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Pause - step back and look

In this week four years ago, I started working as the training director of the School of Preachers Trust.

My first task was to visit Latvia to train preachers.

It was memorable for a variety of reasons, not least in being the occasion of posting my first blog, preaching my first sermon to camera (because Latvian churches were closed due to Covid) and leaving on one of the last flights out of Riga before a very tight lockdown. The weekend before I flew home was unusual because all non-essential shops, public venues and museums were closed.

I am back in Riga again this week.

Yesterday was a delightfully sunny day so after church I had a walk along the river, ending up visiting the Latvian National Museum of Art. It is free on the last Sunday of the month, although I did stump up three euros to see the special exhibition on the Latvian artist Jāzeps Grosvalds (1891–1920). For someone who died so young he was a prolific artist who left behind a remarkable collection of observational art from his extensive global travels.

Near the end of the exhibition the artist is quoted as saying that he thought he might not produce his best art until he was over thirty years old. As you can see from his dates, Grosvalds didn’t make it; he was one of the millions of victims of the Spanish Flu pandemic in the afermath of the First World War.

However long or short our life is, this is the canvas on which we paint our thoughts, feelings, words and actions. As we reflect back on our lives, have we made the most of the opportunity?

I have been reading Tom Wright’s excellent Lent and Easter for Everyone. He tells the story of a PhD. student. The student was a historian and the final chapter of his thesis concerned the paintings that had been important in the period he was studying.

“He went hastily from gallery to gallery. In every room he walked around beside the walls, scribbling in his notebook, taking down all the details from the printed notices underneath the paintings.

He wrote down the artist’s names, their dates, where they lived, the names of their key paintings, who their friends were, what influence others had had on them, and they on others. As soon as he was finished he went to the next gallery. He finished his PhD.

But at no time, in all of the galleries, had he ever stood back and looked at the paintings themselves, and allowed them to speak to him in their own language.”

Yesterday at the art gallery in Riga there were lots of people who were rushing through the galleries at a furious pace, hardly giving the paintings a second look, but there were some who stopped and looked, some even taking a seat in front of the painting to take it all in.

Preachers can master all the details about Scripture without ever allowing themselves to be absorbed by Scripture like they might get lost in a novel.

Preachers must learn to live in the text and allow the text to live in them. It is only then that we experience the unique power of Scripture to speak to us, so that we can speak to others.

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