On my trip to the South Downs last week, we visited a very special churchyard beneath the Long Man of Wilmington, which is an ancient clue (once marked out in the natural chalk of the hillside, since retraced by concrete blocks) as to the importance of keeping our two sides in balance! Its interesting to note that his feet once also pointed out to left and right (see this fascinating history and some comparisons with other ancient figures, though this is “one of the largest such representations of a man anywhere in the world, being second only to the Giant Of Attacama in Chile who stands 393 feet high”). However, the Victorians, in their infinite “wisdom”, decided to alter them to face the same way as though on a hike across the hills with a pair of walking staffs….
A lot of people do set off to climb that hill, as though the giant is “the destination”…but I felt like I knew that whatever he was pointing to, with a stick in each hand, was most likely to lay beneath him, since the figure is quite distorted from “up there” and clearly meant to be seen from below. This (apart from a very hot day) was what led me, without too much overthinking, straight to Wilmington church, next to the remains of a priory rather than to the uphill footpath from the carpark. Below here is a place of extraordinary balance, he seemed to say to me and, as the long time explorer of the crossing points of dragon lines, who was I to argue.
This churchyard (even the name here – Saint Mary and Saint Peter – is in balance) accommodates a massive yew tree that is the best part of 2000 years old which, in itself, was quite enough for me to feel quite blown away. For all its antiquity and the need of quite a few supports to hold it up, this tree is still producing abundant amounts of fresh growth, which feels like such a clue as to the importance of living in balance. The time I spent with the tree was so potent; I can’t even put into words and, I can also tell you, I was in no rush to leave; dawdling my way, barefoot, around and around it, cuddling and lying against its limbs, enjoying the view across the fields of unbroken Sussex downland. Though I am not at all religious, I heartily thanked the church for protecting the ground on which it stands, which is how it has managed to survive so long and to be afforded such tender reverence, I am quite sure.
Equally astonishing was a stained glass window inside the church, commissioned at the millennium, inspired by images of yew wood seen beneath a microscope. The artist Paul San Casciani has a fascination with “inner space” and whether you define the energy in those spaces as God or quantum potential, we are really all talking about the same thing here. Inscribed are the words “Raise the stone and thy shall find me, cleave he wood and I am there” (a reputed quote from Christ, jotted down in the 3rd century); this is old-new understanding at its best!
In effect (see the artist’s own account of his inspiration for the window, left), what I was seeing via this abstraction in glass was a depiction of so-called “junk DNA” (though there is actually no such thing as “junk” in nature; these voids are where quantum potential waits to be interpreted through the very focus of conscious intention…), depicted as colourful glass beads “randomly” distributed around tree circles. The artist had moved away from church tradition to depict the unseeable, without turning it into something “to do with man” (eg. halos or rays of light beaming down onto figures from celestial clouds) and I loved him for the effort because, in doing so, he leaves this quantum void or creator zone open to interpretation, and for involvement, by all who come across it. Just as those images of the yew that inspired the piece are magnified to a very high degree, I sensed that our own intentions could be magnified and distributed far and wide by such a window; so, no more fitting a place for it than in one intended for spiritual focus and the sending out of prayer, you could say. Yet, inherent in it is the reminder that we each possess these same quantum spaces; and that all of our own thoughts and intentions can be so purposefully radiated out into the world, to become what we focus upon…
These abstract coloured droplets, a biology textbook turned into art (yes, I could see that, even before I read the description) also serve to hold and distribute the radiant afternoon sunlight deep into the otherwise shady spaces of the almost 1000 year old church. Their abstraction, again, seems to invite something new and fresh into that “old” and predictable space, declaring “anything is possible from here”.
The only non-abstract inclusion, apart from the artist’s signature and the traditional glass-painters “conceit” of a fly, is a butterfly taking off from the top corner. Encouraged by this and another window framed by bees and butterflies (refurbished by the same artist), the church seems to have taken up the butterfly as its motif, since they are liberally distributed, as paper cut-outs, around the walls, sat on the church organ and so on. To my eyes, a veritable mass-metamorphosis seemed to be underway in this once strictly “religious” space…to make room for something far more expansive and without religious boundaries. You could say, I felt like I was witnessing, via this rebirth of a “traditional” church interior, an acknowledgement that the unquantifiable, unpredictable, unlimited quantum realm has a place amidst all the “old” and once fixed ideas of religion; which is the liberal mindset that allows powerful things to start to occur amongst those who are already open to a spiritual perspective. Because to acknowledge the part played by intention is to admit our creator-abilities (the god within), beyond the rules of the old church or the hard-edged logic that fixate a more scientific mind; which is to realise we can – each – alter and direct outcome with the state of our thoughts; the very theme of my last post.
On this same thread, another living metaphor had unfolded before my very eyes in another small church, just a couple of miles away at Berwick the day before. It seems a more typical sculpture of Christ on the cross had been stolen…all “so sad” or “a disaster” you might say, from the habit. Yet (looked at another way), because of that so-called “tragedy”, an opportunity had arisen for artist David Hensel to fill the space left by the old one, which would not have otherwise happened (as desperately old thinking must always make way for new, one way or the other.
Hensel was inspired to focus on the RESURRECTION rather than the suffering of Christ (“YES!” I felt a shot of excitement rise up through me as I read this) and so the resultant artwork, which depicts Christ’s limbs gently entwined by an organic substance (meant to be his winding cloth unravelling; could just as easily be vines and leaves) in the very loosest hint of a cross-shape, has quite a different feel to any other “crucifix” I have ever come across. Really, Christ is the only part of this new symbol resembling a cross; turning it back into a symbol of manifest balance (rather than a torture device)…the vertical and horizontal plains intersecting as flesh, “as above so below”. He might equally be spreading wings, taking off into flight; resurrection through acquisition of new skills (so-called junk DNA “switched on” to new uses). All of this feels exactly right and on-theme for these times we are experiencing together. In Hensel’s words, it is the result of a personal meditation on these topics and “a piece about oneness” and, already (as you can see), it has led to my own meditation on what I see here. There’s no denying, I was so uplifted to come across it hanging there (in a way that no other “Jesus on the cross” had ever done for me since I usually find them quite off-putting), especially since it is inside one of my all-time favourite churches; one that underwent its own resurrection of sorts when its interior was painted in brightly coloured murals, quite the radical make-over, by Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant nearly eighty years ago (see my 2011 post Radical Bloomsbury and a Charleston Pilgrimmage). Sometimes, a touch of the radical is exactly what we need as we get these metamorphoses off the ground!
In our focus upon the resurrection of ourselves and of our natural world, one intrinsically entwined with the other, we allow our hard-edged track-record of suffering and sacrifice to fall away, once and for all, making space for something infinitely softer. The new possibility simply FEELS better, just as this new symbology, here, felt so much better to look at than all those miserable crucifixes reminding us of our guilt, pain and bloodshed…and so we simply head that way, drawn towards it instead of repulsed (or duty-driven…) by it; which is all so simple, since we are being led by the heart.
This is the new way; and to see it everywhere, even (perhaps especially) inside a church, is an encouraging thing. This new-old theme of resurrection is breaking through the soil, as is most fitting for these times, and there is no stopping it as it becomes more manifest in ever more ordinary ways. Yes, it may start first in those “holy” places (not necessarily religious places; I speak of a natural quality, coming up from the ground…) but, in balancing ourselves, we too can witness its new shoots start to assert themselves, through us and as us, which is quantum healing in effect.