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The Shadow of Love

“True seeing leads to loving” Augustine

What do you see in the first picture? A muddle of metal? Look at the shadow created – this is by an artist I saw at the Venice Biennial a few years ago. I loved the idea that when viewed one way and without light the sculpture made no sense; but when I walked around it and looked at its shadow, I could see the intended picture.

Currently, as everything opens up again, it feels a little like nothing is making sense. One meter or two? Who’s in your bubble? You can drink in a pub but you can’t go swimming? No wonder many are starting to openly flout the rules.

At the start of lockdown, I really struggled with the idea of the rules. The inner rebel in me just wanted to break them. Even the term lockdown seemed like a prison sentence. In a zoom meeting, someone talked about how this really wasn’t a helpful word, and that something more like ‘shelter’ would be a more positive way to describe what we were all doing. In another recent church zoom, we talked about Psalm 91, where God is described as a ‘refuge and a fortress’. My husband and I discussed how we really didn’t like the word fortress as it felt enclosing rather than open (and military). But one of our church friends talked about a fortress in terms of the loving embrace of the divine, which changed the perspective for me –rather like the shadow picture made from a muddle of metal.

What if, the fortress - or the rules were actually the loving embrace of the divine?

The Jewish nation was given a set of rules to follow called the Ten Commandments. Over time, these became a heavy burden that created a culture of religious restriction. Jesus came along and blew all of this out of the water, declaring that all the rules that the Jews had been living by could be summed up by just two principles: “Love the Lord your God with all you heart, your soul and your mind, and love your neighbour as yourself”. Love was the reason for rules, and if love is removed, then the rules become an imprisonment rather than a shelter.

I still struggle with rules: I still, if I’m honest, don’t trust our government to respect our civil liberties going forward and will want to hold them to account should they embed some of the restrictions such as the right to congregate (which would outlaw protest, for example) permanently. But there is a difference between this awareness and the unawareness of selfishness that means that I do not respect the vulnerabilities and needs of my fellow human beings. It is hard: I want to see my friends more, but my husband’s parents need our care and are shielding. There is such a thing as selfish freedom. But there is also such a thing as the rule of love.

The second image shows an art installation called Transform which I made with fellow artist Katie Jones. Although the piece was made from two elements: the cross of leaves and the cross of twigs and ribbon, it actually had three. Again, the shadow cast on the wall is as poignant as the work itself. There is a balance between death, life and the shadow – the unquantifiable but just as real spiritual element to the cycle of life. We are all human; with physical realities and needs, but without attention to our inner life, the “bottomless well of love” (William Johnson) we will only see the rules and not the reasons. Let us allow love to transform us as light creates shadow.

Take some time to look at the picture and consider these questions:

What rules are you struggling with?

What freedoms are you still missing? Or missing even more?

What freedoms are you struggling with?

Where is love to be found?

Meditative action:

You will need a piece of paper, sunlight or a lamp, scissors, pencil or pen, circular object like a bowl

- Draw around your circular object

- Cut out the circle. This is your ‘bubble’

- Write or draw your responses to the changes in lockdown and how this impacts your life: what feels better, what feel less safe, or difficult?

- Fold the circle in half and then in quarters

- Cut into the folds using the shape below.

- Open out and hold up to the light to reveal the shadows

- Where does love fall?

This meditation is commissioned by Leeds Methodist Mission

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