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These Stations of the Crown of Thorns had a long gestation period. The seed was sown by a parishioner. An elderly lady who gifted a generous sum in her lifetime, for a new set of Stations of the Cross, at least seven years before they came to fruition. Peggy Williams, a dear soul, much loved by many, had a simple yet joyful faith, rooted in the sacraments and her quiet, unassuming life and witness in the parish. Peggy died, so never saw the finished stations. But her memory lives on in the dedication of the Triptych, incorporating stations XI, XII and XIII.
The remaining twelve stations, have been generously donated or ad memoriam by members of the worshipping community. The whole process has been a journey of faith and commitment by the members of St Paul’s Church, Goodmayes; not without its up and downs!
Henry Shelton, their creator, is both a committed Christian and a committed and accomplished artist. This reflected in stunning, yet simple linear figures in oils on boxed canvas. Henry’s expressive artwork brings Christ’s death and resurrection powerfully to life; to both the ‘casual observer’, and the prayerful participant, following the way of the cross. These Stations are known as the ‘Crown of Thorns’, rather than ‘The Cross’, because Jesus is depicted in each one as a simple, humble, crown of thorns.
My meditations revolve around both the ancient, scriptural canticles of the Daily Offices and Henry’s wonderful artwork. I have dispensed with the normal versicle and response to the Stations of the Cross as I felt they suppress the beautiful versicles and responses of the canticles, which themselves, are rooted in the ancient liturgies of mother church.
These meditations were written on a week’s retreat in The Gatehouse, Pleshey, at the Diocesan House of Retreat for the Diocese of Chelmsford. It is a very special corner of Essex.
My writing was also influenced by three women, now long departed this life. My mother Mary, who died when I was still in my early teens, yet has been a companion on my journey through life, at moments of great sadness, joy, and introspection.
Julian of Norwich, who has two writings incorporated into the canticles in these stations. Julian in her book ‘Revelations of Divine Love’, shares how Jesus was revealed to her, not as angry, full of vengeance for a creation gone amiss, but a joyful loving Saviour who looked with love and patience upon all creation. Something I very much felt whilst prayerfully meditating and writing at Pleshey.
Evelyn Underhill that great spiritual writer and retreat conductor who had such a long and close relationship with Pleshey. For anyone using Pleshey to retreat, reflect and write, Evelyn’s presence is all pervading.
They were unobtrusive and welcome companions on my creative journey, as I endeavoured, to process and commit my thoughts into print. They have brought a definite, joyful, incarnate slant to these Stations. Incarnate that is, in the sense of struggling to define the relationship between God and Jesus, and how we are called to fit into that. This was certainly not foreseen at the beginning of my retreat.
On reflection, these Stations have come into being around a pivotal turning point in the church’s year, the Feast of Candlemas. Set squarely between our Lord’s incarnation and His passion and resurrection, this joyful, incarnate theme now seems very right. Indeed, even more so when placed alongside Henry Shelton’s joyful, incarnate, paintings.
My hope and prayer is that all those who see these stations, use the meditations or both; will come to a greater understanding of God’s saving incarnate acts in the wider world, as well as their within their own personal lives.
Thank you Peggy, for sowing that seed of a ‘little hazel nut’!
Father Ben Rutt-Field, Vicar, 1994-2014
The Gatehouse, Pleshey
Feast of Candlemas 2010
"In this vision he showed me a little thing, the size of a hazelnut, and it was round as a ball. I looked at it with the eye of my understanding and thought "What may this be?" And it was generally answered thus: "It is all that is made." I marvelled how it might last, for it seemed it might suddenly have sunk into nothing because of its littleness. And I was answered in my understanding: "It lasts and ever shall, because God loves it."
-- Julian of Norwich
"Never let yourself think that because God has given you many things to do for Him… pressing routine jobs, a life full up with duties and demands of a very practical sort--- that all these need separate you from communion with Him. God is always coming to you in the Sacrament of the Present Moment. Meet and receive Him there with gratitude in that sacrament; however unexpected its outward form may be receive Him in every sight and sound, joy, pain, opportunity and sacrifice."
- Evelyn Underhill