Invisible but vital (July 2017)
I recently went to see the summer art exhibition at the RWA (Royal West of England Academy). It’s called ‘Air: Visualising the Invisible in British Art 1768 – 2017.’
It is excellent and asks the viewer to contemplate the invisible and yet vital air around us. Wind, clouds, breath, flight, balloons, bubbles, the connections between the air and health, fresh air and hope, the exploration of the contents of ‘air’ and the science of its behaviour … all on that edge, between the visible and invisible, as the artist makes the imaginative leap to represent the air in art.
My imagination was captured by this idea of ‘the invisible but vital’. The art, made of paper, plastic, marble, bronze, ink, paint, resin, glass, and more, simply pointed beyond itself. It was the job of the viewer, you the visitor, to make that imaginative leap to grasp the meaning of the invisible but vital role that air plays in our lives and the life of all creation.
It’s the same with words, I’ve found. Over the years of being engaged in the ancient art of preaching and trying to be a communicator of the things of faith, I’ve come to understand that the words, however carefully chosen, are only a small part of the message you hope to share. For, there is too the real question of the experience and life story that the listener brings to the words they are hearing. There is an old joke about preachers that ends with the line : it is only by faith that I believe that what you are hearing is what I am saying!
If you’re confused over my thinking here, I guess I’m thinking about how we engage in the invisible and yet vital art of communication. And thinking about the step between the words and real understanding.
Here are some words I’ve been thinking about recently, about reading poetry:
At the edge of the words,
Beyond what is said,
Wait to see the dawning
Of image and creative change.
There in the space that the words
Make but cannot fill,
In the silence beyond,
Is the place where we become
There are many things, it seems to me, that are ‘invisible but vital’ if we are to explore life in its fullness, wonder and beauty.
At this time of year, in the Christian calendar, we reflect on the stories of the early church as we gather for worship and read the Bible together on Sundays. One of the stories that I find intriguing comes from Acts chapter 15. The followers of Jesus, had been out, travelling, telling others all they had learned and many were becoming followers of the Way. BUT, it seems, they were not all saying the same thing and the message was being interpreted and delivered in many different ways. So, they meet, in Jerusalem. The question for them was, can the Gentiles, the people who have not come from the Jewish faith, as Jesus did, become followers of Jesus? And if they can, what are the rules from the old faith that they should abide by in this new era? After discussion, they decide the bare minimum that should be required and issue their decision. They write a letter, to send with Paul and Silas, which gives the decision they have come to, saying: “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to impose no further burden than these essentials;”(vs 28).
The ‘invisible and yet vital’ Holy Spirit, that guides our listening, thinking, talking and deciding when, with the faith we cherish, we meet and engage in the world we live in. Just like the air we breathe and the words that we have to reach beyond in order to communicate well, the Holy Spirit is that invisible and yet vital presence of God among us spurring us on, disturbing and inspiring us, leading us into deeper, broader life as we seek to be faithful followers of Jesus.