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Last week I caught myself looking at a picture in the sitting room which I haven’t really looked at for quite some time. I remembered and experienced again why I like it so much. It’s a black and white sketching of the resurrected Christ, emitting words it seems and shining forth amid and above a number of people, presumably disciples. It’s very plain, yet has lots of unusual straight lines. The sky, the terrain and the people blend as one, a canvas onto which Christ speaks, yet also belongs. The artist is a very controversial character.  He had a morality that at times was questionable.  Yet he had a form of faith and his work expressed harmony, directness and simplicity which I appreciated.

The picture recalls something that has seemed important to me, connecting me again with the story of two characters (possibly the worst of the kings of Israel, Mannaseh, and the oldest son in the Prodigal Son story) and a donkey, Ballam’s ass*!  I think it is about the nature of living, which is not about the pursuit of perfection, or of not doing wrong.  It’s not, for me, about defensive or tight living, nor about being as right as possible – and one needn’t go as far as these characters had gone to prove this! I need to hear my picture which reminds me that faith may simply and repeatedly draw on what is seen, on what is present, on what is offered and given, even (or especially) when it’s through a suspect or surprising form (a dubious artist, an evil man, a starchy son, and a talkative donkey*).  There already resides within my room’s 4 walls juice or zest to sustain me, hidden in plain view, in the stories and wisdom held in picture frames. To always or only be looking for the new, for tomorrow, for what might be obtained or collected yet ignoring what has already been given is foolish and dismissive. 

Covid-19 has cancelled plans and with it the joy of anticipation – hope tied to future plans.  For us as a family: some season end national finals and international games, a trip to Vietnam, a 30th wedding anniversary, Alpine climbing jaunts.  Not bad at all (though pangs resurface again as I write!). Yet some essential questions emerge: Am I so unconvinced by now, by what’s left? Am I so uncomfortable with the stripped back me?  Am I even cagey or underwhelmed by what is and has been given? Would I rather chase after tomorrow than attend to today?  Wordsworth wrote that God has given in nature more than enough for all men and women, and that rushing ahead and past it does not enhance that offered experience.  

Maybe my reflection is about looking around as much as looking ahead. Why have I decorated my home as I have, eg with this particular picture? What is on my shelves and your shelves, and why?  What story have they told, that I subconsciously still want them to tell me? What is important to me, to you, may be under our noses, or rather on our walls and on our shelves 1.  Paul writes ‘for whatever things were written (or artefacts placed on shelves and pictures nailed to walls?) formerly, were written (placed, hung) for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures (and the examples they offer and present) might have hope 2.

Andrew Hook

1 It has also possibly got to the fridge before me and extracted the lunch or beer that I had saved for myself – pesky ‘kids’!

2 Romans 15:4

*‘Ballam’s ass’  appears in the amusing and stunning Numbers 22 story.  If God can speak through a donkey I can’t  get so caught up with any particular insight or inspired prayer that might have come my way!  Manasseh’s horror and reprieve story appears in 2 Chronicles 33 and that of the strachy older son in Luke 15.