Wednesday, 20 May 2009

imagining faith: a synergy of symbolism

cross, lifebelt and bridge

(as usual click on the photograph for a larger version)

I wonder whether the  person who hammered the wooden stake into the ground by the Lakeside at Swanwick saw it as anything other than something upon which to hang the lifebelt? If this act was simply just another tick on a health and safety checklist it has achieved in my mind far more than was intended. Coming across it for the first time I was struck by this powerful conjunction of symbols, set against the sky.  The next day I went back and took more photographs, of which this is one. This time I expanded the field of view to include the junction of the paths and the small wooden footbridge, beyond which the path leads on around the lake. The light and weather were different too, as the bright morning sunshine was about to be interrupted by an oncoming shower.

The photograph presents a synergy of symbolism. The cross, lifebelt, junction of paths, footbridge, sunshine and approaching rain speak to me of that timeless place where christian disciples seem perpetually to stand. What I mean is that somehow it is always like this. The challenge to take up our cross is driven into the ground right where we are standing, with all that is says about our commitment to that costly kingdom lifestyle of unconditional, transforming, liberating and prophetic love which was the way of Jesus. The cross is the fact and the future of christian faith as it reminds us of the cost and challenge of God's grace in a world like this. In his life and death Jesus discloses the very nature of God. On Good Friday the world throws the worst it can do back in God's face, as Jesus is executed as a radical revolutionary and the way of love is rejected. Easter Day is God's answer to all the worldly violence of Good Friday. Christ is risen and nothing can defeat the vulnerable love of God, which always rises up and comes back, now matter how many times and how hard it is trampled underfoot. And it reminds us that love is the eternal given of God, and that God's love is eternally present.

God's universal and unconditional purpose is consistent; that we should all have life, and have it in its fullness. The lifebelt hanging from the cross symbolises this truth for me and reminds me that this is something I have to take into my own hands. To leave God's purpose hanging there on the empty cross is to deny the very essence of my faith, that it is about being actively engaged with the suffering and injustice of life, seeking out and participating in the work of resurrection which is going on all around me. The lifebelt challenges me to be receptive to the place where Jesus is standing and with whom he stands; for that will be the place,  person, people and the task in which he needs my hands and my love, now.

So for a disciple there is always a junction of the ways and a time to choose. How could it be otherwise? Sooner or later God beckons us on from the place where we are standing and asks that we go in a new direction. There will be bridges to build and bridges to cross. This could be difficult, demanding and profoundly challenging to us, as we seek to cross the barriers which keep us apart from those God loves and to whom God sends us. The footbridge reminds us that we will need to travel light.  There may be  much we will need to leave behind if we are to get to where God needs us. So we carry just the essentials; our trust in the God of loving kindness disclosed in the Bible and met face to face in the risen Jesus, our openness to the presence and empowering of God's loving energy through the Holy Spirit, and our commitment to participate in God's life-saving work of liberation and transformation.

Scripture, prayer and action was the way of Jesus, and it is our vocation too. No matter how threatening the weather ahead may look we are called to take fresh paths and to cross new bridges. We always journey on as we become the person whom God longs for us to be and travel to the place of discipleship where God needs us to be. And the sun will shine.


  1. I really like this photograph and your thoughts highlight well the juxtaposition of the elements. I am curious, was the cross in shadow and did you highlight it with a flash, or was this simply as it was, I am fascinated by the light and shadow element of that part of the scene.

    I enjoyed the other picture too btw.

  2. Hi Sally, thanks for your appreciative comments. You have a good eye for something out of the ordinary too: I did indeed use fill-in flash (dialled down a bit) and then processed the raw file through Photomatix Pro, which gives an HDR (High Dynamic Range) result. Glad you like it.

  3. Hi Dave,

    Greetings from the US. I just stumbled upon your blog the other day and I wanted to let you know that your photography is inspiring. I am not artistically inclined, yet I find myself appreciating the gift God has given you to see Him throughout the world.

    I was wondering if you would be okay with me using this photo for my blog's header. I see you have a license that allows the copying of your work, but I wanted to run it by you.

    Thank you so much. I will be letting others know about this blog.

  4. Hi Josh,
    Thanks for dropping by and commenting. I am very happy for you to use this image as the header for your blog under the terms of the CC License and am glad that it speaks to you. I wish you well with your new blog too. It's such a marvellous way of sharing all the things which inspire and move you.
    best wishes,