“ Be still and know” (Psalm 46v10)
When you look at this picture, what do you see? Most people will say they see a cross, and in some ways that is exactly what you are seeing. But there’s more to it than that.
In 2015 I was artist in residence at the Community of the Resurrection, a monastic community in Mirfield. I wanted to make artwork about the community: the brethren and their rhythm of life. Their days are split up by regular communal times of prayer, and an important part of this is the sung chant. As I sat in their church and looked at their service books, I saw a set of unexplained symbols punctuating the text, which I found out on enquiry are a code for how to sing the psalms. This picture shows one of five prints of the five symbols, and this one means ‘stop’, or ‘pause for a long time’. This picture shows the print hanging in the monastery prayer garden, with the light of the sun and the dappling of the trees shining through it.
The second image shows the symbol for ‘pause’. I used this symbol a second time for another art piece, in which I printed it onto two items of clothing I had made: a chasuble and a scapular. These two items of a monk’s clothing demonstrate visibly the balance of the ‘rule’ by which they live: work (the scapular is, as one brother put it with a twinkle in his eye, ‘a glorified pinny’) and prayer (the chasuble is worn for officiating at mass). This balance becomes very clear when you live with the brethren: they have to stop in their tracks five times a day to pray, whether convenient or not, each service becoming a literal ‘pause’ in their day.
Something I experienced when I was there was that when I slowed down, when I paused, I ‘saw’ differently: I paid attention. This attentiveness, which the desert fathers called the ‘attitude of regard’, offered me a new vision of that which was always around me, but I just hadn’t noticed it. Perhaps, at this time when we have been made to pause by circumstance, we can learn to really stop in our tracks, to pay attention and to learn a new rhythm of life.
Take time to look at the pictures and consider these questions:
What is your rhythm of life?
What are you learning in this time of pausing?
What are you noticing?
You will need a piece of card (a cereal box or something thicker), paper, found textured (but not too 3D) objects – this could be leaves, lace, corrugated cardboard for example, wax crayon ideally or pencil, strong glue – either clear contact glue or PVA (school/wood/craft glue), scissors
- Take some time to go for a walk, it could be around your garden if you have one, or around your house if you haven’t or are self isolating. Notice what you are looking at, take time to observe. Collect some textured objects that you find and are happy to cut up and use.
- Cut your cardboard into a shape that speaks to you of being still.
- Stick your textured objects onto your shape, trimming as necessary to fit on the shape. You need to stick them down really well, no loose ends. And plenty of glue. Leave to dry thoroughly, overnight is best.
- Place paper over the top of your collage and gently start to rub your pencil or wax crayon on their side over the paper, revealing the textures and the shape. It might help to tape the paper down while you do this. This technique is called frottage and is similar to the idea of brass rubbings. Eventually you should have a patterned and subtle symbol. Use as a focus for contemplation or put up somewhere around the house as a reminder of taking time to pause.