For a while we have intended to have some sort of arts week – I say some sort of, because it has been a bit ad hoc in the planning and resourcing leading up to the week, but once we have got going, I have been deeply impressed by the sheer joy and fun of it all, even though it has been a bit unnerving for some teachers (the change of pace by the end of the first day had a few of them looking slightly dazed). Textiles were considered because it put everyone on a fairly level playing field – none of us are experts and we have had to rely on help from skilled support staff and parents – and because there is just so much variety. Not being experts always worries me (I may blog on this soon) but it does give rein to a whole field of experimentation and opportunity for the children, all of whom seem to be thoroughly delighted by the enterprise. There are determinedly 2-D banners, deliberately 3-D ones and others that have yet to make their minds up. We have furry and smooth, rough and silky, glued and woven, painted and sewn, literal and allegorical. All good. All wonderful, in fact.
We are half way through. The objective is to produce banners for the hall that will not just brighten the place but also proclaim, in strong, visual ways, the values we are striving towards under God. Thus we have a lion (called Dave, apparently) in Year 2 representing courage, a waterfall in Year 6 representing Amos’ justice like an everflowing stream, Robert the Bruce and an alarming spider representing perseverance, a stained glass window full of children’s designs representing hope, the feeding of the 5000 representing generosity, a rainbow of creativity, a heart of compassion, crosses of forgiveness – the great thing about leading such a large school is that you get such wonderful variety. Teachers, because they have been tied to the effort, have not yet seen the variety of what is being made, but soon they will be as stunned as I was yesterday, going round, photographing the work. Here is a sampler of efforts (taken on the Tuesday afternoon):
It has been the culmination of Diwali. More colour, more light. We celebrated the day with a lovely drama from a group of Y6 children telling the tale of Rama and Sita (thankfully somewhat attenuated – I have seen some interminable versions!). Diwali was very obvious at 7 p.m. last night as I cycled home through the clatter of fireworks. Any way that God chooses to speak about the struggle of light against darkness has got to be welcome. But I suspect that Sikh and Hindu communities have just as much a struggle actually to live in that light as Christians do. As a Christian, I know, without any doubt, that Jesus Christ lives within me, and that because of that there is the hope that I might bring him glory in my life. The values we all long for have to come about, for me, as a willing cooperation between a King who loves me, his power within me, and my submission and discipline to change. That’s where the light comes from. And light only has one function – to illuminate darkness, especially in relationships and relationships are seen best when we work together. Working honours God’s work within us. We work while it is light, Jesus said.
I have just bought Wendell Berry’s latest book of poetry entitled Given which contains more Sabbath material but some beautiful poetry on the value of work in our relation to God’s work. The anonymous writer of the Songs of Ascents tells us in Psalm 127 that
unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain.
Berry’s take on this, in an essay entitled “Christianity and the Survival of Creation” is:
Good human work honors God’s work. Good work uses no thing without respect, both for what it is in itself and for its origin. It uses neither tool nor material that it does not respect and that it does not love. It honors nature as a great mystery and power, as an indispensable teacher, and as the inescapable judge of all work of human hands. It does not dissociate life and work, or pleasure and work, or love and work, or usefulness and beauty. To work without pleasure or affection, to make a product that is not both useful and beautiful, is to dishonor God, nature, the thing that is made, and whomever it is made for. This is blasphemy: to make shoddy work of the work of God. But such blasphemy is not possible when the entire Creation is understood as holy and when the works of God are understood as embodying and thus revealing His spirit.
I think that there is much to learn, during a week when we are putting craft in the service of God and of his beauty, from this radical and freeing approach. It lets the light in.