This photo was taken during a holiday in Alnwick and while visiting one of the big National Trust houses. In a week when Twelve Years a Slave won at the Oscars, it is a powerful representation of the beauty of a human being, and the ugly brutality of which human beings are capable in their pursuit of commercial prosperity and political dominance. I stood for a while here, feeling a deep shame for a history which includes the realities which underlie this work of art. What I find so moving about this bronze is that slavery is not condemned by portraying its cruelties and brutalities and disfigurements of the image of God - it is condemned because it puts chains on the freedom of this glorious human being to live with dignity, purpose and the fulfilments of love and life. The loveliness of the form contrasts with the sadness of the face, and those hellish chains. It is a morally irrefutable condemnation of oppression.
The prayer below gives expression to a powerful ecclesiology - by which I mean, Teresa of Avila takes seriously Paul's statement, 'you are the Body of Christ, and individually members of it'. Too often these words are reduced to mere metaphor, a grown up children's address on how the community is to work together, be co-ordinated, respect each other's contribution, never be dismissive of others as though we didn;t need them. All good and proper - but nowhere near the radical theology of Paul if that's all we think those words mean.
Christ is risen and present in the world by his Spirit; and where two or three gather together there He is in the midst. That isn't metaphor either - He really is present, and Paul's words carry an ontological force which means we are, yes, we are, the Body of Christ. We are In Christ, and Christ is in us; we are crucified with Christ and raised with Him as children of God. All of this Teresa understands, and this famous prayer-poem succinctly reminds us of what that means. One of the questions our severely practical and pragmatic culture likes to ask about anything not covered in the latest book for dummies is, "Yes, but tell me what that looks like"
"You are the Body of Christ, and individually members of it".
"Yes Paul, but tell us what would that look like?"
This is Teresa's answer:
Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
no eyes but yours
no hands but yours,
no feet but yours,,
Yours are the eyes through which is to look out
Christ’s compassion to the world;
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good;
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless men now.
Yes. And the bronze statue above is a potent reminder of precisely what it is Christ calls us to oppose with our bodies, and to generate in the world compassion, goodness and blessing in His name.