This is my favourite of some of the recent picturing of the Presentation/Candlemas I’ve seen - with thanks to mamabishop and her wider current reflections on this continuing Epiphany season:
Life-giving and nurturing, the prophet looks thankfully and in hope to the light - and, in contrast to the problematic elements of childbirth ‘purification’ and the slaughter of doves, the two living birds speak too of ecological and other resurrection and baptism for fruitfulness and healing.
What do others see? My dear friend and fellow Anglican priest, Stuart Soley, says: 'In addition to the things you see I notice the prophet (and it could be both Anna or Simeon...lovely!) holds but doesn't hold the Christ child! Ready to let him go to be that light and energy of world'. My wonderful Pitt Street friend and retired Uniting Church MInisters says: ' I delight in the confident graceful smile of Simeon/ Anna. The earth colour encompassing them and their own earth colour speak of the joy and birthing of the new way comin.'...
Among those of us who ponder these things in our hearts and souls (and seek to live in response) - modern day Annas, Simeons and Marys - I wonder what images of Candlemas/Presentation of Christ touch you. It has been refreshing this year for me to reflect upon a few of the new perspectives which have emerged in Reformed church spaces - not evading (as sometimes in the past), or replacing, but enriching the ancient streams.
The image above is one which expresses African American prayer and action for justice (by the artist Cynthia H. Catlin, from Quilt – “The Beginning of Social Justice.” National Underground Railroad Freedom Center).
Below is a powerful South African picture, by Sam Nhlengethwa, offered by Victoria Jones (see her blogpost here) - to bring fresh light and depth to Candlemas today, coupling it with reflection on Anglican Evangelical scholar Richard Bauckham’s poem (full version in the link) In the Drab Waiting Room:
‘Truly to wait is pure dependence.
But waiting too long the heart
grows sclerotic. Will it still
be fit to leap when the time comes?
Prayer is waiting with desire.
Two aged lives incarnate
century on century
of waiting for God, their waiting-room
his temple, waiting on his presence,
marking time by practicing
the cycle of the sacrifices,
ferial and festival,
circling onward, spiralling
towards a centre out ahead,
seasons of revolving hope.
Holding out for God who cannot
be given up for dead, holding
him to his promises—not now,
not just yet, but soon, surely,
eyes will see what hearts await.’
I’ve always loved the ‘hinge’ time in the Christian year at the beginning of February - with the poignancy of time, light, joy and suffering in the Presentation of Christ/Candlemas, as well as its embodied meanings in places and people so varied as the dale farmers on my native hills preparing forw animal and plant births and the shiny school students in Sydney beginning new adventures at the same time.
This year was particularly poignant, as, before our Pitt St worship, the last time I had heard the Nunc Dimittis was at my parents funeral (shall I say the nunc dimittis? the vicar had asked me specifically - in a very priest to priest moment - knowing the answer and what it meant to us both, and to my father). These lines from the poem ‘Nunc Dimittis’ (originated dedicated to the great fellow poet Anna Akhmatova) by Joseph Brodsky express so well the Christian hope, reflected in Candlemas, which my parents carried in their last days, in the meeting of age and infancy, and in the eternal uncreated light:
‘He went forth to die. It was not the loud din
of streets that he faced when he flung the door wide,
but rather the deaf-and-dumb fields of death’s kingdom.
He strode through a space that was no longer solid.
The roaring of time ebbed away in his ears.
And Simeon’s soul held the form of the Child --
its feathery crown now enveloped in glory --
aloft, like a torch, pressing back the black shadows,
to light up the path that leads into death’s realm,
where never before until this point in time
had any man managed to lighten his pathway.
The old man’s torch glowed and the pathway grew wider.’
So be it..
It was a delight last Sunday evening to see again Brothers Ghislain, Matthew and Alois (the Prior) from the Taize Community and even more delightful to take some of our parishioners and boarders from The Glennie School to share in Taize Prayer in St Stephen's Cathedral in Brisbane. This followed on from our beautiful Taize-style Candlemas Prayer the previous Sunday in St Luke's Toowoomba.
This year is the 75th anniversary of the founding of the remarkable Community in the little village of Taize in Burgundy, 100 years on also from the birth of the founder Brother Roger. It continues to act as an inspiration to so many people in so many places and situations in our world. Above all, its Christ-centred spirit of simplicity, solidarity and celebration speaks to young people who continue to join in 'the Pilgrimage of Trust' in such great numbers. The special Letter in preparation for this year's anniversaries is again a beautiful distillation of the Taize spirit and an encouragement to us all to walk together 'Towards a New Solidarity' with people of all Christian, ethnic and other backgrounds, with people of all faiths and none. Check our the Letter here.
Jo Inkpin is an Anglican priest serving as Minister of Pitt St Uniting Church in Sydney, a trans woman, theologian & justice activist. These are some of my reflections on life, spirit, and the search for peace, justice & sustainable creation.