Spend some time listening in silence with this abstract painting by Priest-painter - Robert Wright as you journey this Eastertide.
Image: Listening in Silence by Robert Wright, 2004. Private Collection.
While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” (Luke 24:36)
This Easter, like last Easter will be different from our usual liturgies and traditions. Not only because of Covid-19 and the restrictions in our Mass attendance, but because lockdowns have transformed us. We’ve experienced a year when everything changed and nothing happened, when words became weapons and silence made us still. This upside down world contradicts all that we have known, yet doesn’t our faith hang upon a paradox? Isn’t the cross the ultimate conundrum? This painting by the priest and abstract artist Robert Wright, is an ideal way to journey with Jesus this Easter. It starts from where we are now and gently opens the door. We need enter only when ready to see inside.
Wright’s paintings are well worth spending a great deal of time with, they never presume or prescribe. They emerge from his extensive experience in prayer, parish and parliament. He paints as he kneels before the altar; the chalice aids his palette. Listening in Silence takes us straight to the point: we can’t hear God if we’re not quiet. To be quiet we need to be still.
There are many types of silence in the Scriptures, both passive and active. We all know characters whose lives were changed by listening to God in the silence – Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Mary, Simon Peter and Mary Magdalene to name but a few. Then there are people unnamed by the biblical scribes who also hear God’s message, such as Noah’s wife, the Queen of Sheba, the Samaritan woman, the Canaanite woman, the man born blind, the thief on the cross. God speaks through angels and spirits, feathers and wings. Not always with words, he makes miracles from nature: a flood, a fire, a breeze, a storm, bread and water, blood and a tomb. Jesus comes in clouds and dreams, breaks through prisons and locked doors. Christ berates demons and fig trees, praises animals and plants. Sometimes God speaks to people only once, while others get an encore.
Another form of silence is found in the midst of prayer and praise, a call to stop and pause:
Be still, and know that I am God! (Psalm 46:10)
For God alone my soul waits in silence,
for my hope is from him. (Psalm 62:5)
The whole assembly kept silence, and listened to Barnabas and Paul as they told of all the signs and wonders that God had done through them among the Gentiles. (Acts 15:12)
Reflection and contemplation are twin pillars of our Christian faith. From Jesus’ dedicated times of withdrawal and quiet prayer to the rise in monastic life, and lay adaptations to Ignatian spirituality and Lectio Divina, we are made for silence. It feeds our souls as rain waters the earth. Silence is what our hearts beg of us when we dare to stand on holy ground. Only when the words have left the room can silence fill the space. In that moment can grace show its face:
But the Lord is in his holy temple;
let all the earth keep silence before him! (Habakkuk 2:20)
Let all mortal flesh keep silence is an ancient and beautiful hymn based on these words, originally composed in Greek. It dates from at least AD 275.
It is in these moments that Wright’s painting calls us to Christ. Gently nudging us to listen without waiting for the end. Time is not measured here by Chronos but by Kairos – not the passing of minutes and hours but a being taken into the moment whose meaning abides.
Just as we proclaim the Passion of Jesus then and now, so too does time stand still and gather momentum in eternal balance. This equilibrium is what Wright paints for us to see; not just with eyes wide open but with skin-sensing and divine embrace. Transcendence and immanence meet between the canvas and the soul – the encounter has only just begun.
There’s no correct way to approach this painting since we each find God in unique terrain, but there’s a beckoning with the burgundy and black striations. Or is it maroon meets claret? Either way, Jesus takes us to the edges, there’s no chance of cowering in the corner or hiding in the hues. Easter is not for the faint-hearted despite the fact that it’s easy to rent a chair at Calvary; be a bystander to torture, and then move seamlessly towards Alleluia and a chocolate egg. From Wright’s perspective we still have some travelling to do. The liminal space is a threshold that cannot be hurried. Here it marks the centre of our silence. Listen more says Wright. Listen without waiting for an answer. Do not rush to receive the gift before it is given. Stay in the listening and your prayer will be heard.
Death is not the end says Christ. Resurrection is the beginning says Wright. Burnt sienna in motion, turning doubt into gold. Love keeps moving in the silence. Can you feel the Easter glory burning within our hearts?
Priest-painter – Robert Wright is an Anglican priest who seeks to explore spirituality through the medium of abstract paintings. He regularly gives talks and retreats on his paintings. More recently, he has been in demand to lead various courses, Quiet Days and seminars exploring connections between art and spirituality. His paintings are held in private collections throughout the UK, France, Holland and America.
To see more of his paintings – robertwrightartist.co.uk