Focus Magazine July / August
Letter from the Ministry Team 1
July in the past from page 5
Gardening against odds
Book revue 15
All in the month of July 20
St James least of all
Bible Bites 23
God in science 26
God in the arts 27
Please note that views expressed in this magazine do not necessarily
reflect the official opinion of the Church of England or the Local Parish.
The inclusion of an advertisement in this magazine does not imply the
approval or recommendation of St Martin’s Church.
A Letter from the Ministry Team
When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.”
And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour
has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells
you.” (John 2:3-5)
The Church is now in the season of Ordinary Time during which we are invited to
focus on a more connuous reading from the Bible and explore other themes such as
creation and the environment. However, practically, we are living in anything but
ordinary times! For months we have been adjusting to new concepts such as
‘lockdown’ and ‘social distancing.’ Our movements have been curtailed and restricted:
our lives have suddenly become very small. The most ordinary things,
which I daresay we took for granted, have suddenly became extra-ordinary: we
wear masks and gloves when we travel in public; we follow arrows in shops; we
keep our distance around others. Even as lockdown eases the fear of the virus
remains: there is still an element of danger around us. So, I was surprised to discover
a book by Michael Yaconelli, called Dangerous Wonder. In one phrase he
brings together our current world, and the Kingdom of God as he invites us to reimagine
the term ‘dangerous.’ The author writes, ‘Jesus was a dangerous man.’
In other words, Jesus was unpredictable, one minute producing wine out of water,
displaying courageous compassion to victims, calming a violent storm, and then
forgiving the ‘unforgiveable’ and turning over tables in the temple. No surprise
that people were in awe of Jesus. The author asks, ‘… shouldn’t those who call
themselves Christians be filled with awe, astonishment and wonder?’ He then invites
the reader to find the world of dangerous wonder – ‘the place where both
children and grownups can find God.’ This place, he writes, is filled with ‘risky curiousity,
wild abandon, daring playfulness, quiet listening, irresponsible passion,
happy terror, and naive grace.’ In other words, maybe it is time to become a child
again! I find that so refreshing. In some ways, the virus is making us do something
similar – reconsider our lives. Are we not reconsidering how we lived life
before lockdown? Are we not reconsidering our jobs? Are we not reconsidering
our homes, as we liberate them from the ‘stuff’ that has accumulated over the
years? Why not then, reconsider a lost part of our selves – the child within us?
This is what Yaconelli refers to as living the dangerous wonder of faith. Maybe it
is simply time to learn to play again. What a brilliant thought in the midst of this
global pandemic – let’s play! Yaconelli then asks a series of questions which I
will leave with you to ponder over:
PLEASE TURN OVER
1. What’s the difference between being childlike and childish?
2. did you stop skipping or playing with toy cars and dolls?
3. Do you think ‘dangerous wonder’ is a real place? What would it look like in
Shall we try that? Shall we move forward into the summer months trying to find
the child within us and learning how to play again? Maybe you are already doing
that in lockdown – playing afresh with the children, rediscovering the joys of your
garden, exploring new recipes, doing the things you never had time to do before?
Let’s ask questions, be curious, and above all open-eyed with wonder to the
world around us. Would that change our lives? I certainly will be watching out
anew for the untamed, unpredictable and ‘dangerous’ (but always good!) ways of
God. In this place of ‘dangerous wonder’, we are ALWAYS safe!
Blessings, Rev Joyce, Priest-in-Charge.
As we consider how our ordinary lives have changed and are continuing to change, may we
find stability and constancy in our Lord Jesus Christ, the one who 'is the same yesterday and
today and forever' (Hebrews 13:8)
We pray for those who are lonely, sick and struggling with the new restrictions. We pray for
those longing to live lives to the full once again. Be with us all Lord. Keep us safe in these
Let us pray for all churches as they begin to work out how to provide safe spaces of worship.
May we all be lights of love, hope and solidarity to those in our neighbourhoods.
Website: www.stmartinsmaidstone.org.uk 3
Editor: Canon Paul Hardingham considers some comforting words from Isaiah.
The Frailty of Life
According to one survey, during the lockdown, a quarter of adults in the UK have
watched or listened to a religious service and one in 20 have started praying. While the
majority of people who contract Covid-19 survive, it reminds us that we are much
more frail and weak than we like to think. As the prophet Isaiah says:
‘All people are like grass, and all their faithfulness is like the lowers of the ield. The grass
withers and the lowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely the
people are grass. The grass withers and the lowers fall, but the word of our God endures
for ever.’ (Isaiah 40:6-8).
Isaiah’s words really resonate at this time. In more normal times we can avoid facing
up to our vulnerability, but this pandemic has forced us to recognise our weakness and
However, this shouldn’t lead us to despair or fear; rather it is an opportunity to worship
and praise for His constancy and care. In Peter’s 1irst letter he quotes this passage
from Isaiah and says, ‘For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable,
through the living and enduring word of God’ (1 Peter 1:23). Peter contrasts our
mortality with the eternal Word of God, which bring us new birth and life through the
power of the Spirit. Jesus died for our sins and rose again to make us right with God, so
that trough faith in Him we can know eternal life. We don’t need to be afraid of our
frailty, for God is a dependable foundation on which to build our lives and face eternity.
‘We blossom and lourish as leaves on the tree. And wither and perish, but nought
changeth Thee.’ (Immortal, invisible, Walter C Smith).
Focus Magazine July / Aug 4
15 th July St Swithun (or Swithin) - saint for a rainy day
St Swithun is apparently the saint you can blame for rainy summers. It is said that if it
rains on his special day, 15 th July, it will then rain for 40 days after that. It all began
when Swithun was made Bishop of Winchester in 852 by King Ethelwulf of Wessex. It
was an important posting: Winchester was the capital of Wessex, and during the 10
years Swithun was there, Wessex became the most important kingdom of England.
During his life, instead of washing out people’s summer holidays, and damping down
their spirits, Swithun seems to have done a lot of good. He was famous for his charitable
gifts and for his energy in getting churches built. When he was dying in 862, he
asked that he be buried in the cemetery of the Old Minster, just outside the west door.
If he had been left there in peace, who knows how many rainy summers the English
may have been spared over the last 1000 years. But, no, it was decided to move Swithun.
By now, the 960s, Winchester had become the 2irst monastic cathedral chapter in
England, and the newly installed monks wanted Swithun in the cathedral with them.
So 2inally, on 15 July 971, his bones were dug up and Swithun was translated into the
That same day many people claimed to have had miraculous cures. Certainly everyone
got wet, for the heavens opened. The unusually heavy rain that day, and on the days
following, was attributed to the power of St Swithun. Swithun was moved again in
1093, into the new Winchester cathedral. His shrine was a popular place of pilgrimage
throughout the middle ages. The shrine was destroyed during the Reformation and restored
in 1962. There are 58 ancient dedications to Swithun in England.
7 th July St Boisil of Melrose - patron saint for ordinands?
Have you ever noticed how lifeenhancing good ministers are? St Boisil (d.c.661)
should be their patron saint. He did nothing spectacular, but he did everything that
Boisil was a monk who became abbot of Melrose, in the Irish monastic tradition. Boisil
knew about God – he had spent years in study, and this earned him respect. Boisil
walked with God – his transparent holiness made people love and trust him. Boisil
could hear God speak – he was so open to God’s Spirit that he was even given the gift of
prophecy, which is God speaking through one person into speci2ic situations in other
Knowledge of God, obedience to God, and a prophetic gift from God. It is faithful
Christians such as Boisil who have kept the Church going over the centuries. Sadly, in
661 Boisil caught the plague. He spent his last hours on earth reading St John’s gospel
with Cuthbert, another Celtic monk, who also caught the plague. Boisil prophesied
that Cuthbert would live, but that he would die. But this did not trouble him: Boisil
knew in whom he believed and was looking forward to 2inally seeing his beloved Master,
face to face.
Focus Magazine July / Aug
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Focus Magazine June 7
6 th July Thomas More, Reformation martyr
These days, lawyers and politicians are held in the lowest esteem by the public, along
with tabloid journalists and estate agents. St Thomas More was both a lawyer and politician,
who is today much admired for holding steadfastly to his faithbased principles.
He lived in dangerous times, when anyone, even queens, who displeased King Henry
VIII could #ind themselves in a condemned cell in The Tower of London.
Sir Thomas More held the of#ice of Lord High Chancellor and at one time was the king’s
most trusted adviser. But when King Henry took personal control of the Church in England
in order to divorce his #irst wife, More courageously opposed him.
Thomas More was a social philosopher and the author of ‘Utopia’. This book described
an imaginary republic governed by an educated elite who employed reason rather than
selfinterest for the general good of everyone. He was himself one of the preeminent
scholars of his age. As a Christian theologian he supported orthodox doctrine, vigorously
opposed heresy and argued strongly against the new Protestant ideas taking
hold in Europe. Although holding the highest political and legal of#ice he was far from
being a pragmatic politician and opportunist lawyer. In every matter he was a man
who held #irmly to what he believed was right in God’s eyes.
When Thomas More fell from favour with the king, as a result of his un#linching views,
he was falsely accused of taking bribes. When this charge failed, his enemies accused
him of supporting a celebrated seer of the times who was strongly critical of the king.
This too failed. He was then required to swear to the Oath of Supremacy, acknowledging
Henry’s position as head of the Church of England. This he could not do in conscience.
He was put on trial and condemned to be hung, drawn and quartered for his
treason, a punishment later changed to beheading. He died in 1535 and on the scaffold
his #inal words were ‘I die the King’s good servant, but God’s #irst.’ He has been of#icially
declared a martyr saint by the Roman Catholic Church.
22 nd July St Mary Magdalene - patron of repentant sinners
It is easy to understand the popularity of Mary Magdalene over the centuries: she is
the patron saint both of repentant sinners and of the contemplative life.
Jesus drove seven demons from Mary, who came from near Tiberius in Galilee. She became
His follower to the bitter end. She followed Him to Jerusalem and was present
during the cruci#ixion, standing heartbroken at the foot of the cross. Her love for Jesus
did not end there, for she went to the tomb to anoint His body on the Sunday morning.
Such faithful, humble devotion was richly repaid: it gave her a unique privilege among
all mankind: she was the #irst person to whom the Risen Lord appeared on Easter Sunday
morning. She thought He was the gardener at #irst.
Mary Magdalene has sometimes been identi#ied with the woman who anointed Christ’s
feet in the house of Simon (Luke 7:37). Over the centuries many artists have painted
this scene. Mary Magdalene’s feast has been kept in the West since the 8th century.
England has 187 ancient churches dedicated to her, as well as a College in both Oxford
Focus Magazine July / Aug 8
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Gardening Against the Odds?
The Conservation Foundation has relaunched Gardening Against the Odds as a virtual
network and is getting some excellent interest.
As a result, it may be making a radio series soon, featuring some of the projects it has
discovered over the years which show how people combat ‘odds’ – mental, physical
and environmental - by gardening, even when they have no garden.
These people plant seeds which they watch grow, eventually producing growth leading
to $lowers and fruit. Sometimes they work alone, sometimes there is an opportunity to
share, producing a sense of community. All this is nothing new, but many people are
discovering the bene$its of gardening as a result of lockdown – discovering how gardening
can help combat loneliness and depression with a sense of caring and wellbeing
sometimes with life changing results.
This is a very topical issue and so if you have discovered the bene$its of gardening recently
– or know someone who has – the Conservation Foundation would love to hear
from you as soon as possible.
Please contact : email@example.com.
Facebook @gardeningagainsttheodds websitehttps://conservationfoundation.co.uk/
Editor: This may well be of interest to people during lockdown…
Online ‘Talking Jesus’ course FREE during the Covid-19 lockdown
HOPE Together has made the hugely popular Talking Jesus course available, rent free,
to watch online during the Covid-19 crisis.
Roy Crowne, executive director of HOPE Together, said: ‘We have had lots of requests
during the Covid-19 lockdown to make the Talking Jesus course available
online. There seems to be an increased interest from non-Christians in spiritual issues.
People are searching for hope. We want to help equip Christians to tell their story and
to talk about the hope we have because of Jesus.’
The Talking Jesus course includes six video-based teaching sessions with inspirational
testimonies. To access the course free until end of August visit:
Website: www.stmartinsmaidstone.org.uk 9
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Praying for end to coronavirus crisis, for frontline workers and the world’s poor
British adults are praying for an end to the Covid-19 crisis, as well as for frontline
workers and those living in poverty both in the UK and around the world, according to
a new poll commissioned by Christian Aid.
The research, undertaken by Savanta ComRes, found that one in four (26%) British
adults say they have prayed for an end to the Covid-19 crisis since lockdown, while an
equal proportion (26%) say they have prayed for people working on the frontline and
other key workers since the crisis began.
One in ,ive (21%) British adults say they have prayed for people living in poverty in
the UK or around the world since the lockdown.
The poll also indicated that the Covid-19 lockdown is slightly more likely to increase
than decrease people’s faith in God (5% vs. 2%), life after death (4% vs. 2%) and the
power of prayer (5% vs. 2%). This was particularly true of younger Brits aged 18-24.
Chine McDonald from Christian Aid said: “At times of crisis like the world is experiencing
now, faith can play a key part in helping people to cope with daily realities and
Christian Aid’s concern for women during Covid-19
The ACT Alliance, a network of 135 faith-based actors and churches operating in 120
countries, has called attention to the gendered dimension of Covid-19. It is urging that
the international community, including churches and religious organisations, should
take this into account.
Women are afforded fewer rights than men worldwide, and although the disease itself
might cause higher mortality amongst men, it is clear that the social impacts of Covid-
19 will impact women the most.
Women living in poverty do not have the ability to take time off work, do not have adequate
access to housing to self-isolate, and cannot stockpile provisions.
Poor women, girls and vulnerable groups are least likely to be able to access healthcare
and treatment. The situation will be critical for women migrant workers, women on
the move and those living in refugee camps or slums.
Daniela Varano, Communications Of,icer at ACT Alliance said: "Domestic violence cases
have risen dramatically as women and girls across most countries have been quarantined,
often with their abusers. It is crucial that all governments put in place af,irmative
actions and inclusive policies that level the playing ,ield.”
ACT Alliance, together with its members, has launched a Global Appeal to support the
most marginalised communities during this crisis.
Website: www.stmartinsmaidstone.org.uk 11
Focus Magazine July / Aug 12
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Focus Magazine July / Aug 14
Patterns in the Psalms – a colouring book
This summer, if you have time on your hands, why not colour your way through the
beautiful imagery of the Psalms?
This book contains 30 illustrations with a corresponding verse, all designed to appeal
to an adult market. The designs include animals, ,lowers, leaves, waves, stars and other
patterns. Readers can enjoy the creativity and freedom of adding colour to these intricate
designs, whilst scripture provides inspiration and re,lection for each page.
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Focus Magazine Jul / Aug 16
1 ‘I pray that out of his glorious — he may strengthen you with power through his
Spirit in your inner being’ (Ephesians 3:16) (6)
4 ‘Saul’s father Kish and — father Ner were sons of Abiel’ (1 Samuel 14:51) (6)
7 ‘Praise the Lord, O my — ’ (Psalm 103:1) (4)
8 See 5 Down
9 Laws (1 Kings 11:33) (8)
13 ‘Who of you by worrying can — a single hour to his life?’ (Luke 12:25) (3)
16 Artistry (Exodus 31:5) (13)
17 ‘Your young men will see visions, your — men will dream dreams’ (Acts 2:17) (3)
19 How David described his Lord (Psalm 19:14) (8)
24 ‘If this city is built and its — — restored, you will be left with nothing in Trans-
Euphrates’ (Ezra 4:16) (5,3)
25 ‘The holy Scriptures, which are able to make you — for salvation through faith in
Christ Jesus’ (2 Timothy 3:15) (4)
26 Intended destination of arrows (Lamentations 3:12) (6)
27 Eve hit (anag.) (6)
Website: www.stmartinsmaidstone.org.uk 17
1 ‘For I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find — for your
souls’ (Matthew 11:29) (4)
2 Where Peter was when he denied Christ three times (Luke 22:55) (9)
3 Remarkable early 20th-century Indian evangelist, a convert from Hinduism, —
Sundar Singh (5)
4 ‘Now the king had put the officer on whose — — leaned in charge of the gate’ (2
Kings 7:17) (3,2)
5 and 8 Across The Lover describes this facial feature of the Beloved thus: ‘Your
— is like the tower of Lebanon looking towards — ’ (Song of Songs 7:4) (4,8)
6 ‘Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled — your waist’ (Ephesians 6:14) (5)
10 Trout (anag.) (5)
11 Easily frightened (1 Thessalonians 5:14) (5)
12 The ability to perceive (Ecclesiastes 10:3) (5)
13 One of the clans descended from Benjamin (Numbers 26:38) (9)
14 “It is one of the Twelve,” he replied, “one who — bread into the bowl with
me”’ (Mark 14:20) (4)
15 Resound (Zephaniah 2:14) (4)
ANSWERS ON PAGE 19
Focus Magazine July / Aug 18
Website: www.stmartinsmaidstone.org.uk 19
All in the month of July
175 years ago, on 4 th July 1845 that Thomas Barnardo, Irish humanitarian and philanthropist
was born. He founded Barnardo’s, a charity which cares for vulnerable children
and young people.
Also 175 years ago, on 17 th July 1845 that Charles Grey, 2 nd Earl Grey, British Prime
Minister (183034) died. Earl Grey tea was named after him after he was given a gift of
tea 1lavoured with bergamot oil. It was known as the Earl Grey’s blend.
150 years ago, on 18 th July 1870 that the Vatican issued the declaration of Papal Infallibility.
It preserved the Pope from the possibility of error when he de1ined a doctrine
concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Catholic Church.
100 years ago, on 17 th July 1920 that Kenneth Wolstenholme, British football commentator,
was born. Best remembered for his famous commentary at the 1966 World Cup
Final: “Some people are on the pitch…they think it’s all over…. It is now!” – as the last
goal was scored.
90 years ago, on 7 th July 1930 that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, British writer who created
the detective Sherlock Holmes, died.
80 years ago, on 10 th July 1940 to 31 st October 1940: The Battle of Britain took place.
75 year ago, on 5 th July 1945 that WWII leader Winston Churchill lost the British General
Election to Clement Attlee’s Labour Party.
75 years ago , my lovely wife Suzanne was born.
70 years ago, on 5 th July 1950 that Israel’s Knesset passed the Law of Return, which
granted all Jews the right to immigrate to Israel.
65 years ago, on 9 th July 1955 that the song ‘Rock Around the Clock’ by Bill Haley and
His Comets reached #1 on the Billboard chart in the USA. It remained there for eight
weeks. Although not the 1irst rock & roll song, it is considered the song that brought
rock & roll into the mainstream.
60 years ago, on 6 th July 1960 that Aneurin (‘Nye’) Bevan, Minister of Health (194551)
who led the establishment of the National Health Service, died.
40 years ago, on 5 th July 1980 that Swedish tennis player Bjorn Borg won the Wimbledon
singles championship for a record 1ifth consecutive time.
30 years ago, on 17 th July 1990 that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein threatened to use
force against Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates to stop them driving down oil prices.
On 24 th July Iraq sent tens of thousands of troops and hundreds of tanks to the border
with Kuwait, ahead of an invasion on 2 nd August which led to the Gulf War.
25 years ago, on 11 th July 1995 that the Srebrenica Massacre took place. The Bosnian
Serb Army seized control of Srebrenica and massacred 8,000 men and boys.
Focus Magazine July / Aug 20
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Website: www.stmartinsmaidstone.org.uk 21
St James the Least of All
Editor: The Revd Dr Gary Bowness continues his tongue-in-cheek letters from ‘Uncle
Eustace’… this was written before lockdown.
Beware the spell-checker on your special service sheets!
St James the Least
My dear Nephew Darren
When producing material for your magazine or church services, beware the computer
spell-checker. We once let our own system check a Christmas carol sheet and, on the
night, found ourselves obliged to sing “away in a manager”, mangers apparently being
unknown to our machine.
If you use special sheets regularly, it seems a law of nature – as with metal coat hangers
- that they all intermingle while no one is watching. Thus, on Easter Day, half the
congregation will have been issued with sheets for Harvest, which will only become
obvious once the service begins. The ,irst hymn will be entirely lost while sidesmen
scuttle about looking for replacements only to ,ind that there won’t be enough of them
anyway and then the second hymn will be lost while others helpfully wander about
church donating their sheets to those looking helpless and then trying to ,ind someone
to share with.
Never, ever, print on them ‘Do not take home’ as this will only ensure everyone does so.
I have sometimes wondered if the instruction ‘Take this sheet home for reference’
would ensure that they stayed neatly arranged in the pews after the service. And if it is
a service where babies are likely to be present, be assured that many of the copies will
be returned half chewed and coated with bits of whatever the infant had for breakfast.
There must be a market for paper treated with a child-repellent ,lavour for such occasions.
Anyone who thinks we are an unimaginative nation should visit a church after a special
service to see how many places members of congregations can invent to hide the booklets:
under kneelers, neatly folded and hidden inside hymn books, among ,lower arrangements
and behind heating pipes so that no one can quite reach them. They then
lurk there reproachfully for the next ten years until mice solve the problem.
No, stick to large, hard bound books. They are resistant to teeth and are too substantial
to be hidden in pockets. Their only drawback is that they tend to fall victim to the pull
of gravity at the quietest moments.
Your loving uncle,
Focus Magazine July / Aug 22
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Website: www.stmartinsmaidstone.org.uk 23
Focus Magazine July / Aug 24
Website: www.stmartinsmaidstone.org.uk 25
God in the Sciences
This series is written by Dr Ruth M Bancewicz, who is Church Engagement Director at
The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion in Cambridge. Ruth writes on the positive
relationship between Science and Christian faith.
A Scientist Relects: Suffering and the Image of God
As I write, volunteers are distributing food to people who have been deprived of their
usual ways of earning an income during the lockdown in a Majority World country. I
became involved in raising money for this initiative very recently, and saw videos from
the ,irst people to receive packages. There were expressions of happiness, hope, quiet
sadness, resignation, desperation – most often a mixture of several of these feelings at
the same time.
I believe that our cries for answers at times like this, and our deep longing for things to
be better, kinder, more just, less painful and chaotic, are a sign that we are made in the
image of God. The Bible describes God creating men and women, instructing them to
rule over the earth, and giving them the freedom to choose what they will do. The
world God made was described as “very good”, but human wrongdoing caused a rift
between people and God, and also between us and the rest of creation.
From a scientist’s perspective, it seems that the potential for accidents, disease and
death – for both animals and humans – may have been part of God’s very good creation,
and there was a real threat of famine, albeit far rarer than in our current mismanaged
version of creation? How would we have managed life in what Genesis describes
as an un-subdued world if our relationship with God hadn’t broken down, and evil
hadn’t been unleashed? Maybe painful experiences would have been experienced as
challenges that brought us closer to each other and to God, rather than bringing us the
experience of suffering (which I would de,ine more particularly as involving distress,
isolation and fear)? Of course, these are theoretical questions that no one can answer,
but perhaps they are worth exploring.
God has already responded to suffering at a root level by taking it on Himself. Through
His death and resurrection, Jesus broke the power of sin and death. We do not yet see
the ,inal results of those decisive actions – the end of suffering for all those who trust
Him – but we can already feel their impact. For example, many people have experienced
the wonderful effect, either in their own lives or by receiving kindness from others,
which is described by these words: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit
in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of
,lesh” (Ezekiel 36:26).
Some of the people who received food yesterday were, in the words of the community
team leader, “really desperate”, but yet they still trust God to meet their needs. My hope
is that the worldwide Church will, with God’s help, be part of the answer to their prayers
– demonstrating our true status as people made in the image of God.
Focus Magazine July/Aug 26
26 21 21 2121`2123 23
God in the Arts
Editor: The Revd Michael Burgess continues his series on God in the Arts with ‘The Incredulity
of St Thomas’ by Peter Paul Rubens. It hangs in the Koninklijk Museum voor Schone
Kunsten, Antwerp, Belgium. We understand the painting is now in the public domain. You
can see a copy at: http://www.peterpaulrubens.org/TheIncredulityOfStThomaslarge.html
‘My Lord and my God’
The calendar allows us to celebrate St Thomas the apostle in this month of July as well
as traditionally in December. Thomas is mentioned with the other disciples in all the
Gospels, but it is in the fourth Gospel that he moves into the centre of the stage in his
In chapter 14 he queries the words of Jesus that evokes the confession ‘I am the way
and the truth and the life’ from our Lord. Then after the resurrection, when unconvinced
by the accounts of the others, Thomas has that memorable and moving encounter
with the risen Lord. In chapter 20 Jesus meets him in his doubts and his faith is restored.
‘The Incredulity of St Thomas’ is the subject of this month’s painting by Peter Paul Rubens.
Rubens (1577-1640) lived mainly in Antwerp, but his work displays a delight in
sumptuous colour and the human form, which he would have learnt from his studies in
Italy. Rubens was a good-humoured and genial person, and as a Roman Catholic, he
cherished his religion and faith. This painting is from 1614 and is part of a triptych.
The two outer panels portray the patrons who commissioned the work for their chapel
in the Franciscan church in Antwerp – Nicholaas Rockox and his wife.
In this central panel, Thomas gazes in wonder at the marked hand of Jesus. He is there
with a youthful St John and another disciple, who is looking at the face of the Lord. The
light in the canvas comes from the risen body of Jesus, and the disciples move from the
shadows into that light as their faith in the risen Lord grows and matures. In a moment,
Thomas will raise his head and look up to Jesus. It is a momentous occasion in
John’s Gospel, for this meeting of master and servant, of Lord and disciple, is not just
an exercise in overcoming doubt. It is an af,irmation that only God can raise or be
raised from death. Only God has the key to life. Thomas recognises Jesus fully and completely
as he utters the words ‘My Lord and my God.’
John ends his Gospel by saying, Yes, there was this moment of personal encounter, but
believing without seeing is testimony to a more profound faith. Then it is not we who
are invited to touch our Lord, but Jesus who can touch us. In the painting, one hand is
turned towards the disciples, the other reaches out to us. We may come to Jesus, like
Thomas, with doubts and concerns, with worry and anxiety. Jesus will meet us in the
honesty and openness of our faith to reassure us that He is, as He was for Thomas, the
way, the truth and the life – our Lord and our God.
Website: www.stmartinsmaidstone.org.uk 27
Thomas Dale’s poem on ‘Unbelieving Thomas’ ends with this verse:
“Oh! If the iris of the skies
Transcends the painter’s art,
How could he trace to human eyes
The rainbow of the heart;
When love, joy, fear, repentance, shame,
Hope, faith, in swift succession came,
Each claiming there a part;
Each mingling in the tears that ,lowed,
The words that breathed – ‘My Lord! My God!’”
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