Today’s reflection is written by David Perry. Dave is a Methodist Minister who blogs at www.visualtheology.blogspot.com. A passionate photographer, he is keen to use visual imagery as a way of bringing the faith alive. Dave is currently Superintendent of the Hull (West) Circuit in East Yorkshire in the U.K. I highly recommend checking out some of his other photography and lectionary reflections.
In the centre of town, fenced off in a demolition site awaiting redevelopment, the sole surviving interior wall of a once private washroom is now open to the elements. Set above the rotting surround for a pair of long removed hand washbasins, two mirrors reflect the immediate surroundings. Their surfaces bear the marks of violence, exhibiting the tell-tale signs of impact damage. This could have occurred as the building was being demolished, or it might bear testimony to rocks, bricks or stones thrown by vandals at such an easy and tempting target afterwards.
Like razor sharp spider webs, spun within the structure of the glass, the crazed and splintered patterns look like their sole purpose is to capture meaning and prevent it escaping from the mirrored surface intact. Such violence has achieved its aim: the picture is disjointed, broken, distorted, difficult to interpret or see as a unified and intelligible whole. The shattered mirrors convey the truth of the world’s brokenness and suffering. Everywhere violence inhibits us from seeing the picture of a world perfectly reflecting the love of God. Violence breaks up the image, smashes it into sharp-edged pieces which hurt and harm. Violence splinters meaning and traps our perception into falsely chaotic and hope-denying mindsets.
Across the world the mirror of everyday experience is shattered daily by violence. The brutality of dictators and the mindless, murderous impulses of dissaffected young men take the lives of the innocent, especially women and children. Domestic violence and abuse, hidden away in every community, wreaks havoc in a similarly destructive way with clenched fists and brutalising words. All around us mirrors of expectation and promise are shattered and smashed; cruelly, deliberately and vengefully.
Violence would smash and destroy all possibility of us seeing God’s reflection in the image of contemporary life. The Bible knows differently. If the perfect picture of God’s loving Kingdom is broken into myriads of apparently faith denying shards, our Christian faith tells us that it is within the splintered, broken picture that we should expect to discover God alongside us, amongst us, reaching out to us. God never abandons us. Within the shattered heart of life God remains lovingly faithful and true: the ancient promises hold good and God is always and utterly merciful. Mary knew this and claimed it for herself and her son: “in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made” (Luke 1:54-55) The life of Jesus was God’s incarnate gift of self within the very splinters and shards of human experience.
The sign of this truth is that God is with us and we should expect to encounter that reality for ourselves: “to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger ” (Luke 2:11-12) Looking into the mirrors we can see a face, a woman’s face, reflected in one of the broken pieces of glass. She is looking at us. And we realise that she must be standing close by. In the second photograph this splintered truth is picked out in colour. Mary stood in the brokenness of her time and place and Jesus was born right there where the splintered patterns of poverty, death and violence were at their worst.
We see Mary on God’s side of the image. She allows us to perceive a different reality all around us, one that violence cannot deny or obliterate. The Magnificat puts this picture into words. In his birth Jesus is the very disclosure of this divine presence and purpose which confronts and confounds violence. Today, as at that first Christmas, God looks out at us with love from within all the razor sharp shards of horror that would deny God’s very existence. This will be a sign for you; a sign to turn around and see the God picture which challenges the distorted brokenness of our human behaviour and perception.