Thursday 19 November 2009

Making space to see the essential

Henry Moore 2 piece reclining figure cut profile view

Two Piece Reclining Figure: Cut 1979-81, Henry Moore; Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Henry Moore 2 piece reclining figure cut wide angle



You do things in which you eliminate something which is perhaps essential, but to learn how essential it is you leave it out. The space then becomes very significant….If you are doing a reclining figure you just do the head and the legs. You leave space for the body, imagining the other part even though it isn’t there. The space then becomes very expressive and you have to get it just right.”

Henry Moore



The motif of ‘absence’ in Henry Moore’s striking work teaches us the value of that which is wilfully left out, discarded, eliminated or removed, and forces us to ponder the significance of the empty space which remains. Nowadays a life in which God is deliberately rejected is seen by some to be more complete, not less whole. For atheists it seems that the non-space of God is closed by human autonomy, a sense of freedom from oppressive religion and intellectually belittling faith, and a supposed enhancement of ones dignity and worth as a rational individual. Of course increasingly in British society it is not so much a question of a personal Christian faith which someone has chosen to jettison but of a soul-making God-space which they have never knowingly appreciated in the first place. Nothing is missing and selfhood is complete without recourse to religion, God or faith.

Except that it isn’t. Despite appearances to the contrary faith is remarkably persistent and the human spirit is sculpted to be receptive to the presence of divine love. The soul space is there. A space to be filled with creativity, imagination and the journey of faith. A space made possible by the shape of love which defines it and holds it in being. This is not a non-space to be rid of, but a Grace-Space of gift and blessing. For me as a Christian this divinely human space is shaped and full-filled by the life of Jesus.

How many people go through life imagining what might banish their enduring emptiness and trying to find ways of being fulfilled? Henry Moore’s sculpture defies our desire to understand, classify and recognise the world. It challenges us to accept as real that which does not immediately make sense; to touch and make the seemingly intangible tangible, present and known. His sculpture challenges us to trust to the empty space as that which is essential to the whole composition, welcoming it as invitation rather than seeing such absence as error and mistake.

And faith without space can so easily degenerate into religion without grace. Certainty excludes imagination, and the very act of narrow completion negates the nature of God as that self-emptyingly spacious mystery of love which literally makes space and births creation. Making space to see the essential is at the heart of our calling as disciples. Stepping into the emptiness and void of much of modern life is the vocation of the church. ‘Two Piece Reclining Figure’ is an icon for our times.

Henry Moore 2 piece reclining figure cut close up

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