I shamelessly stole the central image of my All Saints’ sermon from the rector’s letter from my former church’s magazine. ‘My training rector’ (he will always be that, I suppose) wrote movingly of an altarpiece of the tree of life, emerging from Adam and Eve, and growing up into the glory of Christ, with its branches filled with Saint after Saint.
The image was evocative because I’d spent the afternoon being distracted by fifty or more chaffinch who were rejoicing in the two new bird feeders in the tree. So, as soon as I began to read his letter, the image began to grow in my mind: branches furling out and up, forming a perfect illuminated page in jewel tones, with gold glinting and saints perched all around, talking, debating, wandering, praying. Imagine Hogwart’s paintings crossed with the Lindesfarne Gospels.
And then I went on line to find a picture of the altar my friend had seen. If I’d thought about it, I’d have realised I’d translated baroque altar into illuminated manuscript. But I didn’t think, so it came as a shock.
My training rector is a great fan of the baroque, and I could imagine him standing there in delight as theological complexities distilled in his mind. I’d have looked at it, thought ‘tacky’, and walked away.
So now, my mental image of the tree of life contains an ornately carved branch covered in shining gold for my training rector to perch on. But he and his branch are carefully hemmed in by clean black lines and carefully coloured knots and beasties– luminous, but not shiny, in their perfection.