Monday, 12 October 2009

Towards a theology of place.

It is time to return to the main thrust of these pages. A few days ago we were thinking about the different types of pilgrimage that are at work in Santiago Pilgrimage. I would like in this blog to amplify the theology of place a little more.
As we have already seen, Helen, Constantine's Mother was in many ways the Mother of this type of pilgrimage when she went to the Holy sights in Jerusalem in the mid-forth century. It is interesting to note that about the same time an understanding about Icons was also developing. Although it does not seem so on the surface, there is a deep link between them. So let's examine the Icon above .
As you may know it is by Rublev. He depicts the Trinity. Christ in the
centre ;the Spirit on the left and the Father on the right. They are
contained within a circle and at the bottom there is an opening in the
circle. This expresses that the relationship between them is all
encompassing,but that it is open to us. They are all clothed with blue,
the colour of heaven and another colour. This speaks of the different
characteristics of each person. The Father has a sumptuous robe of
gold~The Glory of the Father. The Spirit has green the colour of
new growth and the Son has brown, the hue of the earth as depiction
of his humanity. Before them is a shared dish representing the
hospitality shown by each to each of that which is also a common
possession to them.
So that is what it is saying, what about the question, what is it?
Is it just an interesting picture or is it an idol, a false God made
by human hands.? It is neither of these things. A better way to
think about it is as a window through which we look to see what
is happening now. In the case of a Saints Icon for example, they
are not in the cold earth but in heaven. At this moment they
are enjoying the life of heaven and we are allowed to see them
as they are now. A sort of static heaven TV. As we pray we
engage with them, not only as they are now but also with all
their history, we are encountering the totality of their present
being. In this engagement there is a two way flow. We see them
through the window of the picture and prayer and they sent us
help and the grace of our Lord Jesus as they have experienced it.
It is a total person to person engagement.
A Holy place is like Icon. In the case of Santiago it is the Icon
of St James. A place where we can engage
with him as he was and as he is. So the Pilgrim Mass is
an expression( all be it a pale Shadow ) of the heavenly
banquet and our arrival in heaven. The hugging of the Saint
is more than a wooden statue, it is a hugging of a real man as
one would greet a close friend. The picture can be added to,
but I think that you get the idea.
There is a process of engagement that is subjective
within the pilgrim. This is where a limiting can happen. If the
Cathedral is taken within the narrow confines of a material
human encounter, then it is just Words and Architecture.
I do not go deeper, because I do not have the eyes of Faith
to go deeper. If I look deeper, then I am able to go deeper.
The hymn writer George Herbert, drawing on St Paul's
writings and St James' epistle ( Bishop of Jerusalem,
brother of our Lord, not Santiago) in his hymn ;
'Teach me my God and king';
has these words that sum up this idea :-
The man that looks on glass,
on it may stay his eye,
but if it pleaseth, through it pass
and there the heaven espy.
So a theology of place has within it the deliberate placing
of oneself in proximity to a sacred site.This is not only
a reccy of where such and such happened, but an active
engagement with the subject of that site( In the case of
Santiago, with St James.)It is a here and now encounter
with, who they were, what they did and what they have
become,their present reality that communicates the grace
that they have and are receiving in such a way that we are
able to participate in their experience of Christ.

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