27 July 2007

Candles and the Idea of the Holy

There's a sense of the sacred in this photo, even though I personally don't find connection with the Almighty through lighting candles in a stone church. Or at least I didn't used to. I'm beginning to be able to relate to that. I used to find the practice "too Catholic" (paying for candles to light in the church smacked too much of indulgences; is God supposed to be more likely to answer my prayer if I send it up with a candle?) But now there are many things I appreciate about the Catholic way of worship that I didn't understand before. Lighting candles in prayer isn't necessarily a biblical practice, but lampstands were definitely used in worship (e.g., Exodus 25, 37; Zechariah 4; Revelation 1-2). And there's the "smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints" which "went up before God" in Rev 8:4. Candlelight vigils are held by many of various faiths, including Christians, in the event of a great tragedy. There is something about a lit candle that helps people focus their attention on God. A friend of mine who is a spiritual director always lights a candle before she starts her sessions, and leaves it burning throughout the hour, to remind both herself and the directee that God is present with them and it is really God who is the Director. I have now experienced lighting candles for prayer in several different settings. I've done it in a Taizé worship service, in a Greek Orthodox Good Friday service, online, and I've even done it in my own home in front of...gasp!...an icon! I am less quick to judge the spiritual practices of others now than when I was younger.

(*) The title of this post, by the way, comes from the book The Idea of the Holy by Rudolf Otto, in which he coined the term "numinous" - that which is holy, awesome, "wholly other" about God; that which transcends rational comprehension.

19 July 2007


OK, so I joined Facebook about a month ago, just to see what it was all about, since everyone has been talking about it. I'm still not convinced it's anything other than yet another potential time-waster for me. But it has been fun to reconnect with some old acquaintances. I decided to put a link here (in the right sidebar), so you can go and check it out and see if you want to join my circle of friends. The photo I used for my Facebook profile is a composite of one that I took of myself in my bathroom mirror (flipped in Photoshop so the word "Canon" on my camera wouldn't be backwards) with a scene I shot in New Zealand of Mount Ruapehu, a volcano.

18 July 2007

Reflection on reflection

I was looking back through my New Zealand photos to see if there were any good ones I hadn't used yet. This older gentleman agreed to let me photograph him to get the photo of the stunning backdrop reflected in his sunglasses. I like the way you can see the crows' feet on his cheek blending into the hillside in the reflection, looking as if they were ripples in the ground. There happened to be a photographer in the middle of the gorgeous scenery, but I didn't Photoshop her out. An incidental self-portrait.

Here's that same scene as it appeared unreflected, from a slightly different angle. I'd say the image in the man's lens is a pretty good likeness. Doesn't this just make you want to go there?! This photo was taken on one of the islands in the Bay of Islands. Sorry, I can't remember which one. But if you take the "Best of the Bay" boat cruise (the original "Cream Trip") offered by Fullers Bay of Islands, departing from Paihia, you'll get to see this and other beautiful sights.

OK, so this didn't turn out to be much of a reflection, but more of a sales pitch. Honest, I have nothing to gain from it, other than the knowledge that you too might be able to get some cool photos of dolphins, etc.

09 July 2007


Sorry for the long hiatus again. I've had my siblings visiting for the past week or so and am only just getting caught up on some of my regular computer stuff, etc.

In spite of some very big disagreements about artistic influence that my comments over on Paul Butzi's blog stirred up a while back, I'm going to engage in a bit of playful speculation again here. I know there's no way to prove it, but I enjoy this sort of musing. Besides, there are no Celts around anymore to complain about artists getting ideas from them.

I went to Scotland back in 2004 and spent some time towards the end of my trip on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne (actually off the coast of England, near the border with Scotland). There I photographed both this Celtic cross (a grave marker in an old cemetery) and this loopy pile of some sort of worm excrement on the wet sand (taken while the tide was out). I formulated a theory back then. You may well ask me what is my theory. This theory of mine, which is my theory, is as follows: The loopy Celtic knot designs were inspired by worm loops which the Celts saw while they were walking along the beaches. A further confirmation of this theory is that I later came across an interesting phrase in Seamus Heaney's translation of Beowulf: In line 1532, Beowulf's sword is referred to as "keen, inlaid, worm-loop-patterned steel." Of course the sword must have been inlaid with a Celtic knot design which was patterned after worm loops.

I corresponded with a Dr Jane Lancaster, Implementation Officer at the Berwickshire and North Northumberland European Marine Site (I found her email address on a website related to marine life near the Holy Island of Lindisfarne). She was able to tell me all I ever wanted to know about the worms that make those loops. They are lugworms (Arenicola marina), and these "loops" are their casts. She was intrigued by my question about the connection with Celtic knots, so she asked some archaelogist colleagues of hers, but I never heard back from her what they thought about it. She thinks Celtic knots had nothing to do with lugworm casts, but were inspired by vines, because the Celts lived mostly inland. I still like my theory better. Maybe I can get a research grant to study it sometime and go back to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne.

Inspired by that whole episode, and looking for a new artform to learn for my final project for the Christian Imagination class at Regent, I took up wood carving (you've seen my dolphin carving already if you've been following this blog for a while) and designed this Celtic knot pattern which I then carved into a block of bassword.

Now if my theory is correct, I've just traced the path of artistic inspiration through two generations. What might my Celtic knot carving inspire, I wonder?


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