This week’s Creative Lent has been rather like a school science experiment gone wrong. I have created a rather tranquil water feature. I’d be even happier about this if I’d done it on purpose.
Allow me to explain…
As you might be aware, since the start of Lent I have set myself the goal of creating one new piece each week, themed around Rest, Repentance or Restoration, as these are things which Christians might explore during this season as part of the build-up to Easter. I wanted to use my creative practice as a means to intentionally think about God and what he might be saying to me and others, whilst making.
The last few weeks have featured photography, sculpture, painting and candle-making. This week’s effort didn’t quite go to plan – at least not my plan. We’ll see if the outcome suits the purpose better, by the end!
What started me off this week was a walk with my dog, Cosmo. Being a beagle, he is insatiably curious and drawn into all sorts of mischief. As we were out for our walk, I realised it was high tide – and a very high tide at that, as it’s Spring time and Spring and Autumn tend to see higher tides. (I may have described that slightly wrongly, but hopefully t’internet will correct any accidental errors!)
Thus Cosmo and I took a detour on our walk, and came along to Whale Island walk, formally known Stamshaw Bay. Here we could see the tide was indeed very high, almost overlapping the steps at the edge, which happens very rarely. Something about this resonated with: about fullness and over-flowing and I decided to let this idea percolate some more.
My Bible readings this week have been about the provision and protection of God. Lots of stuff reminding us that God protects the widows and orphans, feed the hungry and provides shelter for those who are lost. This has been most encouraging against a backdrop of Brexit and Article 50.
I thought about the high tide and the fact that it was almost over-flowing and I decided to try and make a sculpture which would, intentionally overflow. I’d had an idea for something similar in a recent conversation with my friend Peter at the Cathedral: a tall, slim tube where the water would be pumped up from the bottom and then overflow at the top, sliding down the outside of the tube, before pooling in some kind of dish or container at the bottom ready to be pumped again. I thought this idea – of God’s love and provision being a form of constant restoration and refreshing, might be a helpful one, and so I got to work!
I started out using a glue gun to create some swirling lines on the outside of an empty pop bottle, so as to direct the water as it made its journey over the top of the container and down the outside. I unwired the plug from the fish tank pump, and slid the cable in through the neck of of the pop bottle, then turned the whole thing upside down so that the water could be sucked in from the bottom and pushed out the top (which had been cut off). So far so good. I found a container to be the base, some small white pebbles I had lying around from something else, and I dug out the old fish tank pump, which had been used to circulate the water when we had fish. I was on to a winner! I had all the necessary ingredients and I was going to make something marvellous!
I then experienced a rather rapid physics revision lesson in displacement, volume and the effect of gravity on water: namely that gravity makes water want to equalise itself, and you can pour as much water as you like in the top of your container, but as soon as that volume exceeds the available space in the bowl at the bottom you will end up with an unexpected flood. Also, if you accidentally drop some of those lovely small white pebbles into your pump mechanism, it’s not going to work very well.
Having cleared that mess up, I realised I needed to make the central column smaller, so I unwired and re-wired the plug for the fish tank pump, cut up and re-glued my central column and found a bigger bowl.
Alas, gravity was still too powerful for my little pump, and the water couldn’t get any higher up the tube without sufficient force. I tried various permutations with different sized bowls and arrangements of stones, central columns etc, but all to no avail.
So I plonked the pump back into the bottom of the smallest bowl, covered it with the lovely white stones (again) and plugged it in. And this is what I got:
Now, as I like to remind my students, my friends, my family and even myself from time to time: nothing is wasted if you’ve learnt something from it. So here’s what I’ve learnt.
When it comes to restoration, God defies the laws of gravity.
As my little science experiment clearly shows, it takes a lot of effort to make water defy gravity! But we try and do that all the time with our energy levels: we keep trying to push what little we have up the tube and over the top, in order to be everything we think we need to be, for every person we meet. But that’s just not achievable – or sustainable. We can’t keep giving out of an empty well, or even a half-empty one. Only God can defy gravity and only God can successfully fill us up from the inside out.
Sometimes we need to be more than full.
What does that mean? Well, in the example of the water feature, the glass dish is just full. The water doesn’t exceed the space available. It’s contained. Safe. Tidy. But maybe God is calling us to give more than we usually do? To step outside our safe, tidy, comfortable space and engage with people in a way which is messy and uncertain? If you ever needed an example of uncomfortable and uncertain, I think Easter is the right place to look.
(This last paragraph might seem to contradict the previous one, but actually I think they’re aimed at two different types of people.)
Do our expectations limit what God can do for us?
This is the big one for me. The bowl is full. But only just. And yet God’s word speaks of abundance, of over-flowing, of things ‘beyond measure’. Do I think God is capable of that? Of really doing more than I can ask or think? Or do I only expect what I can see, hear or know with my own senses – that life is limited, not limitless? Its a tough one this, and it doesn’t have an easy answer.
But maybe as we look at the water and watch its movement, we might be reminded that this same small pool finds its source in limitless waterfalls, vast oceans and untapped depths. That each drop comes from a place far bigger than we will ever know or fully understand.
That even though we can’t fully see or understand it ourselves, it doesn’t mean that God can’t do even more than we could ever ask of think.
Food for thought and hopefully, water for the soul.
Until next time x