On Spirituality

Different Types of Spirituality

In our highly individualistic age, we tend to see spirituality as an inner activity, the spirit probing our innermost being so that we can find out who we truly are, and what is our relationship with God, or the ‘God within’. I am not really at ease with this inner-focussed version of contemplation. I find that I get lost or bored. I find it difficult to distinguish what is of God and what has been conjured up in my own imaginings.

Mary Magdalene, Giovanni Girolamo Savoldo, c1535


I prefer to have an object to my contemplation. The most widespread form of spirituality is, without doubt, to be found in the words and music of hymns. I shall be considering these in future blogs, however, in this blog, I just want to point out the three works of art which enthral me most. The first is the painting of Mary Magdalene on the day of Jesus’ resurrection. She is identifiable by the jar of ointment she has set down in front of her, and by the red dress she wears beneath her cloak or shawl. The background does not look as if it is Jerusalem. It could just be a reference to the Sea of Galilee, which both she and Jesus knew well. More likely it is an Italian view, probably Venice which Savoldo and his clients would have known. But it is the shawl which grabs our attention. It shimmers in the light of Jesus’ Resurrection. It is almost an abstract piece of art in itself. The light comes from the viewers’ position. We are standing in the place of Christ with the light shining from us onto the shawl.



Trinity, Andrei Rublev c.1425

The famous Rublev icon shows the Trinity in the context of Abraham’s visitation by the three angels in the Book of Genesis. Each of the figures represents a member of the Trinity. The figure on the left represents God the Father. His robe is shimmering and insubstantial, pointing to the truth that God can never be seen by human eye. His hands are directed towards the cup, but seem to be withdrawn. It is as if he is indicating that the act of blessing should be handed over to his son, who is the figure in the centre. His robe is brown, symbolising the earth, both the ground he walks on, and the world which he inhabits as a human being. He blesses the cup with two fingers, signifying his dual nature, both human and divine. Jesus is looking at his father. Here seems to be a replay of the evening of that first Maundy Thursday where Jesus prays, ‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done’.

The third figure is the Holy Spirit. He has a green robe – the colour of new life.




The Last Supper, Stanley Spencer 1920

The third of our pictures is by Sir Stanley Spencer. It portrays the Last Supper. Jesus is breaking the bread. The disciples are looking on intently. But the focus of the picture is on the disciples’ feet. It seems as if they have just been washed by Jesus. They are certainly very clean – not what you would expect for ordinary working men in a hot and dusty environment.  

Spencer had a liking for portraying Biblical events from the perspective of his own time. Thus we see the upper room as a brick-built space with a modern window looking to the outside. Here we have a picture of fellowship and community. There are thirteen individuals, and so Judas must be there, but he is not marked out in any way. There is a feeling of expectancy; they are all looking at Jesus, waiting for something.


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