A vintage and classic car rally might seem an odd place to be doing theology. If like me you expect what you see to engage creatively with what you believe, you would naturally expect God to be at work within your own creative imagination in such a context, provoking lines of thought and contemplation and exciting your curiosity. I guess that’s the basic premise behind this blog.
So when Sue, Judy and I decided to pop down the road from our caravan and look round the Hebden Bridge Vintage Cars Weekend I took my camera bag along with a view to enjoying some fresh theological reflection whilst indulging my ‘PetrolHead’ tendencies at the same time. I was not disappointed. This fantastic event was a feast of delights for anyone interested in automotive history and the evolution of design. Parallels with the church were sparking off every few yards or so! As far as this post goes though, I realised that I was taking a lot of close-up shots featuring mirrors and reflections. Looking at my photos on the laptop afterwards I was hard pushed to find many, if any, standard three-quarter front views of the cars. The drivers door mirror on the classic red MG sports car you see here is reasonably typical of the stuff I was taking.
Thinking about this both at the time and subsequently I think that what I was trying to do was look for the unusual, unexpected and easily overlooked views; the bits of visual information which it is very easy to lose and not register consciously. And I think I wanted to do this because I have the strongest sense that God is always trying to get our attention, but that we are often so preoccupied with how things are for us we just don’t see what is before our eyes, or what would be visible if we changed our viewpoint or paid more careful attention. The reflection of the ‘Stars and Stripes’ in the door mirror of the classic New York Taxi cab is an example of what I mean. Out on the open road the mirrors on the MG and the Yellow Taxi convey a constant stream of information to the driver, as and when the driver chooses to look in it. Their safety and that of other road users depends on them being aware of more than that which is directly in front of them. Which is why after 60 years of design evolution and innovation, my modern Mini has mirrors in just about the same place as on the MG, even though so much else is different. And looking at the rear of the classic black London Taxi built by Austin it took a few moments for me to see beyond the license plates to the reflection of what was behind me. Likewise, looking through the viewfinder at the front of another classic vehicle I spotted my own reflection in the back of one of its wing mirrors. There is always more to see than first meets the eye.
So perhaps there is a real spiritual object lesson here, one which the second letter to the Christians in Corinth alludes to. “And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit. ( 2 Corinthians 3.18) Surely we should expect to see the alternative reality of God mirrored all around us in a way that, having seen it, we are transformed by it. All of the ‘surfaces’ of life – our relationships, encounters and experiences as well as the world around us - are capable of reflecting the glory of God’s presence and purpose to us. In each and all of these I believe that God reaches out to be transformatively in touch with us.
These many and various reflective surfaces show us things which otherwise we would miss. Looked at like this our spiritual practices of prayer and contemplation broaden out to encompass the whole of our experience. If as the letter to the Hebrews says, Jesus is “the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being” (Hebrews 1.3), we can expect to encounter that reflection anywhere and everywhere. We just need to look beyond and within the first appearance of things to what is reflected. And when we do, a whole new world opens up. If we can but see it, God’s alternative reality in Jesus is staring us in the face.