‘Hiddeness’ of Landscapes
View on the
path from Lynton to the Valley of Rocks (North Devon)
Photograph by the author
It is an inescapable fact that our
eyes cannot allow us to focus on close and distant views at the same time. We have to make a choice and sacrifice one
for the other. Landscape images result from choosing the big picture at the
expense of close-up focus. In this sense
landscapes hide as well as reveal. As beautiful as the above view
is, it effectively ‘hides ‘ so much; - the small mammals, reptiles, insects,
birds, flowers, stones, rocks and a host
of other things . We cannot even be sure that a resident mountain goat or
walker is not lurking behind the gorse bushes in the foreground! Every
landscape has a deep structure.
Artists know this well when they choose the perspective and focus they wish to
explore. I can only imagine the painter Paul
Nash wanted to illustrate the apparent ‘hiddenness’
inherent in a landscape when he produced an
unusual painting of a downland landscape with white cliffs in the far
distance. Surreally, the foreground is incongruously dominated by two seemingly
detached and ‘out-of-place’ objects – a large, loose stump of a tree and a
tennis ball, both of which could feasibly be hidden somewhere in the landscape?
I suspect Nash is reminding us that
there are many things ‘lost’ in a panoramic perspective. We simply cannot see
into the deep structure by taking a distant view. Incidentally, the novelist is perhaps in a more
advantageous position, as she/he cunningly works to shape the fine detail of
individual characters, whilst also weaving them into the all-encompassing ‘big
picture’ of the story. A literary masterpiece achieves both.
idea of the ‘macro’ perspective necessarily obscuring the ‘micro ‘ view seems to be fundamental to our
perception of the world that we encounter through our senses and thinking. We
need both perspectives in order to maximise the validity of our
understanding and judgment. It is well known that some people are especially
good at focusing on fine detail ,
whilst others are particularly gifted at seeing the ‘big picture’. A healthy organisational team will include
I think this can relate to our personal spiritual formation, our growing as we
make our journey with God. We need to
focus on separate occasions at both the near and the distant, the close detail
and the sweep of the big picture. And the Christian faith does have an enormous
panoramic sweep , from the first century through to today, from early small
bands of believers meeting in modest homes to our great institutional
denominations with a vast array of dedicated worship buildings. And the
accompanying theology and spirituality also
has an expansive sweep, from evangelical
to catholic, from Biblical literalism to metaphorical interpretations, from
fundamentalism to liberalism, from heavily formalised and traditional worship
to charismatic exuberance, from Protestant to Roman Catholic and Orthodox, from
tiny chapel congregations to vast
cathedral gatherings. The spiritual landscape available to us is truly
extraordinarily expansive. It is by any measures a massively ‘big
picture’. However, there are pertinent questions that need to be asked. Is it possible that this vast panorama of religious landscape can
actually ‘hide’ the most crucial elements ? In other words, can the ‘fundamental particles’ of the Faith be
unwittingly obscured by the sheer scale of this religious panorama? Conversely, we might also ask whether the
particular niche in this landscape
that we individually inhabit obscures
the richness of other locations.
of Nazareth told a very short story that might be relevant to these questions.
A man accidently stumbled upon buried treasure. Being very honest he knew that
he could not own the treasure unless he also owned the field in which it was
found. Such was his desire for the valuables that he hid them again and then
did a remarkable thing. He sold all that he possessed in order to purchase the
field ang gain ownership of the treasure.
Perhaps Jesus had in mind the ancient practice of burying valuables for safe
keeping in dangerous times, with the express intention of retrieving them in
later safer times. Perhaps he had in
mind treasures that had been hidden in the landscape many decades ago ,
abandoned and unclaimed. Only later discovery could reveal such bounty. Indeed,
‘spiritual formation’ - the gaining
of new insights into the Gospel of Christ, the Church and discipleship –
depends upon both our Intention and divine revelation through discovery.
But in order to discover we need to actually walk the landscape and be
open to the nearness of the Spirit’s enlightenment. Walking the landscape is
always walking with Jesus, the Christ. Christ is the deep structure.
perhaps this Advent we could
intentionally expose ourselves to new ways of meditating on the Word, trying
different ways of praying, learn about the hidden riches in different
approaches such as Celtic, Charismatic, Evangelical, or Orthodox spirituality,
visit a church of a different tradition, embrace the discipline of reading a
challenging book, join a Lent group, or reflect more deeply on the advent and birth narratives . The
possibilities are very personal and various. It is worth reminding ourselves
that EXPECTANCY is a golden thread
running through the New Testament Birth Narratives, and the challenge before us is to truly expect
personal enlightenment this Advent season. It is a journey that we can make in
companionship with the cast of the biblical narrative, and also with one
This Advent Season, may the Spirit widen
the scope of my searching.
May I discover anew the ‘deep structure’ in the Christmas story.
May I enter into a focused
understanding of Christ as Lord, the eternal treasure that lies at the deep
centre of all faith, and indeed, all things.
NOTE : Paul Nash’s
painting “Event on The Downs” (1934) is not
as there would be possible copyright issues.
appropriate web searching should enable viewing.