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You might remember that in Deacon Diaries reflection (51) I was considering our thoughts on what Jesus looked like. In that I touched on the fact that many of our images that influence us are based on the interpretations of artists, authors and film makers. Often a piece of text from scripture is taken and expanded, manipulated to fit particular needs and in the end vaguely resembles the original text. A good example of this will be the traditional telling of the nativity of our Lord. From the combination of the few details contained in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, we might be tempted to ask where did the donkey come from, what about the innkeeper, and did the Magi really arrive on camels?
To be honest, as long as the story isn’t overly distorted, or the message of our faith altered, does it actually matter how it is portrayed? The images act as an inspiration, a guide, to take us into exploring the true meaning of any story. Often the image we have in our mind is enhanced by the image that is placed in front of us, thus making the whole experience seem more real in human terms for us. We don’t tend to be very comfortable with not knowing, having something physical and present on which to pin our thoughts and beliefs lessens the uneasiness.
So just as some find paintings or films an inspiration, a help to focus, I find that I’m drawn to windows. Windows are fascinating, they give us a view into other places, they also give us a view to what is outside or inside.
I was once in a discussion group, when the question was posed, “What is your favourite prayer?” Whilst some came up with traditional texts, others some words of a favourite saint, one lady said with all sincerity: “My favourite prayer is when I look out of my kitchen window and say, Thank you!” She went on to explain that whilst it was small, her garden was always alive with colour and birds. That made her feel it was a gift from God to her, and no matter what else was happening in that day, it was always there.
It also reminds me of the storyline from the TV series, ‘The Vicar of Dibley’, where the large stained glass window in the church is damaged and needs replacing. After much debate and humour about the subject for a new window, they settle on just plain glass, thus allowing them to see the beauty of creation that is on their doorstep.
When we think of churches and windows, we might automatically be drawn to think of stained glass windows that depict various scenes or images associated with that particular church. Our own parish church being a good example with a window containing an image of St Francis overlooking the sanctuary, amongst others.
I’m sure each of us will have our favourite stained glass windows that we feel help us to feel a faith connection with that church or place. Two of my more traditional favourites are; The Dove of the Holy Spirit, in St Peter’s Basilica, in the Vatican; and the Image of Christ at the table in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel at Buckfast Abbey in Devon. I also like some of the more abstract creations, such as the new windows in Norwich Cathedral, the ‘Outpouring of the Holy Spirit’ in Bristol Cathedral, and the side windows in the Chapel at St Mary’s University, Twickenham. And at Simon Stock school, the new Chapel has some stained glass style pictures of various pieces from scripture.
It is also nice to see that the Royal Mail have chosen to use nativity images from stained glass windows for the 2020 Christmas stamps.
The use of stained glass windows to inspire faith, and perhaps work as an aid to focus prayer, has been used for centuries. The earliest recorded religious stained glass window in the UK is said to date back to the 7th century, however there is also evidence of use by the Egyptians and the Romans.
But, I wonder how many of us see windows just as an opportunity to look beyond the surface of a building or wall? There are however ‘windows’ in other places and ways! It is also said that what shines through the window is an indication of what is on the other side of the glass. Anyone consider themselves to be a window?
Just as a light might beckon us in from the darkness, so that shining out also gives a sense of welcome and security. As followers of Christ, we are called to be a light to others. That light that shines out is our life and example. Just as the light streams through the many colours of a stained glass window, or a candle breaks up the darkness of the night, so the love of Christ should shine out of us as if we were that window to others.
If we don’t think the light is very bright, or the colours aren’t vibrant enough, or we have even closed the curtains, then perhaps we need to be looking at how we can make the light shine a bit clearer.
The notion of windows is another example of the many different ways in which we can be helped to focus on and develop our time with God. It is really a question of finding out what works for me individually.
A final thought –
If I was to paint the Christ that comes from me to others, what would my window look like?
Do I like that window, or what should I change?
Deacon Ian Black