A Great Place to Grow Old:
Re-imagining Ministry among Older People
DLT London 2021
This is a useful manual for any church considering developing its ministry to older people. The distinction is made between ‘third age’ and ‘fourth age’, those who are ‘active retired’ and those for whom their deteriorating physical and mental capabilities are narrowing life’s opportunities. The needs and possibilities for the actively retired are considered early on but the book increasingly focuses on ministry among those in the fourth age.
The terrain is well covered. It begins with an evaluation of dementia as an umbrella term and a comprehensive list of ideas for activities for those with dementia. The author has a passion for ministry to those in care homes. She established in 2015 ‘Embracing Age’ a charity based in West London but which now has resources to assist any church reaching out to their local care homes. She draws on her experience and those of others in writing about the care of carers and about the variety of activities which churches with buildings or none can engage in. The final chapter is a comprehensive guide to getting started on a new phase of ministry to older people.
Tina English writes out of a more evangelical background than most readers of New Directions and admits that she found the chapter on ‘mission’ difficult to write. Relax. Any church which reaches out to serve their community will find the Gospel truth: ‘Give and it will be given back to you, a full measure…’ A church in North London joined a scheme whereby local churches offered on a weekly rota night shelter to the homeless. Not only did rewarding friendships become established with the clients but others, not members of the church, began to offer their support as volunteers to cater or sleep in. Conversations ensued. What is important is that church people are equipped to listen and then able to ‘give an account of the hope that is in you’ (1 Peter 3.15).
The Look Up Tool of the Church Urban Fund is a valuable resource for any Church of England parish. So called affluent parishes discover that they have high figures of pensioner poverty (valuable house, little income), so called poor parishes that they have a surprising number of well-qualified graduates (lower cost housing). From a careful understanding of our community, ideas germinate about how we may serve. We live in an unequal society with an aging population. The chapters here on dementia and how to begin new work (any new work) would be sufficient in themselves. This is a practical book to place in the hands of someone who says, ‘There must be something more we could do to help.’
+ Peter Wheatley
Whatever Happened to Tradition?
Bloomsbury Continuum, 2021
In October last year I was obliged to remain prone with my head centred for at least six hours a day for seven days. This potentially boring situation was necessary to recover successfully from an operation to my left eye. It worked. Fortunately, I have been listening enthusiastically to podcasts and audible books for a few years; I had already bought the hardback of this book and was delighted to find that it was available on Audible.
Perhaps contrary to expectation, the theme is treated in a way which is light-hearted, uplifting and optimistic and was more entertaining than some of my podcasts. The author – who as far as I am concerned is from the younger generation – regrets the ignorance and rejection of tradition which he says characterizes Western Societies. As he puts it in the introduction: ‘Here in the West, we have been at war with our traditions for decades, in the mistaken belief that emancipating ourselves from history would set us free.’
Published last year, the examples he uses to make his various points are current, from the burning and restoration of Notre Dame, through identity politics, protests about the words of patriotic songs at the Proms in 2020 and the persecution of the Yazidis in Iraq, to the visit of St Therese’s relics to Barlinnie Prison in 2019.
The argument is organised in two parts, in effect Part One is ‘background’ – definition of Tradition, The West’s war on it, The Invention of Tradition and The Uses of Nostalgia. It is interesting how even reading the word Nostalgia can evoke almost instinctively a negative reaction, probably the result of a typically Western European up-bringing and education. That is one of the strengths of this book; Stanley persuades the reader to take a wider, more thoughtful view of words, opinions and attitudes which we think we already understand.
Another strength is that he articulates clearly and succinctly ideas that may have been tumbling around in the reader’s mind for months or years. An example of this is his argument that fundamentalists of any persuasion annihilate tradition so that it can be replaced with their own authority – although, on reflection, Hitler did not exactly annihilate traditions, he dragged back various ‘traditions’ from the past and invented new ones in order to strengthen his position as ‘Fuhrer.’
Readers of this periodical may be pleased to know that Stanley views the ‘Enlightenment’ as an ‘anti-tradition tradition’, and one of the main reasons why the West is ‘such an existential mess.’ When God is no longer at the centre of all things, human beings no longer define themselves in relationship to Him and each other. Liberalism has the effect of making us put our own appetites first, which can lead to influential or powerful people imposing their own view of how society should work. So, liberalism – having been conceived as a philosophy of freedom – becomes oppressive. Clearly these oppressive views are efficiently disseminated by ‘social’ media, so that someone like Kathleen Stock – a left-wing lesbian feminist professor of philosophy, who would a decade ago be viewed as a pinnacle of the liberal left – can lose her job for espousing ‘unacceptable’ views.
Part Two of the book could be called the application of the argument – to Identity, Order, Freedom, Equality and Faith – as the author says, ‘how traditional forms of living can help us navigate a mutable world.’ I found this section educational in an undemanding way; for example he explains the rites of Aboriginal animistic religion and their concept of ‘The Dreaming.’ I had not realised that I wanted to know about this, but found it interesting and lucidly explained. The clarity of his language means that this book would be helpful to non-believers interested in Christianity; on page 115 he gives a succinct summary of the differences between the catholic and protestant understanding of the Eucharist.
Part Two contains some pleasing phrases; ‘sex is the pole around which gender dances’, ‘anyone who expects to feel safe in a driverless car has never owned a printer’, ‘men unleashed will behave like pigs. Being a man, I suspect this is true’, ‘I have to be seen to be believed.’ The latter from Queen Elizabeth II, although earlier monarchs would probably concur – Queen Victoria was unpopular when she became reclusive after Prince Albert’s death.
This book is optimistic because the author thinks traditions can be revived to transform lives, easing the pervasive anxiety and restlessness which characterizes Western societies. He is a living example of the power of tradition – from Marxist historian in his twenties, to Roman Catholic writer, commentator and columnist for a traditional newspaper.
A LIFE-LONG SPRINGTIME:
The Life and Teaching of Fr George Congreve SSJE
Sacristy Press 2022
ISBN 978 1789591989
Any bibliophile will tell you that one of the great joys of second-hand book shopping is the opportunity for serendipity: the happy find, the pearl of great price concealed amidst a pile of mediocrity. Similarly, the least interesting book in any library is the one I am meant to be reading. So it was that the young Luke Miller, finding a moment to spare at St Stephen’s House in 1989, found and opened a volume by Fr George Congreve SSJE. In picking it up and reading, (the now) Fr Miller found a pearl that was to captivate him for thirty years and more. We should all be grateful, since it has led to a number of publications and lectures, culminating in this slim but important book.
Congreve was an early member of the Society of St John the Evangelist (SSJE). A disciple of Fr Benson, the Founder, Congreve was at the same time responsible for correcting some of the former’s extreme beliefs, such as his preaching of a ‘deadness’ in ‘mortified’ relationships within a religious community, which threatened to destabilise or even threaten the future of the Society. In a phrase which will delight aficionados of the Religious Life, though perhaps not those who have to live it, Miller reports that in the early years, ‘Community Recreation was an exercise neither in community nor in recreation’. Later, Congreve was also to be influential in ensuring that SSJE maintained its ethos as a Religious Community at a time when a number of brethren felt it was more suited to being a gathering of mission priests.
Congreve was admired and respected in his own lifetime, and widely published. However, he died in 1918, as the Church and the world began to face up to a very different existence in the aftermath of the First World War, and his writings quickly slipped out of print. Fr Miller’s central thesis is that Congreve’s importance as a theologian is long overdue a reassessment, as he has much to say to the Church today.
Three examples will show why Miller’s argument is convincing. First, Congreve offers a persuasive theology of mission, which is ‘a necessary instinctive action in our new nature of Christ in us’. The Church receives help and grace from those whom she brings to Christ, and without them ‘is incomplete … all the members share in the enrichment of life in virtue which the conversion of each new member brings’. In an era when many are timid about proclaiming the unique message of salvation in Jesus Christ, but at the same time desperate to fill the pews in order to pay the quota or keep the SDF bean-counters at bay, here is a theology of mission which will repay careful study.
Secondly, Congreve was a great lover of nature, believing it to be a sacrament which points beyond itself to God. He was interested ‘not so much in the preservation of the natural world as in its redemption.’ As such, his writings offer a genuinely Christian theology of the environment, with a focus on God and a theological depth which is lacking from much contemporary commentary on the subject.
Thirdly, Congreve was a staunch defender of the morality – and thus the necessity – of the First World War. No doubt this contributed to his fall from public view in subsequent years, but Miller argues that Congreve sets his justification of conflict in the context of self-sacrifice, in which ‘all are called to be the faithful warrior, whether or not bearing arms’. Congreve lost close family members in the First World War, so he was not naïve about the cost of war. Whilst his teaching on this subject is undoubtedly a challenge to modern sensibilities, it enables him to offer a clear defence of the just war theory. Fr Miller suggests that this is helpful in an age when ‘the churches often neither assert pacifisim nor offer a positive justification for fighting, and are thus reduced at best to silent sympathy and at worst to hopeless irrelevance’. This sentence seems a prescient commentary on the reaction of the churches to Putin’s monstrous invasion of Ukraine, which is in its third week as I write this review.
All of these cases, and others, have their root in a malady which Congreve diagnoses with admirable succinctness in a defence of the Religious Life. They are examples of what happens when ‘religion has become a department of sentiment’. Here alone is proof that Congreve is worth revisiting today. Like his hero, Luke Miller writes elegantly and accessibly, but not at the expense of substance. If Fr Congreve’s work is to enjoy the renaissance it deserves, this book is the natural starting point.
A PILGRIM GARDEN:
Reflections for the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham
The Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, 2022
This book has not been written; it has been created. It is, in itself a work of art, a prayer book, a spiritual guidebook and an exhibition. As a creation it has a wonderful harmony of word and image. It is presented as a precious object, a treasure. It is a fitting celebration of the centenary of Anglican Marian devotion in Walsingham. The book invites and guides the praying of all twenty mysteries of the Rosary, with reflections written by the twenty guardians of the shrine. These are enhanced and complemented by the photographs of Tessa Hobbs who both designed the garden in 2004, Bishop North tells us ‘drawing on her own deep faith’, and has overseen its development and maintenance until very recently.
The reflections have an introduction by the Master of the College of Guardians Bishop Philip North and a guide to praying the Rosary. They conclude with a reflection on the Walsingham Prayer and finally one by Tessa Hobbs on the spirituality of the garden itself. She writes; ‘This garden is a special garden because it is a sacred space, the Lord ‘walks’ its paths, and many blessings and much love is experienced here.’ The purpose of this book is to take the reader as slowly and prayerfully as they wish both through the Rosary and the paths of the garden. As Bishop North writes about this book ‘I hope that you will delight in this book, and that as you journey though this Pilgrim Garden, you may encounter the Risen Christ and open your heart to receive him.’
This connection between gardens and the Rosary is a powerful and creative one. Some of the Guardians draw out some of these resonances. Bishop Martin Warner points to the Burne –Jones painting of the Annunciation where Gabriel blends in with the fruitful foliage of a tree ‘which reminds us of the Garden of Eden.’ Betty Jarrett reflects on the garden as a place of refuge as Gethsemane was to Our Lord. The twenty reflections offered by twenty individuals, male and female, ordained and lay, from many walks of life, offer a kaleidoscope of rich images and phrases to bring fresh light onto the Gospel passages. Some are deeply personal and all the more engaging for that. There is surely something here for everyone; it is book, if used prayerfully, that will be a source of blessing to many.
The photographs themselves invite the reader to pause and contemplate the shapes, textures and colours of the startling range of plants in the garden. Some photographs are full page, some are double. There are occasional images of the architecture that surround the garden, giving the strong impression of walking along the pathways. The photographs were, in my experience, powerful prompts to prayer and reflection. Tessa Hobbs is able to communicate through these images the spirit of the place. They took me to the Shrine and helped me to see it with fresh eyes. I found several breath taking; both of the garden but also of the buildings.
If you would like to keep something of Walsingham in your home buy this book. If you would like to introduce someone to Walsingham give him or her this book. Walsingham has been part of my life for over forty years and this book authentically communicates and celebrates the place I know and love.
A Pilgrim Garden: Reflections from The Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham is available exclusively from the Shrine Shop: www.shrineshoponline.co.uk
Young Vic, London
‘It’s like a black mass,’ exclaims Andy Warhol as he films Jean-Michel Basquiat stabbing a fervent paintbrush at his easel-mounted canvas. ‘I see it now!’ Two very different men, with different styles, coming from different standpoints, and at a different time. The Young Vic’s The Collaboration, directed by Kwame Kwei-Armah, is set in New York in 1984. Warhol, then aged 56, had become better known for parties than painting. His best work from the 1960s was behind him, but the money and reputation followed like a tailwind. Into this calm maelstrom comes gallerist and art dealer Bruno Bischofberger, brimming with commercial excitement and Swiss enthusiasm as played by Alec Newman. The play opens with him showing Warhol the art of Basquiat, the scene’s new enfant terrible. Obviously, and naturally, Warhol dislikes it as he peers incredulously at the imagined canvas hanging on the fourth wall. But Bruno persuades him to meet with Basquiat with an eye to doing something together, and the scene shifts to Warhol’s stylish, pristine and sanitized apartment. The play convincingly recreates the encounters which brought these two seminal artists together for a brief blaze of output before their deaths within 18 months of one another in the late 1980s.
Warhol is played by Paul Bettany, a welcome return to the stage after 20 years. His most recent tv role was as the sneering, loathsome Duke of Argyll in A Very British Scandal over Christmas. He is wholly convincing as the jaded and lost artist in middle age, all nightclubs and neurosis. The part, as written by Anthony McCarten, is a gift to any actor and an especial jewel in the hands of someone like Bettany, not least with subtle references to the artist’s Catholicism. McCarten went beyond Warhol’s formulaic tv interviews to mine his diaries which were a morning ritual of downloaded gossip from the day and night before in rapid streams, usually dictated to a secretary. Warhol no longer knows what he is famous or good for, which can be both dangerous and destabilising. Enter Basquiat, given full cherubic magnetism by Jeremy Pope (also seen on Netflix in Ryan Murphy’s Hollywood, amongst others). He is both coiled spring and damaged stray, painting with urgency and determination. ‘How long does it take you to do one of these?’ asks Warhol. ‘Oh, about two hours,’ comes the reply.
The first half takes its time to set out the stall. There is much disquisition on what it means to be an artist, the nature of art, and the role of originality. Basquiat blazes like a comet; Warhol’s slow-burn has gone off the boil. The younger admires the older (their age gap is 30 years), and Warhol comes round to the idea of doing something together – although it terrifies him. There is a primacy to Basquiat’s approach whereas Warhol prefers to be at one remove or more, at the very least. What fulfilment means for both is a moot point and one the narrative never completely resolves, but perhaps that’s just the way it is for great artists.
Having done all the intellectual stuff, the second half sets up neat tension. Warhol arrives at Basquiat’s apartment this time, a contrast of squalor and disarray. They have already finished 16 canvases but must complete the 17th and final one for the joint exhibition. Bruno arrives to encourage this and shows the planned poster, depicting the two artists as boxers. Warhol is dressed noticeably differently now: the formal coat has gone, replaced with jeans, trainers, a biker jacket. But Basquiat, though bewitching, is unreliable: drugs, fame, artistic temperament – all conspire to make him far from a safe bet. Only his artistry proves dependable. His on-off girlfriend (Sofia Barclay) appears before he does, wanting cash for an emergency abortion, instructing Warhol to find it for her in the refrigerator where Basquiat also keeps his caviar and champagne. She goes; finally he comes. His close friend has been attacked by police and lies comatose in hospital. Yes, it’s a Black Lives Matter moment and a reproach to all those overlooked and neglected deaths before the fate of Floyd. The only thing Basquiat can do is paint, and here the threads of the play are brought together with breath-taking intensity: Warhol filming, to Basquiat’s displeasure; Basquiat expiating his pain in paint; Warhol wanting Basquiat to be shirtless, Basquiat demanding the same, and the disfigured torso through a pervious assassination attempt bringing more confessional opening-up from Warhol than ever seemed possible. Two men motivated by personal tragedy and scars, pointing to the burden of damage in their lives. If artists see the world differently it is because they need to.
This is a brilliant piece. It asks serious questions without making heavy demands. Hopefully it will transfer and also be performed regionally. Ironically the Warhol-Basquiat joint exhibition was not well received by critics but the pieces went on to command record amounts at auction. Not all art is initially recognised for its value, nor artists for their worth.
Man and Beast
Royal Academy, London,
until 17th April, 2022
Francis Bacon was born into a well-off English family who lived in Ireland. He later became a star of London’s Bohemia. This show seeks, successfully, to put the country boy back into the louche Soho habitué. It flags artistic influences on Bacon: Picasso, Velázquez, Muybridge (though not Poussin whose ‘Massacre of the Innocents’ (Musée Condé) was hugely important for Bacon’s bared teeth and screams of pain – and influenced him long before the horrors of World War 2). And it shows how animals, especially in photographs, meant so much to him. Throughout his life Bacon retained the country boy’s realism about man the animal – some of the show’s most interesting pictures are of the bullfights he had no qualms about visiting. Indeed, it is no surprise to read the po-faced notice that Bacon was not a supporter of animal rights. He wasn’t a supporter of gay marriage either, on the grounds that legalising gay relationships took the danger out of them.
The show is long – 8 big rooms at the Academy – and is prefaced by a warning about the violence in many of the exhibits. The violence is what we expect from Bacon, though with so many pictures in the exhibition the constant level of pain and anguish and torture isn’t always maintained. And Bacon’s signature surreal bio-morphs do pall. But occasionally he paints a nice monkey, and the final bull is fairly gentle.
In fact, Bacon is good at reproducing details from normal life, such as a doorknobs. And the show demonstrates how he loved colour too. Moving from room to room there is more and more dramatic colour, bright and unsaturated, though Bacon being Bacon there is also the occasional suggestion of a Rothko which has been gobbed at or a Barnet Newman graffitoed.
And then there is religion. Bacon grew up in Ireland when it was still a Catholic country. He wasn’t ‘conventionally’ religious, but religion keeps on cropping up. His biggest pictures are triptychs. The second picture in the show is a Crucifixion. It has more than a hint of Rembrandt’s ‘Flayed Ox’ which also appeared in one of the Screaming Popes (not in the show). However much a bad boy Bacon might have been, he was a bad boy rebelling against the things Irish bad boys traditionally rebel against, and rebelling within the tradition.
Indeed, the three popes in the show are amongst the most successful works on display. In them Bacon draws a comparison with Velázquez while knowing that the two are very far apart. The Spaniard is a consummate manipulator of paint, two hundred years ahead of his time, with a subtle grasp of character, and a desire to be a gentleman. Bacon is a painter who didn’t draw well but used paint with impact – sometimes as with Rembrandt or Manet the shape the paint describes dissolves and the paint becomes its own point. And Bacon is a painter of ideas, painting quite a different kind of pope from Velázquez’, one who is animal and visceral rather than super subtil with a will to power. Which is perhaps one of the weaknesses of his vision, that it is ultimately reductive. Very much not the whole human story though a story still worth telling.
Not that Bacon approved of storytelling in pictures, even if stories do creep in, both in the implications of some of the scenes, eg, the men in the long grass, or the Triptych ‘Three Figures in a Room,’ and more directly with the Furies in ‘Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus 1981.’
Taken altogether this show makes clear the artistic vision which made Francis Bacon one of the leading British and international artists of his generation. The contrast with Thomas Gainsborough, promoted by the National Gallery as the archetypical English painter of the archetypal English painting – ‘Blue Boy,’ on loan from the Huntington Collection until 15th May, 2022 – could hardly be greater. Gainsborough set out to be the heir to Van Dyck’s swagger painting with beautifully painted fabrics, poses which bespeak a natural authority, and a certain amount of dressing up in historical costume, a tradition, of course, carried on in real life by the Bright Young Things and Prince Harry.
‘Blue Boy’ was Gainsborough’s calling card and his first great success at the Academy. He embraced and enhanced the grand manner. He had studied Van Dyck closely, even to copying in ‘Blue Boy’ the haircuts of George and Francis Villiers in Van Dyck’s picture of them (it’s on loan from the Royal Collection to the National for the show). He also copied the lips of the boys, which are a little too cute in the originals and frightening if looked at carefully in ‘Blue Boy’ himself (like the early stages of the picture of Dorian Grey). So, where Bacon shows the animal beneath the clothes, Gainsborough loves the clothes and just hints at the animal who wears them. They are two sides of the same coin.
Courtauld Gallery, London,
until 8th May, 2022
This is the first major show at the Courtauld since works were completed last year to make the building safe and to reorganise the top floor gallery. It is the best show in town. 37 self-portraits by Vincent Van Gogh (1853-90) are extant, all from the last four years of his life. 16 are in this exhibition. The Courtauld is also showing a picture of the Belgian artist Eugène Boch (Arles, 1888). It is included because Van Gogh because in a letter to his brother Theo that by painting Boch he would ‘do the portrait of an artist who dreams great dreams, who works as the nightingale sing, because that’s his nature.’ With Boch shown against a starry sky, the Van Gogh symbol of the infinite, his portrait is a statement of Van Gogh’s own intense artistic personality. It shows what he meant when he wrote the painter’s work was ‘to show people that there’s something in human beings besides what the photographer is able to get out of them with his machine … painted portraits have a life deep in them’.
Boch hangs next to the other non-self-portrait in the show, the picture of Van Gogh’s chair. This was painted in Arles as a companion piece to ‘Gauguin’s [less rough] chair’. The plain, humble seat has often been taken as symbol of Van Gogh’s personality. Of course, like many of the actual self-portraits in the show, it is not the complete Vincent Van Gogh. Indeed, he continuously experimented with painting different versions of himself. And at the same time he took ideas and techniques from other artists, notably Monet and Seurat, and developped them into his mature style. So it is that in the self-portraits, more than the landscapes, Van Gogh finds himself as an artist and shows who he is to the world.
Yet or, perhaps, because of all the experimentation, its not clear what he actually looked like. There is a copy of the one remaining photograph of him, aged 19, and a little podgy. By the time of the earliest works in the show, a set of drawings and ‘Self-portrait in a felt hat’ (1887), he is gaunt, after losing many of his teeth to scurvy while working as a missionary. But he’s well-dressed and his beard is full.
Other self-portraits from that year – which show the use of pointilist technique with a very un-pointilist choice of vibrant, clashing colour and thick, almost impasto brushwork – are less suave, but he’s still wearing a jacket, white shirt and blue tie. However, the eyes, and Van Gogh sometimes gives himself blue or blue-green eyes just to check on the effect, have begun to stare ever more strongly, warily, challengingly.
And it is the eyes which come to dominate this exhibition. They show a history of a soul which is both fierce and vulnerable. In the straw-hatted pictures – the nearest we get to the Kirk Douglas film – they show a man made wary by rejection. In the Courtauld’s own picture of the artist with his ear bandaged the eyes suggest a man made simple by suffering. And in the self-portrait from August 1889, painted in the psychiatric hospital at St-Rémy as a means to drag himself out of illness, the deadened eyes suggest the artist almost less than human.
But, next to that picture, reunited with it for the first time in over a century, and painted a week or so later, there is one of Van Gogh’s finest pictures of himself as an artist. It is extraordinary how the two pictures could be painted so close in time to one another – and how fast his hair must have grown. In the later portrait, which usually hangs in Washington D.C., the artist is poised, with a trim moustache. His eye is piercing and he holds a palette as symbol of the standing of painting and of this painter. The whole is certainly intense, but it is vital rather than decaying. This is the man who wrote, ‘what I’m most passionate about, much more than all the rest in my profession – is the portrait, the modern portrait’.
The effect of the passionate struggle, the successful struggle, to achieve the modern portrait makes this show strong and compelling, and ultimately tragic. There is a heroism about Van Gogh and an insight into how he saw himself which is profoundly moving. Visiting the Courtauld shortly after seeing Francis Bacon at the Academy, a good show of a good painter, was to contrast deep humanity and suffering with shock tactics which sicken but are reductive. Even in the worst of personal circumstances, Van Gogh’s vision is life-affirming.