I have recently returned from a wonderful weeks holiday in Barcelona, one of the most beautiful and inspiring cities I have ever visited. I was very moved by so much of the art and architecture we saw and hope to write and reflect on much of it over the coming weeks, but one art work that we saw in the MACBA lingered with me. The Exhibition was entitled ‘Beneath the Surface’ and works expressed the search for perfection and spirituality, and the collective memory of urban and domestic space. Film Director, artist and author Derek Jarman’s last film Blue, drew my attention immediately. A monochrome deep blue glow fills the screen of the projected frame for the duration of the work, echoing the artist’s vision when he started to loose his sight and medication caused him to see ‘as if through a blue filter’. “A soundtrack evokes powerful images of the mental, physical and emotional strain caused by his terminal AIDS illness.”
Blue has always been my favourite colour. As a child I used to lie on the grass and look into the sky on a summers day and dream that I could take a big pair of scissors and cut out a dress from the deep blue expanse to wrap around me. Jarman wrote,
‘The blood of sensibility is blue, I consecrate myself to it, To find it’s most perfect expression.’
The words accompanying the deep blue projection alternated between poetry and narrative prose offering different memories and meanings of life that he associated with the colour blue; the small things that we so easily forget that he had been reminded of as he prepared himself to die. It felt like a mixture of finding beauty in the ordinary mixed up with a deep fear of the unknown and I identified with his emotions as I tentatively walk my own cancer journey and face the possibility of an early death. This unique film caused me to reflect on my fears and my love of beauty, for blue is a colour that expresses paradox. It is the colour we associate with eternity, of sky and sea, of purity and the Virgin Mary; of bluebells in the spring, of tranquility and peace. And yet it is also associated with the emotion of loss and depression when we say today I’m ‘feeling blue’ or the music genre ‘blues’, the spiritual lament of the African American slave worker
Too often I live in fear. That’s the truth of it, and I’m ashamed to admit it but it is something I have often struggled with daily.
Fear of getting something wrong, of being misunderstood. Fear of letting others down, of not being good enough. Fear of heights. Fear of crowds, Fear of flying, of speed, of anything that creates an adrenaline rush. Fear of travelling. Of closing the front door behind me in case it won’t be there when I return. Fear of the dark. Fear of being alone. Fear of being with others. Fear of hospitals, fear of dying.
As I said – I live in fear a lot of the time and it is exhausting.
Have I always been like this? If I am honest, yes, to some degree or other. But I have also tried to live bravely – to face my fears, to befriend them, learn from them, listen to them. To seek the joy and wisdom that comes from walking with them rather than running away from them. It is certainly not easy, particularly over the past six months and some days I wake up and just can’t face them and need to hide away and fill my mind with anything that can consume my attention, even a spot of daytime tv. I tend to find a safe space like my back garden, the allotment or even just the chair in the kitchen, where I can draw breath, enjoy the silence and solitude, the presence of nature, for an hour, an afternoon or even a day or two until I feel strong enough to emerge from my shell and face the world once again.
I am an introvert – I need quiet, alone places where I can think and wonder. Spaces where I can reflect, write or create at my own pace rather than at the break neck speed that others require of me with their constant agenda’s. I relax better when I am either alone or spending time with those whom I am closest to – my husband, my children or grandkids, or close friends. But sometimes eve this can become a crowd of too many and I find myself resorting to performing a role to please and be useful rather than just being myself.
I function best when I teeter between activity with others and time alone. Much of my best alone time is when I am doing chores – cleaning, gardening, cooking, ironing, writing or studying. It’s not that to be alone I need to be resting, in fact quite the opposite. I enjoy making things, creating things, new environments, installations that provoke memories or questions or encouragements.
I think this is why I find the role of curator fits me so comfortably. I can gather ideas, images, objects, words, sounds, knowledge and create something with them by bringing them together into one space that invites others to have a conversation with me without me necessarily having to be present. I aim to encourage others to think and feel in new and deeper ways by the way I create new relationships between objects, texts, sounds etc to create a space for them to walk through and interact with but one where I can hide away in the back ground and see their responses from a distance, and observe the conversations the space begins between others.
And yet if I am honest, I am also quite a control freak. I live in a state of constant paradox, I struggle to let go – to give away freely whilst at the same time longing to nurture another to fly higher and further than I would dare to go myself. As a mother of four I have loved creating playful, safe yet stretching environments for my kids to grow and learn in. To encourage them to experiment with new things, to be told that nothing is a failure just another opportunity to learn and grow. All four are now grown and left the nest, and each of them has already grown to be so much larger and wilder than I – they don’t seem to have inherited my fear and for that I am so grateful. From their mid teens they each travelled to far off places on mission trips and experienced new places, cultures and peoples that I could only dream of because my fears and anxieties and need to control my environment was too great and I chose to live a smaller life and enable others instead.
But over the past few years I have begun to step out into new territories and follow the cry of my heavenly father to be all that he created me to be and not to waste my life in fear any longer. It is a step of faith to move into the path of the wind of the spirit for it blows where it wills and takes you by surprise and you cannot control it but have to learn to trust it and rest in the eye of it’s swirling storm. My life and ministry has grown wider, and the more I see the more inquisitive I become, the less answers I have, and the life in all its fullness takes on greater and deeper meaning for me almost daily. But it’s not easy and the road of stepping out in faith is full of danger. My most recent adventure was most unexpected and is probably the most dangerous journey I have yet made – the cancer journey that I am in the midst of has brought moments of the most intense fear I have ever encountered, but it has also brought me back to a place of safety where I have no wher to go except to the source of love and belonging that I have always sensed at the core of my being. When I rest in this love then the fear melts, sometimes just momentarily, other days the peace lasts and fills me with joy and a deep sense of eternal understanding that goes beyond words. It has made me want to live life to its fullest in every moment. To appreciate all that I have, the family I was born into, the husband and children God gifted me with to share life with, the homes we have lived in, the communities we have loved and shared precious years with, the beauty of the many environments we have experienced, the grandeur of landscapes, seascapes, the minutiae of a sea shell or a butterfly. Life is precious and beautiful, full of paradox, of suffering alongside joy, of every shade of blue I can imagine. And I want to spend every moment I have playing my unique part in bringing about the words of the prayer that I was taught to pray as a child, ‘Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is heaven’.