Wednesday, December 11, 2019

What I'm Reading During Advent: The Radiance of Being, The Art of Advent, Sister Wendy on the Art of Christmas

The book is in three parts, concerned respectively with the nature of nature, the nature of God, and the nature of divine Wisdom. It opens in Part One with some reflections on the history of science and cosmology, using the metaphor of "light" to suggest a bridge between scientific and religious thought. Part Two, about our conceptions of God, is largely concerned with the notion of the Trinity, which makes Christianity so unique among the religions of the world. Part Three explores the intimate relationship between God and man — man viewed as the link or mediator between God and the rest of creation.

The doctrine of the Trinity ... makes sense of human life as a whole. It is the Key that opens every lock, an insight that reveals the center of the universe. It shows us the pattern that underlies physics, history, psychology, economics, and the arts. It is the most beautiful, elegant, and simple doctrine in the world — a true "theory of everything.
This is my latest book crush. The way that Stratford Caldecott honestly and unsparingly looks at the nature of science and world religions (which is as far as I've gotten) and sees where they might show us something new about the Catholic faith has been mind blowing. And, never fear, just when you think he's tipping over the edge into something that doesn't agree with the faith, he pulls up and reorients everything so that we see the orthodox faith shining through. Really extraordinary.

I loved a couple of Jane Williams' previous books — Faces of Christ: Jesus in Art, Angels — so I've had my eye on this Advent book for some time. It does not disappoint. Every day of Advent I've found food for thought and inspiration. Sometimes the art leads to other reflections than directly on the painting but it is the way that Williams opens up the art, connecting it with Advent, that I love most.

Here's a bit on the Holman Hunt painting, Light of the World.
Holman Hunt's picture is full of symbolism, all of it taking us more deeply into Advent reflection. There are three light sources in the painting, but they all cluster around Jesus. Behind him is the dawn light, struggling to make its way through the dark woods, towards that central figure. Then there is the lantern that Jesus is carrying, a bright, homely light to welcome wandering travellers. And finally, there is the light that shines around Jesus' head, his own inner brightness, from which the other lights take their meaning. Behind Jesus are threatening, twisted trees, shedding rotting fruit to the ground. They are the trees that Adam and Eve ate from, and the tree on which Jesus dies, and all our long family trees, waiting to be lit up and filled with life again. The lantern that Jesus is holding throws a reddish light back on to his cloak, which makes it look similar to the wood of the door. After all, Jesus said that he is the door or the gateway (John 10:7). So we have two doorways, facing each other, as we wait to see whether one will open to the other. ...

This one was a quick read so I just finished it. But very worthwhile.

Excellent meditations not only on art portraying the major events of Advent and Christmas, but on what these mean to us personally. It is fairly short so you can fit the 14 reflections into a busy schedule. I loved the scene of everyone in Bethlehem lined up for the census with a man leading a donkey carrying a woman almost lost in the crowd. How easy it is to be so busy, even with necessary things, that we don't notice signs of God right next to us? Each painting opened my eyes a little more, thanks to Sister Wendy.

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