The Weight of Our Sins

We came across this wonderful sculpture by Josefina de Vasconcellos in the Bishop’s Palace Gardens at Wells Cathedral. It depicts eight children bearing the weight of the cross, with each child symbolising a crime against children in today’s world. They include a child suffering from Aids, a baby victim of genocide, a child blinded by a land mine and a homeless child.

A plaster version of the statue was created by Vasconcellos in 1999 to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the United Nations’ International Year of the Child, when she was 94. A home was subsequently found in Wells for a more permanent version.

What a wonderful depiction of the weight modern generations are placing on those coming. We could easily add to the list climate breakdown, rising sea levels, pollution, extinction of species, victims of modern warfare and on and on…

A representation like this makes that burden so much clearer than mere words.

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If

Here’s another poem by Steve Taylor – his take on the famous poem by Rudyard Kipling, ‘If.’ According to Steve, it’s a reflection on the meaning of success. It’s also a profound meditation on the meaning of life and where true contentment lies.

If

If you can find out who you really are
beneath the habits and opinions that you’ve absorbed
and the instructions that you unthinkingly follow –

If you can distinguish the deep impulses of your soul
from the shallow desires of your ego
and let streams of thought pass through your mind
without latching on or listening –

If you can sense the sun of your true self
behind layers of cloudy concepts and constructs
and keep your mind open and clear
so that soul-force shines through every action of your life –

then that’s all you ever need to achieve.

There’s no need to search for answers
if you’re expressing the truth that’s inside you.
There’s no need to look for meaning
if you’ve found the path you were meant to follow.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re applauded or ridiculed
whether you make a mark on the world
or live and die in obscurity.
If you can do what you’re supposed to do
and be exactly who you’re meant to be –

then that’s all you ever need to achieve.

Visit Steve’s website for details of his books, his blog, etc.

 

Liver Birds

Liverpool’s Liver Birds enhance the attractive waterfront skyline at any time, but especially on an autumn afternoon, when a clear sun is at a low angle across the River Mersey. The mythical birds, believed to be representations of cormorants, have stood on the clock towers of the Royal Liver Building since 1911 (my grandfather worked for the company Royal Liver Assurance).

According to legend, the female looks out to sea, watching for the seamen to return safely home, and the male looks in to the city, watching over the seamen’s families. The birds face away from each other; if were they to mate and fly away, the city would cease to exist.

liver birds

Look at the full-size photograph and the image appears to not be horizontal. That diagonal line from the modern building in the foreground has completely messed up the perspective. Actually, I think it is pretty well true.

The interloper in the picture is unfortunately not a cormorant, but probably a pigeon.

Another Place, Another Time

We arrive at Crosby Beach to see Antony Gormley’s Another Place once again. We happen to arrive at a super high tide, waves are splashing on the promenade and it has just started gently raining. Gormley’s men are mostly under water. Not much chance of photos in this greyness.

But then, from the west new weather appears with a ribbon of light on the horizon and over the Welsh mountains, which slowly broadens as the tide begins to recede, releasing Gormleys men from watery submersion.

The light highlights the mass of windmills in Liverpool Bay, evidence of mankind reaching forth to a more enlightened world beyond fossil fuels. So not too bad for photos after all.

crosby windmills
“Westward look! The Land is Bright” Winston Churchill

An Inspector Calls

An Inspector Calls was the title of the most popular of J.B.Priestley’s plays, which are not generally popular today, probably because they are quite philosophical and not merely entertaining. In his closing speech, the inspector is quite profound:

“We don’t live alone. We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other. And I tell you that the time will soon come when if men will not learn that lesson, then they will be taught it in fire and blood and anguish. Good night.”

The play premiered in Russia in 1945, although the action takes place in one day in the English Midlands in 1912. It can be seen as a social comment on the attitudes that led up to the destruction of the two world wars. The above quote also seems prescient today, when crystallised attitudes and separation are potentially leading us once again into peril.

This post was inspired by Paul Kieniewicz’s review of
‘Time and the Rose Garden’, by Anthony Peake,
which is about the works of Priestley.

Photo of Priestley statue in Bradford By Chemical Engineer,
via Wikimedia Commons

The Common Core

A poem from Steve Taylor‘s regular newsletter that I particularly liked.

I don’t sense that you’re different from me
even if you believe you are.

I don’t believe that babies are born with distinctions,
belonging to a religion or nation.

I don’t believe that human beings die with distinctions,
belonging to different sections of a cemetery.

I don’t feel that I have my ‘people’ and you have yours,
and that the lives of our peoples have a different value.

I acknowledge your need to define yourself.
I understand your need for belonging
but you can’t separate yourself from me
without making yourself feel more alone.
You can’t withhold your empathy from me
without hurting yourself inside.

Your thoughts may convince you of distinctions
but they can’t change you underneath
where there is no solidity or boundary
and our beings infuse each other, and everyone else’s too.

I accept allegiance only to the human race.
I recognise only our common core
the essence beneath identity
the deep shared space where we are one.

I had the please of meeting Steve at the Manchester Schumacher Lectures in the early 2000’s and attended one of his seminars. A great seeker!

Let yourself be moved. | 024/100

Great post by Joe Hart, and the Brené Brown video on vulnerability is well worth the 20 minutes it takes.

Joseph Hart

This installation, by artist Matej Kren, is in the lobby of the Municipal Library in Prague.

Glancing over the edge, down into what looked like an infinite vortex of books, I felt something stir within me. I don’t know what, exactly. It was kind of emotional: something about all that I’ve read, a lifelong love of books. I had vivid recollections of my grandma reading The Iron Giant to me in bed, as a four or five year old.

I like to think of myself as a pretty hard-headed, rational thinker. But humans aren’t emotionless robots (or homo economicus, as my textbooks would have me believe). I think it may come across in this blog sometimes that I purely view humanity as conduits translating inputs into creative output, disregarding our feelings and weaknesses. I don’t.

We’ve got to leave yourself room to feel, to be moved. As the incredible…

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A feast of Art Nouveau

Beautiful art nouveau in Jackson, Mississippi capitol building in this post.

Eyes in the back of my Head

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On the recent road trip I had with family whilst staying in the US, we travelled through Mississippi. On a grey rainy day we visited the state Capitol in Jackson and were dazzled by the decor. Built in the early 1900s, the building has many Art Nouveau features, which I gleefully turned my camera towards, quietly drooling and forgetting to listen to many of the historical facts given by the guide. Here’s a selection of what caught my eye:

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The big “M” set in the floor and made of small tiles made a strong statement for the seat of power in Mississippi.

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The interior of the golden lift. Trump eat your heart out – you’re not the only one with a golden lift, and this one is really classy.

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Ceiling in debating chamber, with many electric light bulbs. The Capitol building was a pioneer in having electricity.

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So many Art…

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Everybody knows

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That’s how it goes
Everybody knows

Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
Everybody knows that the captain lied
Everybody got this broken feeling
Like their father or their dog just died

Everybody talking to their pockets
Everybody wants a box of chocolates
And a long stem rose
Everybody knows…

So much in the words of a song, by Leonard Cohen.

Listen to it on YouTube.

Pic by Rama via Wikimedia Commons.

Conques

The village of Conques in Aveyron, France, has been a target of pilgrimage since medieval times, lying as it does on the route from Le Puy en Velay to Santiago de Compostela in Northern Spain. The isolated position of Conques in hilly terrain means that it has never been subject to much modern development, so the medieval streets are essentially as they were.

conques rainbow

This view is the first the pilgrim coming from Estaing sees of Conques, nestling in the treed valley. We were lucky on our recent visit when, after a day of rain, the sun came out as we reached Conques. The dramatic welcome became spectacular when this rainbow appeared over the village.Read More »

Le Puy en Velay

I first visited Le Puy en Velay nearly 30 years ago, with Alf, as we traced the steps of pilgrims on the route from this starting point to Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain – one of Europe’s most popular pilgrimages since the Middle Ages. What a special place to begin a pilgrimage.

st michel aiguilhe

This area of the former county of Velay, in the south western Massif Central, is volcanic. As well as numerous dead volcanoes, it contains various strange landscape features, notably several isolated plugs of rock pointing skywards. On one of these is the chapel of St Michel d’Aiguilhe. The well-formed stairway up this rock brings you to wonderful views over Le Puy and the tiny Romanesque chapel at the top. Linger a while in here and it provides an experience of perfect peace before the start of the journey.

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Another Place

One of my favourite places to visit in the North West of England is Crosby Beach, home to Antony Gormley’s Another Place. The beach is studded with statues of a man looking out to sea, and the effect is remarkable.

The statues, beach, sea, skyline and offshore wind farms provide almost infinite possibilities for photography (not forgetting the starlings).

another placeI rather like this one, at telephoto zoom, showing pooled water on the beach, with the windfarm in the background. In between is the deepwater channel where you occasionally see vessels making their way to/from Liverpool. The shadow on the horizon is the hills of North Wales.

The large sandy beach makes a good place to walk, but is not usually appropriate for traditional ‘bucket and spade’ activities as there is usually a fair wind.

And what’s this about wind farms being an eyesore? In the right place they can even add to the natural beauty of a location, which is not really something you can say about a nuclear power station. Yes I’m biased.

 

Cause of The Renaissance?

We’ve travelled around Europe a fair amount over the years and it is clear from the evidence of art and architecture that something special happened around the 12th/13th centuries and again the 15th/16th centuries. The Romanesque and Gothic architectures, the paintings and sculptures of Tuscany, the establishment of universities, printing, the beginnings of great literature,…

What was it that led to this original Renaissance? What special combination of circumstances caused that great explosion of the human spirit? Philosopher Jean Gebser had an answer in his book The Ever Present Origin (1949), and it goes back to the basic nature of our own consciousness.

Humanity has gone through four basic ‘structures of consciousness’: the ‘archaic’, the ‘magical’, the ‘mythic’ and the ‘mental-rational’. He dates the period when the transition began from ‘mythic’ to ‘mental-rational’ at around 1225. This was the period when left brain consciousness began to assert itself against the submersion into a right-brain dominated world. For a period the two were in some sort of state of balance which led to the creative explosion of those periods of Renaissance.

Then as time progressed the dominance of left brain was gradually asserted (see The Master and His Emissary), interconnectedness was reduced and the emphasis moved to individuality and competition. Of course, this has been creative in its own way, see the explosion of science and technology, but it has been at a cost of the basic connection with life itself. Hence increasing problems of pollution, environmental degradation, global warming, species extinction, mega-wars, terrorism,…

Gebser postulated that we are on the threshold of a fifth structure of consciousness – the ‘integral’ – which would begin to redress the balance that has gone too far one way. Such a new consciousness would re-establish that creative balance between the two halves of the brain, but at a higher level – leading to a New Renaissance.

Many thinkers have since then built on Gebser’s ideas, including Ken Wilber and Iain McGilchrist.

I am indebted to Gary Lachman’s book The Secret Teachers of the Western World for inspiring this post.

Featured image of Botticelli Venus courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

 

 

Will you wake

Christopher Fry’s poem from the play A Sleep of Prisoners is one of those pieces which really sets my timbers a shivering. It’s so expressive of the situation we find ourselves in collectively. It’s been quoted many times, so you may already be aware of it. For me it repays a regular re-read.

Dark and cold we may be, but this
Is no winter now. The frozen misery
Of centuries breaks, cracks, begins to move;
The thunder is the thunder of the floes,
The thaw, the flood, the upstart Spring.
Thank God our time is now when wrong
Comes up to face us everywhere,
Never to leave us till we take
The longest stride of soul we ever took.
Affairs are now soul size.
The enterprise
Is exploration into God.
Where are you making for? It takes
So many thousand years to wake,
But will you wake for pity’s sake!

Christopher Fry was an English poet and playwright 1907-2005

Featured image of Arctic ice floes from Collection of Dr. Pablo Clemente-Colon, Chief Scientist National Ice Center, via Wikimedia Commons

Genius at the Château du Close Lucé

Some men and women show such prodigious genius, standing head and shoulders over all their fellows, that they almost seem part of a different race. Leonardo da Vinci was such a man.

After a leading career in Renaissance Italy, where his genius sparkled over many fields of endeavour, Leonardo spent his later years in Amboise,  by the River Loire,  at the service of the French king François. At this time he lived at the Château du Clos Lucé, now a museum that we recently visited.

We found this museum interesting in giving some insight into Leonardo’s later life, and particularly his innovative designs and engineering that prefigured many modern inventions – helicopters,  bridges, flying machines, pumps, armaments etc etc. This is reinforced by walking around the surrounding gardens, really a rather splendid shady park, containing examples of modern realisations of his designs.

However, there is little emphasis on his contribution as artist. Luckily, there was an exhibition From the Clos Lucé to the Louvre, in the exhibition hall, focusing on the three major works of art that Leonardo brought with him when he came to Amboise – La Giaconda, The Virgin, The Child Jesus and St Anne, and St Jean Baptist … and that enigmatic smile. This gave a much more balanced picture of this supreme Renaissance genius.

So, the Château du Clos Lucé is well worth a visit, but even more so while the exhibition is still there (until 15th November 2016).

Beautiful

If you read my post on goodness, truth and beauty, you will know that I attach great importance to these three fundamental values. Not surprising then, that I was delighted to have the recent opportunity to go to the show ‘Beautiful’ at the Aldwych Theatre, London.

The West End does these blockbuster shows superbly, and it was indeed a beautiful experience – superb set and production, a well told story, evocative music and singing.

It tells the story of Carole King, the precocious 1960s songwriter (with then husband Gerry Goffin), who became a world class singer in her own right with publication of the album Tapestry in 1971. It is quite amazing how many pop songs have had Carole King involved in their writing.

This provides a nostalgic, informative and entertaining evening that most will enjoy.

This 2-minute video tells the story of Carole King’s unscheduled appearance at the London opening night of ‘Beautiful’ – good for King addicts.

Featured image part of the pre-show set of ‘Beautiful’ at the Aldwych Theatre, London

Germany

Review of the book ‘Germany: Memories of a Nation’ by Neil MacGregor.

Germany_coverMy education in the history of Europe was deficient. Previously a ‘tech college’, my grammar school was very oriented to science and technology – an interest in history was not encouraged. And as for Germany, the world wars were too recent in the fifties for its history to be given much consideration at all. So I’ve only picked up the story of Europe bit by bit since then – on many European holidays and through reading. I was thus interested to see the recently published book Germany: Memories of a Nation by Neil MacGregor, a former Director of the National Gallery and of the British Museum.

MacGregor approaches his subject through the lens of major historical, cultural and artistic figures and takes us through key events and places in the history of the German speaking peoples of Europe.Read More »

A veneer of culture?

We visited Weimar in Germany a few years ago and were very impressed by this grand city with its tree-lined streets, parks and grand cultural connections – a superb place to visit for a few days. It was therefore with some interest that I read the recent article by David Blackbourn ‘Princes, Counts and Racists’ in the London Review of Books. It was all about Weimar, and told more than I had learned from tourist literature and being there – particularly its dramatically contrasting associations with Wolfgang Goethe and Adolf Hitler.Read More »

A hidden gem without

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Kirkstead Abbey remains

Whilst in Lincolnshire recently, we visited Kirkstead Abbey, near the village of Woodhall Spa. All that remains of the former Cistercian abbey is a great crag of masonry, standing forlornly in the middle of a farmer’s field.

England was once dotted with many such monasteries, the result of 1000 years of the monastic tradition, and they played an important part in the life of the surrounding communities. It was of course King Henry VIII who, assisted by Thomas Cromwell, dissolved the lot in the 1530s, pensioning off the monks, killing the awkward ones (including some from Kirkstead), taking the riches and the tithes that had gone to the pope, effectively vandalising the buildings and giving the land to his mates. It was of course all about money and power – removing the influence of the Pope and monks, and transferring it to Henry and his cronies.

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St Leonard’s Without

Follow the unmade road across the field past the lonely crag, and you come to the little church of St Leonard’s Without, nestling among trees, now well and truly ‘out in the sticks’. This was once part of the Abbey building complex, but lay outside the walls, being used for services with the surrounding lay community – hence the ‘Without’. Presumably that is why the little church survived, as the local parish church.

Being isolated, the church is usually kept locked, a sign of the times, but happenstance sometimes comes along at just the right moment – more satisfyingly viewed as synchronicity. As we walked up to the church gate, a car drew up. It was the local vicar returning books. He was delighted to give us an impromptu tour of the interior. It really is one of those special little churches with a feeling of great reverence and peace.

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Interior of St Leonard’s Without

Although built slightly later (13C) than the abbey (12C), its architecture gives a very good idea of what parts of the abbey would have looked like, and parts of the wooden rood screen are said to be original 13C.

Overall, a good and extremely compact example of Cistercian simplicity, which for me resulted in some of the supreme achievements of European architecture.

If you’re interested in visiting, go to the sharp bend in Abbey Road in Woodhall Spa. A sign offering loan of a key from a nearby dwelling suggests that you may not have to rely on synchronicity to gain entrance to the church.