My family have some neighbours who have become friends over the years. There house is essentially a holiday home, used at the weekends and for a few weeks over the summer. Always well kept and tended, the house has always given the impression that it was lived in on a permanent basis, up until last Autumn when a sudden family bereavement meant that it would be locked up, curtains closed, shut down. From being a lively place full of life, it now exudes sadness. Perhaps in a few months, or even years, new owners will breath new life into it.
I wonder what the place in which we live says about us? Some might argue that such things are irrelevant, and indeed many people simply do not have an aesthetic sense, looking for utility and convenience in their surroundings rather than what they look like. Unfortunately I do have an aesthetic sense, though I sometimes wonder whether life might be a lot easier if there wasn’t so much polishing and arranging to be done. These days it’s possible to buy a whole room in IKEA, complete with contents. No thought process or imagination necessary. This isn’t actually an original concept. In the 18th and 19th centuries furniture makers had illustrated catalogues of their wares. Even church furnishers had catalogues of mass produced stained glass windows, silverware and brass.
At Christmas time we erected a scaffolding tower in the church which was draped with yards and yards of black fabric, as the basis for the nativity scene.Symbolically we placed plumes of Palm branches in the crib, pointing towards the fact that the Jesus was born to die. At Easter this structure was transformed into the open tomb and easter garden, complete with a fountain and goldfish pond. Soon the structure will become the upper room for Pentecost. Not quite sure how we will achieve toungues of fire yet. Peoples reactions to these excessive displays vary, from complete indifference to appreciation for an inspirational and symbolic addition to the church building. I do enjoy putting together these displays, and over the last few years others have enjoyed playing a part too. The primary motivation for these extravagant displays though is very simple. After so many years of neglect and decay, they point to the fact that we can enjoy the church building, and that in itself it can point us towards greater truths. That’s the joy of the catholic tradition, that sensory experiences can draw us ever closer to God.
I would love to be a able to step back in time to see what the church looked like in decades gone by. From Victorian glory to the decay of the 1970s and 80’s. All places go through seasons, we pray the in the next few years summertime might start to dawn.