Take Art: Light Emerging from Dark and Dwelling

by Inderjit Bhogal.

The story of creation in Genesis affirms the place of both light and darkness (Genesis 1:1-5).  The light that God creates does not eradicate darkness. In fact, a new day begins, in Hebrew understanding, with evening, with darkness. I like that. Life begins in darkness. Day begins with darkness.

This presentation flows from my passion to achieve justice for refugees. Around 1000 refugees a day are coming in to Italy and Spain. At least 1200 of them died in the Mediterranean Sea in 2020, and over 1800 in 2021. There are many refugees who want to return home when it is safe to do so.

Before colours were developed and used in art, artists worked with black to make all art. This is certainly true in India. A friend in India taught me to draw, using Indian Ink only. All images emerge from black. (a number of short films on YouTube illustrate this). As you read, I suggest black line drawings to illustrate my words.

My favourite word is “dwell”. In my view “dwell” sums up, and is the key to unlocking the message in the Gospel according to St John. It is a frequently used word in the Gospel. It will repay close study, beginning with the use of the word in Chapter 1:14 where we read, “The word became flesh and dwelt among us”.

The word translated “dwelt” is the Greek word from the root skenos which gives us a picture of a tent (here, draw a tent). It is translated as “shelter” in Revelations 7:15. It is the word we find in the Septuagint text of Exodus 25:8 where we read God’s request to Moses.

“Have them build me a sanctuary, so that I may dwell among them”.

So, John 1:14 literally speaks of God pitching a tent in the midst of humanity. God wants to take sanctuary among people. A tent is a good image. It shows God travelling and pitching with people in all their travels. It is intriguing that Churches use the image of a boat as an image of Church.

Many years ago I read a book called Theology of Hope by Jurgen Moltmann where the author gives two images of Church. A Boat and an Arrow. There are, of course, many other models or images of Church.

The Boat image is used in the logo of many church organisations (draw a boat). Where does the idea of a boat to symbolise church come from? Noah’s Ark which is focussed on salvation resulting from getting into the ark. The mission of the church is to rescue people from the choppy waters of life for eternal salvation. Only those who get into this boat will be saved. The Arrow image speaks more of a movement, and direction. (draw an arrow)

Images of Boats are very much in the news. Creaky, leaky, overcrowded boats carrying refugees desperate for safety and sanctuary. Many boats overturn. Many people perish. Many refugee people crossing seas have drowned in the last year.

Overturned boats give a different image to contemplate (draw an overturned boat). It looks like the roof of a house or shelter. This is the plea of people escaping danger and threat to life.

The word ecumenical comes from the word Oikumene (from the root Oikos, house) meaning household of God. The household of God includes all people, all created order. This is what God wants to save, according to the image of the covenant we read in Genesis 9 in the story of Noah.

This brings me to the logo of City of Sanctuary which shows two people standing beside each other, holding hands which are raised between them to head height making an arch or a roof of a shelter, a dwelling (draw the City of Sanctuary logo).

This logo brings us back to the image of a tent, a shelter, a sanctuary. There is an Irish Celtic proverb which reads, “it is in the shelter of each other that the people will live”. This is the heart of the City of Sanctuary idea and movement.

I am trying to encourage churches to explore this idea, and to develop and promote the concept of Church of Sanctuary. This includes a commitment to ensure communities and congregations of worship work and pray together to build, embed and promote cultures of welcome, hospitality and safety for all. And to do this with pride.

Make your place of worship a sanctuary where all are treated with warm welcome, generous hospitality and protection from harm. A Christian symbol of this is Holy Communion, (draw a picture of Rublev’s Trinity of Holy Communion) a revelation of the world as it is meant to be, a foretaste of the heavenly banquet, where all are welcome and valued equally, and where no one is excluded or made to feel like an outsider.

There is more of this line of thought in my book Hospitality and Sanctuary for All (available from me or CTBI).

Questions:

  1. When and how does the day begin for you? With the dark or with the light or even another time?
  2. What do you think of the notion of ‘sanctuary’? How may our churches become places of shelter and sanctuary for people post the pandemic?

4 thoughts on “Take Art: Light Emerging from Dark and Dwelling”

  1. As well as the image of boats and tents, we also have images of the Spirit of God being in the wind, flying in the form of a dove and in our very breath. So whether we journey by land, air or sea, we can be sure God travels with us, rests with us, and abides with us.
    On the theme of darkness and light, it’s like everything else, we need a balance. Both are good and life-enhancing, but can be damaging in the extremes. Without sunlight we would quickly freeze to death, with relentless sunlight we would scorch to death. It is the third way, the moderate way, the comfortable balance, which wins through. Extremists take note!
    Our first Sunday Mass is at 6pm on Saturday evening, the second is at 9.30am Sunday morning, the restful darkness embraced between the two.

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  2. Inderjit, thanks for the post. I have come across the concept of sanctuary as a place where you feel safe to be challenged. I understand that this view reflects an ancient Jewish line of thought.
    What if our churches were sanctuaries like this?

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    1. Wouldn’t that be wonderful, Paul?
      I find that, generally speaking, people don’t mind being challenged, but it’s how they are challenged that makes all the difference. If it is a civil and friendly discussion, people can reflect on different ideas and opinions and be open to change, but if they feel they are being judged, criticised, ridiculed or manipulated, they are more likely to dig their heels in and fight back.
      Also, those who are doing the challenging should accept that they may be challenged in return, and take it on board with good grace. Too often, the ‘challengers’ react with anger when they don’t get the response they want, and some will resort to insults which only ever leads to conflict.

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  3. Thank you for this beautiful reflection, Inderjit. For some reason it put me in mind of a picture I saw years ago and the image is still embedded in my brain. It obviously spoke to me at some deep level. It is by the American artist Winslow Homer and it’s called ‘Dad’s Coming!’ if anyone would like to Google it.

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