Wednesday 27 June 2018

Pictures in times of trouble

In times of trouble, grappling with words is often beyond me - but pictures, and particularly the memory of pictures, is sometimes of help; sometimes sufficient to stop the descent and even reframe things in a positive way. I presume that this has always been the case for Christians (except those misguided iconoclasts who have always plagued the religion).

What 'works' seems to be a very personal matter - and certainly is is not correlative with artistic excellence as defined by secular aesthetic criteria (effective religious art often seem kitsch or sentimental or naive or over-obvious by such evaluations)... the point is what gets through to you in times of trouble. Perhaps this is why such art often is very direct.

Furthermore, evaluation of art is always influenced by non-visual, contextual factors - for example a portrait or landscape is affected by the beaty, or ugliness, of its subject matter; and religoous and spiritual art by that context - and how we feel about the particular painter and his intent, the time and place of its production, or the artistic tradition from which it arises.

(The inevitability of non-visual factors is, paradoxically, emphasised by the fact that 20th century attempts at abstraction led to the most literary and theorised art of all time! The result has been an art of near-zero self-explanatory power; where gallery visitors read the labels more than they look at the pictures or sculpures/ 'installations'; where modern art critics are more concerned about politics than aesthetics - and their catalogues are filled with words more than with illustrations.) 

For the past several years I have, again and again - most recently yesterday - found some of William Arkle's pictures valuable for this purpose or function. I offer a few of my proven-favourites, with explanations - on the understanding that this is a personal choice: the point being to inspire you to find some (presumably-different) pictures which might serve you as well as these ones have served me. 

This picture represents Jesus as Lord of this world, The Cosmic Christ; offering his gift to us in the form of a flower.

This next one is a simple but haunting picture of an archetypal businessman, about his business, but with an angelic being sustaining him - and again offering a gift of a larger, greater, truer perspective - to which he can turn and which he can accept at any moment he chooses.

This picture is one of many that Arkle did with a large face of divinity hovering above the mundane world - always present, but nearly-always ignored. The small human figure in the bottom-right is absorbed in reading a newspaper, oblivious of the fullness of what is possible.
Another figure hovering above the mundane world - this time a smoky industrial city; and this time the another favourite Arkle symbol/ reality of cupped hands and enfolding arms: this is a very real experience of many Christians with respect to God.

A similar theme, but this time God above an idyllic 'holiday' scene - almost paradisal.In such a situation we are more likely to be aware of the divine presence - but this may be unconscious, and rationally-denied; whereas it ought to be known, and accepted with joy and gratitude.

Here we see a pilgrim, alone, on the threshold and confronting a glorious landscape - which he needed to approach through a dark and sinister foreground.

The following picture of tea things (and several others like it) really stuck in my mind, as showing the divine immanence - God within the everyday objects of our lives - and that nothing real is dead, but is indeed alive, meaningful and part of purpose (even the supposedly inanimate).

And the same applies with landscape - although perhaps we are more inclined to recognise this. This shows a Tolkienian theme of the special quality of distant mountains, and how in heaven we can visit the distant mountains without them losing this 'distant' quality - so that our poignant yearning for their mystery (Sehnsucht) becomes a part of actual, current, conscious experience.

And then Heaven itself - with the heavenly city is the distance; and in this case travelling there really-will be as good as arriving.

For more of Arkle's pictures; visit the recently made webpage, or the (larger) Facebook compendium.

Note: In 1977 William Arkle published The Great Gift - a book of pictures and explanations (and some other writings) which serves exactly this purpose I am talking about; and can still be obtained cheaply secondhand. However, the colour and sharpness of the pictorial reproductions in The Great Gift is far inferior to that of the recently scanned web versions.

Sunday 24 June 2018

A rare, 'successful' life

One of the many reasons that I have an intense interest in William Arkle, is that he is just about the only modern person that I am sure had a successful life - in the most profound sense of 'successful'. I mean, he lived as he was supposed-to live: substantially lived his personal destiny.

In other words, Arkle was both a Christian, and he was at the same time (to a very significant degree) spiritual in his consciousness. This is that state I would most like to achieve - however, I can only do so briefly and intermittently; whereas William Arkle seems to have been living 'in this state' for much of the time.

From talking with his son (Nick), it seems that this was not always the situation. On the one hand, Arkle was naturally a spiritual man; but on the other he got into a bad situation in his twenties, after a first marriage rapidly broke down; and he was left in some kind of lonely, despairing, dishevelled and dysfunctional situation - in which was found, and from which he was rescued, by Elizabeth; with whom he then had a life-long marriage and two children.

From about that point, Arkle seemed to have lived as a Direct Christian - that is, a Christian whose faith was primarily based on direct empathic contact with the divine; but not a solitary mystic - instead because he lived in the context of an active, engaged family and social life; a 'world' that he and his wife built-around themselves and their children.

By my scale of evaluation, therefore, William Arkle's actually-experienced life was 'a success' in a way that I have failed to discover for anyone else.

In a material way Arkle was fortunate to have a loving family life in a beautiful setting, and to work mainly on creative projects - especially painting. But the main thing was that he lived, mostly, in a state of awareness of God's creation; and that 'God' was loving divine-creator parents whose greatest hope to raise their children to fully-divine parity with themselves.

It is the fact of living this vision as experience that made the difference, I think; it was this experiential aspect that sets Arkle apart from other people who knew-about how best to live, what to aim-at; but could not themselves actually do it.

For example, Owen Barfield - who found it very difficult to live what he knew: he found it hard to go far towards putting metaphysical theory into actual practice.

As Barfield said, habit is our default, what we lapse-into; and Arkle seems to have established as habit what others (like Barfield, or myself for that matter) attain only in brief moments. In this, he was helped by a mystical temperament and suitable circumstances - but these are not enough. Arkle also developed a theoretical understanding, worked at creative expression, practiced various forms of meditation (including the process of painting), and created around-himself a conducive situation.

Also, Arkle did not make the common, and easy, mistake of conflating here-and-now happiness with spirituality: he was not a hedonist. His vision of Life is one of God teaching us by providing a world in which each person gets the full range of experiences they need in order to learn - suffering as well as pleasure, tough as well as euphoric, hatred as well as love. Life is not meant to be a utopia.

It seems to have been this process of experiencing and learning that Arkle enjoyed, and which he lived in-awareness-of.

On the one hand, the example of William Arkle shows that 'it can be done'; on the other hand, Arkle's uniqueness shows how rare and difficult it is to attain an overall-successful life of spiritual Christianity.

And we cannot use Arkle as a 'model' for living; indeed, according to Arkle's own teaching, we should not even try to do so.

For Arkle, it was of-the-essence that God wants each peron to 'quarry-out' his unique life in his unique way - because the glory of Heaven is that each person is ever more fully themselves. Heaven is not convergence on a single pattern; but a multiplicity of mature divine persons, each contributing something only they could contribute to creation.

Heaven is, in other words, like an idea extrapolation of family experience; in which each child grows to occupy an unique role, which they themselves co-create as they develop.

And all this dynamic diversity of everlasting creativity is bound-together by love.

That is life as it can be, should be, and actually exists; and William Arkle seems to have experienced life, much of the time, in awareness of that wonderful fact.

Thursday 14 June 2018

William Arkle website

William Arkle's son, Nick, has just launched a very well-produced website of his father's work.