Reflecting on John Glover, “Ullswater, Early Morning,” c. 1824, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia)
Sometimes I wonder if we ever take real notice of some of the Psalms. This week’s Psalm for this Sunday in the three year lectionary is Psalm 30. With the events of that have assailed our senses so far this year we certainly need to seek a restoration of our lives and a place to find this inner peace. We have had fire, flood, and shootings so far this year In New South Wales here in Australia we have not only in the midlle of a Federal Election but also we have had a State one. All of which will have probably tried our wellbeing. So the Picture I have started this blog with is from John Glover and speaks to me of peace. In Aotearoa (New Zealand) I always valued the early morning sunrise in the mountains or near the lakes high in the Southern Alps.
John Glover was a famous English landscape painter. His painting of Ullswater Lake was likely on or near land that he owned. Glover moved to Australia on his sixty-fourth birthday (my age) in 1831, and purchased a large tract of land in what is now Tasmania, where he became known as the father of Australian landscape painting. It seems fitting that “Ullswater, Early Morning” should hang in the Art Gallery of New South Wales. It’s as if God himself is bringing together the best of England and Australia and blessing both of them.
When one looks at this landscape, for many it speaks with one quiet word—shalom—a Hebrew word that can be rendered in English as “flourishing.” In this painting, all is well with a stunningly beautiful yet tranquil world. Why is it that we so seldom experience shalom? We get so busy that we forget that for which we are striving. What is “that,” if not shalom? What if we could make some time and space so that shalom could be found, not merely at the end of the journey, but in every day and every moment of it? This is what the gospel offers to us, if we will only create the time and space for it to take root in our souls, families, and circles of influence.
The God of Psalm 30 turns the mourning of depression into dancing. This is another picture of shalom. Where is a place of shalom, that God has given you?
And now I will wander to another topic that I often wrestle with and is highlighted in this week’s reading from Acts 9. The question again during this year has been, have you ever been wrong about something? It’s a question I think we all need to ask ourselves particularly our leaders and politicians. This is because in our modern world our wrongs seem to be pointed out to us fairly quickly and don’t lie hidden for that long. The reading from Acts 9 tells us that Saul, before he became St Paul, was “still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.” What began, perhaps, as a zeal to uphold religious doctrine had gone awry.
Saul had become a man possessed. It was no longer about right or wrong; it was about winning the battle and inflicting the mighty blow. Again sounds like some of our politicians and leaders. Only a blinding light from heaven and the voice of the Risen Lord would convince him that he was wrong and stop him in his tracks. For anyone who has ever been bloodied in a theological fight, this could sound like good news. But only if one is absolutely certain that he or she is not playing the part of Saul of Tarsus in the church drama.
In truth, each of us can point to at least one time when we were wrong and did not know it. The good news of the passage is that the story of Saul’s conversion points to the possibility of reconciliation—even under the most extreme circumstances. What may not be immediately evident is that all concerned parties have a role to play in this reconciliation. The reconciliation in this story began with God who has the largest interest in the outcomes. Jesus appeared to Saul, a Jewish leader whose life’s goal was to destroy “The Way,” as Christianity was known, and then to Ananias, a humble follower of Christ who may not even have been in leadership.
Imagine if the ending of this story had either decided to explain away the God-given vision or to shrink from the difficult task. We cannot help but think about troubles not only in our world but also in our church when we read this passage. Do we dare to obey the heavenly vision? Do we dare to step out and seek to bring shalom to the world around us? Do we dare treat all as the beloved and love the whole of God’s Creation? This is quite a challenge for the world, let alone the church.