Advent in Art 14: Evelyn Keating

Evelyn Keating
Sunday, 30 November 2014

Note: For a fuller virtual experience: a podcast is available of the talk and the slideshow can also be seen - refer to the slide numbers below in order to follow along at home..


The Cat at the Door

In preparation for a service a few months back I was liaising with Bronwyn about how to make some song words visible. We had a brief email flurry about whether to use the overhead projector or the data projector. I’ve heard Derek suggest too that we get a big flash telly we just plug stuff into.


So when Nigel’s open invitation to participate in Advent Art popped up in the weekly bits email, this technology preference thing came to mind. [SLIDE 1]


The OHP-data-projector-flash telly-spectrum reminded me of the stages of faith idea, that, like cognitive development, our faith is also on a developmental journey. Something we bang on about a bit here at Cityside is how we as a community cover many of those spiritual developmental stages or stages of faith. We’ve got people in the beyond caring phase, people holding fast to some solid blacks and whites, some angsting over whether or not to believe at all, no doubt a few pining for the good old days when talking serpents and self-propagating fish and bread all seemed logically fine. Regarding our handling of varying opinions on the same gender marriage topic, Stu in his written presentation to us commented on our ability to sit with difference rather than seek to convince each other out of whatever opinion we might deem ‘the wrong one’. I like it that we can chant, sing hymns, even clap our hands to Hillsongs!! – yes, it happened: on the 9th November 2014 under Richard’s musical leading. There was even a bit of NWA on the playlist at Brenda’s farewell. This is wonderful heterogeneity. It’s the same quality that makes a big city like London so rich; the presence of many different styles and ideas only begets more variety and depth of exploration.


William Morris [2, 3] was a fabulous textile designer (among other things – theologian being one) working in the late 1800s. [4] His designs marked a peak or flourishing of the Arts and Crafts Movement. [5, 6] He would return home from boarding school to spend long holidays in the English countryside. [7] With this exposure to nature’s erratic patterns, irregularities, asymmetries, unpredictabilities, no doubt his mind stored away information that would later be expressed – in a disciplined fashion – in the wallpaper, stained glass, textiles and ceramics his designs covered. (Great input resulted in great output.) [8]


A few months ago at the park I heard a mother say to her child, ‘don’t stare Brittany, it’s rude’. She was telling her daughter not to stare at Rocky – our two year old – whose features and movements are typical of children with Down syndrome, which he has. I was engrossed in my phone at the time but aware enough to register her attempt at social politesse ...but when I thought about it later I realised that my true response to this was to say to Brittany – ‘no, sweetie, stare! Stare as much as you like or need. [9] This is your brain gathering information about something with which you’re not familiar. Every moment you spend studying Rocky’s face [10] – his smooth eyelids, his softened jawline, his clear high eyebrows, his button nose, his crazy smile [11]; and his body – not yet walking, very flexible, narrower shoulders, less precise movements than yours; his expressions and his proportions – you are taking and analysing this data and organising it into comprehensible categories.Next time, Brittany, you see someone with Downs you’ll probably stare again, and likewise for possibly the next one hundred instances. [12] The one hundred and first time, you’ll forget to notice the external differences and you’ll realise that his beingness is just like yours. And then one day when you see someone else with some other externally eye-catching features, you’ll remember their shared beingness. And so on. And then you’ll never have to stare long to know one of the most important things in life.


One of the things I like about [13] Russell is his ability to assess character. I put it down to having been exposed to such a range of people over his life so-far. As an example of this range, he worked for a while in his 20s for Suzanne Paul, and far down the other end of the range, he describes as ‘the scariest _____ I’ve ever met’ the Jamaican characters who simply turned up at a bar he was helping to set up in Birmingham revealing that they ran the city and he’d be wise not to resist having them as the bouncers. [14]


Two abilities:


1. The abilty to discern, born of accumulated instances, resulting in a fantastic repertoire which one can draw on, in a moment, to inform a decision or a response.


2. The ability to respond well – in moments of dysfunction – but also just in those many other moments where someone is holding something out towards us, and there’s something in our response that can propel the mini-theatre mid-line in a delightful direction.


I admire these abilities.


And when I saw the film Her, it articulated some of this ability to discern and respond, through the most unexpected – for me – medium of computer programming. It’s a tale of soft sci-fi, set in the quite near future. Theodore sees an ad on his way home from work for an advanced new operating system. When he gets home, he installs it... [Her clip: 11mins20 – 16mins40]


But with all this advocating for many and multiple perspectives, do I believe we have to believe in it all? – do we have to consider all perspectives on everything, like a late-phase cubist artist….do we have to read every Guardian article on Middle Eastern politics and current events to be a good citizen? Do we have to read every parenting book covering every theory in order to respond well to our children? I don’t believe so. Not only is it a slightly OCD way of operating, it’s just not making friends with the cat at the door. The cat at the door? Must be time for some cat memes – something Cityside needs more of apparently... [cat slides 15, 16, 17, 18, 19… 20]


When I was sixteen my Gran shouted my friend Laura and me to the musical Cats which showed at the Civic. Later I learnt that this nutty show is based on T S Eliot’s book of poetry for children Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. The last verse of the last poem in the book reads [17]


So if you ‘ave business with Faber – or Faber – [the publisher]

I’ll give you this tip, and it’s worth a lot more:

You’ll save yourself time, and you’ll spare yourself


If jist you make friends with the Cat at the door.


If just we make friends with the cat at the door… The cat at the door, I wonder, is that which is ours to do, that to which we open the door. It’s akin to following the golden thread: which requires leaving life unstitched-up, not completely mapped, having an overview but not fixating on the details, staying constantly aware to the present, not forcing things, not forcing people, responding well. It’s something I’ll spend the rest of my life learning to do: saving myself time and sparing myself labour by jist making friends with the cat at the door.


I’ve been entertaining the possibility for a few years now that I don’t need a system of belief based on a religion. In retrospect, this has felt like *hang on: analogy alert* this has felt like jumping off a sunny bank into the rapids of a river, knowing that at any time I can simply hover-jump myself back to the sunny bank. If it weren’t for the sunny bank, I suspect, by the way, the fast-flowing river would be a no-go.  And it’s been a case of finding that I become a fish when submerged and can breathe underwater, the boulders I crash into without control are made of jelly and are kind of fun, the drop over the waterfall at the end is just like falling into bed. I’m not reacting to anything I don’t like about Christianity. I like Christianity. But somewhere along the line I had to push at its boundaries and test whether there was life and meaning on the other side. As I’ve entertained this possibility of another lens through which to make sense of the world, life, myself, I’ve tried to practise using a pragmatic language in parallel to Christian language. So when my mother tells me to ‘trust in God’, I translate it instantly in my head to ‘relinquish the details I can’t control, trust that other people will contribute to this situation, look at the evidence of what has gone before, don’t waste energy on worry’. Listening to my Uncle [22] speak Christian words this week at my Grandmother’s funeral, I heard ‘her spirit returns to God who gave it’ and interpreted that to my other self as ‘like atoms, nothing is lost, only reassigned or repurposed. Every gesture of Gran’s, every kind word joined the great flow of things that influence us directly and indirectly.’ I drink my tea with honey because of Gran.


[23]These past few years of experimenting have been sponsored, supported by a lifetime’s upbringing on belief, trust, faith in the Christian paradigm – a world full of a benevolent, just, shepherding universal parent figure (that’d be God).

            The Lord is my Shepherd

            I shall not want..

            He restores my soul..

            I shall fear no evil for you are with me..

            Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life..

The Christian paradigm is replete with instruction on caring for each other. It is a paradigm that provides salve for the flaws of the human condition, it provides a way out of the phenomenon we are all at the mercy of: the laying of sediment, the sinking that we do to the lowest common denominator in the absence of nobility.


For me, all these things about the Christian system of belief seem transposable, but probably only because I have had the luxury of beginning with a concrete, specific system of belief. I will never shake God, nor do I want to or seek to. It might sound duplicitous and I think by definition it is, but I think I’d like to use Christianity as my micro-religion and Oneness or Nothingness or perhaps it could be called Everythingness as my macro-system. And I’m holding open the possibility that these two systems are one and the same. Therefore, I have given myself permission to stand aside from the rules of belief and say ‘hi’ to them every now and then …and I will tick Christian on the census. [OHT: ‘no/waiting’]


Christ as salve. We wait for Christ at Advent.


All manner of salves…? Without a calendar, no waiting required.

And so we come back to the OHP. A preference among us. An item we’ve been on the brink of exiling. One practice of many. It works. It achieves its reason for being. May we continue to be a collective made up of individual kooks. Strong because we support each other. Beautiful in our asymmetry. Contributors to each other and to the worlds beyond our collective, shared world. Conduits of light and love. Buzzing on the inside, like an atom, propelled by electromagnetics or something….or should that be, propelled by the Holy Spirit…?