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Vicious circle

A creative attempt to help people reflect on issues of common humanity and theology during Lent, Holy Week and Easter 2010. The sculpture was made by Revd Magdalen Smith over two afternoons. Its materials are concrete (mostly painted white) and glass tinted with stained glass. These are colours reminiscent of bruising and blood. It can be interpreted as a contemporary crown of thorns.

"We use so many words in Church. Art can help us see things from a different perspective and touch us sometimes at a deeper level," she writes. "Many people have found the installation challenging and moving simultaneously. There are 33 circles. Amongst the circles is a handprint, a piece of mirror and several embedded glass laid into and some laid loosely on top of the circles. There is also one containing water, reminiscent of the basin Pontius Pilate used to wash his hands of Jesus."

I order to make Vicious Circle something which was meaningful and interactive for people, Magdalen asked 30 people she knew to think about what their own "vicious circle" might be, whether they were able to find a way out of them and whether faith played a part in this. Some of the answers were:



"Not saying 'no'"

"Acting out of bitterness because of past disappointment - I know it's unfair but I can't seem to break out of it."

Magdalen working with Peter Johnson to create the installation

The sculpture was displayed from 21st March to 15th April 2010. Magdalen used the piece as a discussion starter for a variety of groups and she preached on the installation on Passion Sunday, talking about four of the characters who surrounded Jesus on his journey to the cross and the vicious circles they found themselves in: Judas (greed and power), Peter (lying), Pilate (popularity and weakness) and Mary (a parent's circle of love and protection and yet knowing a child has to be 'let go' in order to blossom to life their own lives.

Magdalen hopes to create a different installation each year. Vicious circle is available to borrow free of charge. For contact details please see our Contact page.

“Windsails” An installation for Advent


In Wilmslow Parish we hope to have an installation such as Windsails once or twice each year. Installations will be preached on and there will be drop-in sessions for people to come and talk or respond to them over coffee and cake. Art works such as this can help us to understand and experience the presence of and action of God in a way which is different from just using words. Over centuries a variety of artists have attempted to describe and comments on matters of faith in a variety of different ways; we want to be a part of this tradition in our own way. Art can produce a presence, an atmosphere that sometimes enables us to grasp truths from a different perspective.

I first experienced Wilndsails at Wesley Methodist Church in Chester few years ago. The installation provided a beautiful, still and reflective space for shoppers to enjoy some stillness in what can be a manic time in the run up to Christmas. At St Bartholomew's church during Advent 2009 we hung up the sails in our own Styal Chapel. During December many people entered our church for a variety of different reasons. Some people were thirsty for a quiet space to escape from the rush of present buying and preparation. Lots of schools with children, teachers and parents came to hold their carol services. Many visitors simply wandered in, wanting to see the church itself and were pleasantly surprised by the Windsails soothing presence.

Windsails was produced by artists Wendy Rudd. Whilst staying on the island of Lindisfarne she became fascinated by the spaces between the stacked crab nets or creels. After sketching these, she began to construct triangular shapes made of thin cane and these were filled in with meshes of paper, string and thread, until they became "sails". Connected and hung from one another, they become mobiles, responsive to the slightest breath.

As people slow down and watched them, the Windsails can encapsulate all sorts of meanings. some find that the battered textures of some of the sails speak of pain and suffering, while many comment on the tranquillity of their gentle movements. some see relationships and family trees, held in balance in the presence of God. Different people and personalities will see different things but in the whole there is a mystery and power which is difficult to pin down. A book of comments was left for people to write down their thoughts should they wish to.

Thanks to Wendy Rudd for lending them to us and to Rod Franks for helping to install them.

Towel Cross 2011

During Lent this year I made a cross from towels and bandages which was on display in the Hawthorn Chapel until Saturday 14th May. The cross was hung alongside the “Soap Cross” made last year by Revd Richard Lowson from Wilmslow Methodist Church. Towels are something we all use – primarily they absorb moisture, blood and other bodily fluids. We can all identify with the feel of a soft cloth wrapped around our bodies, when we have just emerged from a shower or are cold on the beach. The towels used in this cross were old and a bit tatty and faded but they had previously been used to do these things – to dry and to absorb, to shut out things which are uncomfortable, like being cold and wet. A selection of sewing and hypodermic needles have also been sewn onto the cross. Needles, like the cross, are paradoxical; they can harm but also heal. There are all sorts of associations – with drug misuse and AIDS as well as with mending things and making people better. Likewise, the cross is fundamentally an instrument of torture and yet Christian faith also tells us that it is a symbol of healing, redemption and freedom.

Jesus of course also ‘absorbed’ much – much of the world’s darkness; its pettiness and evil, its pain and its sinfulness. When we look at the story of Jesus’ passion we see that on his solitary journey to the cross he absorbed many things. He took upon his own shoulders the betrayal of Judas, the unfaithfulness of Peter, the weakness of Pilate, the anxiety of the disciples, and the sadness of the women who stood at the foot of the cross. As well as this he absorbed mockery and physical cruelty, insults and disbelief.

Once absorbed, the world was a different place with the belief that ultimately everything imperfect would be transformed and redeemed by God because of Jesus’ gift of love to the world. Those who work in conflict resolution often talk about absorbing that which is evil and painful, of ‘breaking the spiral of violence’ by not retaliating and dissipating emotive words and actions. And yet this has to be done while retaining a sense of humanity and dignity so that self-abuse also does not happen.

To ‘absorb’ can be a great ministry, however it is done. Sometimes we too absorb things on others behalf. It might take the form of listening to someone who needs to talk or get something out; it might take the form of sharing a dark place, – a place where another person needs a friend. Absorbing can be tiring, it can be sacrificial, it can be hard work but it can also be transformative. We take responsibility, we take the blame, and we shoulder the burden. Whenever we do this in love for someone else we demonstrate to others and the world something powerful and profound which reflects something of God’s love.

Whether or not we consider ourselves a ‘Christian’ or not I believe that when we carry out such a task we reflect something of Christ’s love for the world. In order the make the project an interactive and ‘community’ one I asked 25 people I knew whether they could articulate, in a few simple sentences, a time - either in the present or in the past - when they felt they had ‘absorbed’ someone’s else’s distress or pain. It might be as simple as sitting with a own child, holding them when they are crying over something which has happened at school, or it might have been some thing long term – coping with a situation which is not so easy to change or ‘make better’. The answers were recorded anonymously for people to read and are real, deeply personal and sometimes moving. My hope, as always, was to make genuine connections with our lived out experience and the story of Jesus, particularly his walk to the cross. In this way Christian faith becomes real and meaningful to us and others.

Advent 2012


Easter 2012

“Earth shattering love; love shattering earth”