Desert Journeys – 4/4/17

Desert Journeys 25

April 4th 2017

 

On my journey as an artist I often feel rather lost, as in a desert wilderness. I can be plagued by self-doubt, unclear of which path to take and starved of inspiration and direction.

The work I always turn to when floundering in such quicksands is Rodin’s Burghers of Calais. I first saw an image of this sculpture in a book at school and it affected me profoundly. I later saw the sculpture ‘in the flesh’ and was deeply moved by it. A version is displayed in the gardens west of the Houses of Parliament in London.

The work commemorates the heroism of the six Burghers of Calais who were willing to give up their lives to save the French port of Calais from siege during the Hundred Years War.

Such self-sacrifice is tenderly yet harrowingly depicted in the work; the figures’ expressions and gestures are anguished and melancholic, rather than self-glorifyingly heroic.

The six burghers were eventually spared execution, thanks to the intervention of Edward III’s wife Philippa.

This work that speaks so powerfully of the wilderness of self-sacrifice often serves to steer me through my own creative desert. That a work of art can have such a profound affect redirects me to the path of making again, however rocky that route can be.

Victoria Burgher
 

Desert Journeys – 3/4/17

Desert Journeys 24

April 3rd 2017

This Wednesday will mark two weeks since the attack on Westminster.  We have all, in some way or another, been affected by what happened.  Some of us were there, or know someone who was killed. Others of us are simply part of the wider narrative of national pain felt by the whole UK. But, interestingly, much in the same way after September 11th, Bastille Day, the Boston Marathon, and the Charlie Hebdo killings, there is another narrative – this one worldwide – that flows alongside the grief and pain.

It is a narrative of love, and it tells the story of resistance and resilience in the face of adversity. We’re not all lawyers or priests, army generals or politicians. We don’t all have a leading role in the wider story of justice, but we all have a part to play and in difficult times like this humanity shows us its best while coping with its worst. A prayer, a hug, the refusal to give in to fear and intolerance – all these things are ways in which we contribute to this narrative of love, we only need be brave enough to do it.

Our local Tube Station sent us this poem, written by a staff member in the wake of what happened. It is simple, but it is heartfelt and it reminds us that we all have a role in strengthening our world and the people in it.

In these sad times
London can feel quite small
But the people join together
And we stand so tall

We love this great city
And enjoy it every day
Some times can be tough and
We don’t want to play

The sun will always shine bright
It will never fade
Together we are London and
We are not afraid…..

Samuel Gaukroger, All Hallows by the Tower

Poem by Tower Hill Underground Station staff

Desert Journeys 31/3/17

Desert Journeys 23

March 31st 2017

I was brought up in a church going family and I want to connect with the Anglican church in a serious way but am often unable to do so. I leave a service with more, rather than fewer questions so I regard myself as rather a failure as a Christian. I suppose deep down, I am not sure what I believe but I want to find something.

I say all this because three things have inspired me in the last two weeks. On a recent trip to Berlin, my husband and I went on a tour of the Stasi prison and were shown round an enormous complex of buildings including cells and interrogation centres – none of which had any view on the outside world. Incarceration there would have been as vast and blank as any desert. Some of the tour guides are former prisoners who are still visibly re-living their ordeals. Secondly, at the Free Thinking festival in Newcastle this last weekend, the former hostage Terry Waite was being interviewed and he talked about his 5 year imprisonment, much of it in solitary confinement and in the dark. My last inspiration was from a novel by Georgina Harding called, ‘The Solitude of Thomas Cave’. This is the imagined story of a man, in the 17th century, left by a whaling boat who, for a wager, stays alone for an entire winter. The boat returns in the spring and he is alive – just. He survives but never adjusts to normal life.

How would one recover from ordeals like these? Terry Waite said that you had to take control of your mind and establish order in your thinking to enable you to cope. That is exactly what Jesus did when tempted and tormented in the wilderness. He took control of his mind and was able to face what he knew was coming. Thomas Cave also prayed for hours a day. Prayer is the key to that inner strength for us all.

Philippa Owen

Desert Journeys – 30/3/17

Desert Journeys 22

March 30th 2017

We found ourselves in the desert; that is to say the missing part that was each other.

We were recently graduated art students, brought together in the Middle East, cast into the same place at the same time by a series of fortunate coincidences. Just before meeting we had both had the identical, intensely physical and surprising experience of feeling we’d “come home” when our feet first hit the parched earth of the Judaean desert. In that desert we felt as if connected to the very beginnings of civilisation; at the same time vibrantly and joyously alive in the present moment and yet somehow also conscious of a life about to change.

That is the curious and alluring things about the desert: sands of time, vast and everlasting yet made of individually insignificant tiny specks, constantly shifting. One is piercingly aware of transience and mortality, survival potentially being only the thin line between a few sips of water or none. One is able to connect to one’s own thoughts and beliefs in a clarity often not afforded us in the hectic bustle of a large modern city.

Perhaps this inspiring, overwhelming environment made us each more receptive, therefore able to recognise the path of a new adventure and take a leap, or maybe we were just lucky that our inevitable meeting had such an aesthetically stunning and conceptually interesting backdrop. What we do know is that all these years later we return to that desert in our minds when we need to focus on what is truly important in our lives and to remind us to be grateful for the here and now.

Thomas & Angel Zatorski

 

Desert Journeys – 29/3/17

Desert Journeys 21

March 29th 2017

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said —“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert… Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.


One of the most famous poems featuring a traveller in the desert is the sonnet Ozymandias, by Percy Bysshe Shelley.

The words engraved on the statue’s base, ‘Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’ are very powerful. Given that Ozymandias is reputed to have been an alternative name for Rameses II, arguably the most powerful ruler of the Egyptian Empire, it’s a line which can easily be taken at face value. Look at everything I have achieved, it seems to brag, and despair – because you’ll never be as great as me.

But there’s another interpretation of the ‘look on my works … and despair’ line, which the poem leads on to. The statue is fallen into ruin, its now-broken pieces submerged below the rising sands, turning to dust just as surely as the empire of Rameses II has withered and faded. Look on my empire, other mighty rulers, the poem warns, and despair that everything I ruled, and had, is now lost and buried beneath the sands of time. I even called myself King of Kings, and yet all I strove for and owned is now lost and forgotten.

‘All is vanity’, Ecclesiastes cautions, and in his poem about Rameses II and his crumbled statue (and, by implication, his empire), Shelley also reminds us that all those humans who would dare to call themselves king will one day be dust. Perhaps this can be seen as a Lenten prompt not to be too beguiled by our own importance, and instead to look at ourselves in the wider perspective of the kingdom of God.

John Soanes

Desert Journeys 28/3/17

Desert Journeys 20

March 28th 2017

A Poem

Without food and only a little to drink,
He travelled for forty days.
It was very hot there,
He felt lost, like He was in a maze.
On and on, Jesus went,
Even though there was so much heat.
The Devil tried, but He never gave up,
Even when the burning sand hurt His feet.
No juicy raspberries, not even trees,
He couldn’t see anything but sand.
Very tired as he finished the end of his trip,
God, family and friends made Him glad.
Evie Lawley, aged 8

Desert Journeys – 27/3/17

Desert Journeys 19

March 27th 2017

Amidst the events of Wednesday afternoon, in a city of sirens, helicopters overhead and blue lights, the trauma of what was happening became quite overwhelming for me at the realisation that once again London was under attack. The immediacy of the coverage of such events – the details of the casualties and their loved ones – becomes shocking as we feed on the stream of media reporting. It touches scars that cannot be seen, but that can manifest themselves in moments when we have time to allow them.

I have been on the edge of terrorist atrocities four times in my life. The first was in 1970 as a bell boy on the QE2, victim to an IRA attack. In 1973, when a bomb was detonated near the Old Bailey, I found myself driving past the incident only a couple of minutes later and being unable to comprehend what had happened. In 1996 I happened to be driving around South key in the immediate aftermath of a massive bomb in Docklands. Now this week in Westminster, the school where I work was in a lockdown following the attack near the Houses of Parliament. During the incident our school headmaster stood reassuringly present in Dean’s Yard for most of the time, as pupils’ movements were restricted. The Prime Minister spoke of the atrocity committed on innocent victims, but also of normalisation, of going about our business as usual.

In that vein I came to my church, All Hallows by the Tower, for our regular Wednesday Taizé service. Getting the tube at St James’s Park the train passed almost funereally beneath Westminster Station, the platform seeming sanitary under the artificial light, bereft of commuters. We passed silently through, but there were apprehensive looks on the faces of my fellow travellers as we thought of the devastation that had been wrought on the lives of some of those on the surface.

In the City I found my emotions becoming overwhelmed. I stopped in a café to settle myself as the day’s events overtook me. A chap in the café noticed my distress and we chatted for a few minutes before he left. He was like a voice in the desert at that moment which I was grateful for. At moments like this I find my faith gives me strength, and the well-known ‘Footprints’ prayer is very helpful. It reminds us that God is always with us and that if there are dark times when we can’t see him beside us, it is not because he has left us but because he is carrying us.

David Risley

Desert Journeys 24/3/17

Desert Journeys 18

March 24th 2017

I am dust, and to dust I shall return.

I’m no scientist, but I have a gut feeling there is some truth in this. My recent learnings in the gastronomic world have lead me towards exploring the role of bacteria in our physical well-being. Some say that we are merely vehicles for these organisms. There are 100 trillion bacteria in the average human gut, 10 times the number of cells in the whole body. I have recently been adding a sachet of 650,000,000,000 bacteria on my porridge as an experiment to check the side-effects before encouraging my post-operative mother to do the same. The antibiotics she took for 3 months will have wiped out her natural gut flora, and as probiotics are all the rage, someone recommended she take a massive daily dose of microorganisms. If you think Streptococcus Thermophilus, Bifidobacterium Breve and Lactobacillus Plantarum sound like characters from Star Trek, you are not alone. They are just a few of the many types of bacteria I’ve been ingesting daily. Not exactly a Lenten diet.

Diet fascinates me, and the relationship between life and food, bacteria, dust and even death. The bacteria that cause decay in dead plants and animals promote health in us. We are surrounded by fine particles of matter in the air: bacteria, spores, minerals, metals. Every breath is a wave of a million minute particles. There are more microbes in a teaspoon of soil than there are people on the planet. The humble carrot absorbs nutrients from the earth that we then consume. Therefore we should value the farmer who cares for this earth. In His tilth are our seeds planted and we, too, were blown here from elsewhere. This cycle has probably been going on since the Cretaceous era, yet every day something new is revealed. How new can it be? There is nothing new under the sun. It is the earth recycling its dust into life ad infinitum.

If I am dust, I am life.

Jake Kemp

Desert Journeys – 23/3/17

Desert Journeys 17

March 23rd 2017

In 2011, I spent 6 days and nights in the southern Sinai Desert, traveling with a small group led by Wind Sand and Stars. By day we trekked on foot and on camelback, sheltering in the shade of rocks in the hottest part of the day. We ate food cooked over a fire by our Bedouin hosts. At night we slept under the stars, the moonlight magnified by the pale dunes.

That’s what we did, but what happened? How was that experience of spending time in the wilderness, admittedly not alone, yet far from the familiar, the comfortable, the known?

The desert was truly awe-inspiring with its extremes of temperature, its stark vastness and raw beauty but, for me, it was the encounter with the immensity of silence that was the most visceral experience. It stripped me back and asked hard questions. It urged me to face the reality of what I am and what I am not, what I most need and what I do not. The experience of journeying with so few belongings and no way out without a guide, brought with it a profound sense of peace.

Leaning into that silence brought clarity of thought, insight, a sense of what really matters. I was challenged, called to something beyond the known path and the safe option.

In desert times and in silence our human vulnerability is exposed. So is our false belief in our independence, autonomy or superiority of any sort. Can we dare to trust, to follow in the footprints of Jesus, to simply be there with our discomfort, our struggles, and to listen? And then, as the silence brings clarity, and truer alignment of heart and mind, can we follow his example by risking all to follow our personal calling regardless of the cost?

Felicity Collins

Labyrinth Facilitator, Freelance Trainer and Writer

Desert Journeys – 22/3/17

Desert Journeys 16

March 22nd 2017

Lent is an invitation to renew your life, and so we might wish we could, like the desert fathers, remove ourselves from the noise and confusion of modern life to live a simpler life where we could better hear God’s voice.

San Juan de La Cruz (St John of the Cross) often took his brothers, in the dark of the night, to meditate beside the river, to show how a place for silent contemplation can be found close to home. As the 5th Century desert monk Evagnius said, ‘A monk is he who, separated from all, is connected to all’.

There is no need to travel far to replicate the experience of the desert monks. We can withdraw to our own ‘desert’ if we can ‘de-clutter the soul’ by trying to remove the all the usual attachments, desires for success, and the need to achieve and gain.

For myself, the most difficult to remove are those attachments and desires that arise from defensive survival needs when attempting to cope in what sometimes feels like a hostile and aggressive world. San Juan compares this challenge to a ‘dark night’ which is to be overcome. So my Lent ‘desert journey’ will be one of trying to empty the soul of such clutter, leaving a ‘desert’ or space, for God to enter.

In such a way, we can experience the ‘sounding solitude’ and hear the ‘silent music’ * as God speaks to us, rather than the other voices we usually listen to, including our own.

*Cantico Espiritual, San Juan De La Cruz

Helga Rapur