene.

We are told by St. Luke that she was deeply troubled  and like many who are called by God to some action and service, she thought of reasons this could not be. After reassurance by God through the angel, she then offered herself to God’s plan. This was not the submissive meekness usually associated with this moment.

It is significant, perhaps, that Luke begins his Passion story with a similar struggle leading to an acceptance. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus too tried desperately to avoid His Crucifixion. Out of His anguish, his sweat fell like ‘drops of blood,’ yet, as with His Mother he finally allowed The Divine Plan to go forward with His ‘Yet your wil, not mine be done.’

In both cases, Son and Mother  gave themselves fuly and completely to the work of claiming the world back to God. For both it was a real giving requiring from them an active sharing in the Plan of God.

In painting his Annunciation, I see Fra Angelico choosing to paint that moment after Mary’s acceptance,just before the angel left her. The vocation, or call, of God to Mary had been made and acceptance eventually given and after that, as is so often the case when we have strggled with God’s will and our own, a godly peace descends.

I like to think that Fra Angelico wanted to show that. He wanted those who looked at his painting to know that when we meld our wills with God’s there is an amazing outpouring of Grace. That’s when real vocations happen. It is not surprising therefore that we might say, Hail Mary, full of Grace…

Almighty God,
so fill us with your grace
that we may accept you will in all things
and with the Virgin Mary, full of grace
rejoice in your salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Man in background

Josefina de Vasconcellos. Holy Family, Liverpool Cathedral

Man in the background

The Sculptor, Josefina de Vasconcellos  was commissioned on a  number of occasions to carve large statues of the Holy Family.  What never fails to strike me is that always Joseph is central to the scene.  He does not lurk in the background or act like some kind of bystander.  Josefina shows him as a strong fatherly figure who is a protector of both Mary and Jesus.  It is clear that Josefina had a soft spot for the shadowy figure from the Christmas story and was determind to give him the prominence he deserves.  Perhaps it was because she was graced with the female form of his name.

One particular statue of the Holy Family that she carved was very different.  It can be seen in Cartmel Priory in the Lake District.  It is called They fled by night and it is inspired by the flight into Egypt taken by the Holy Family to escape the threat of King Herod.

It is a very powerful statue.  Mary is shown to be exhausted with her head leaning backwards as she rests in Jospeh’s arms.  Joseph is holding her and and looking down with loving compassion.  Meanwhile in the foreground of the composition, Jesus is leaping forward as he embraces the future.

Photo : Mr.G They fled by night. Cartmel Priory

What I like about Josefina’s portrayal of Joseph is that he is not the shadow figure that we find in the Gospel.  Apart from Matthew’s ‘dream’ sequence when an angel tells Joseph it is all right to take Mary as his wife because it is all according to God’s plan, and an incident when Jesus was 12, Joseph plays no further part in the Gospel story.  There is a reference to him when Jesus is called the carpenter’s son.  But we are left wondering – what happened to Joseph?

We can invent our own story but I like to think that Joseph was content with his role in making the Incarnation possible.   In a world like ours which celebrates status and fame it isn’t a bad thing to be background people.  Those with a quiet but firm faith are the bedrock of the Church. They seek nothing more than to proclaim Jesus, not necessarily in words or spectacular deeds but with a fidelity towards Him which simply shouts faith in all they do and are.  In Josefina’s statues Joseph comes across as a dependable, caring and protective parent.  If I could choose a guardian angel, it would be like him.

The Church celebrates Joseph today  It is good to think of him as the dependable one who may be in the background but whose care of Jesus and Mary is truly godly.  Someone who can be relied upon come what may.  Is that you?