25 Feb 2015

The Province of Joy - Lenten Reflections 2015

Regular readers to the blog will know that from time to time we post series of reflections generally focused around the seasons of Advent and Lent. In Advent 2014 we published sixteen different reflections for the first two weeks before switching our focus to the O Antiphons.

For Lent this year we have asked contributors to reflect and dialogue with their favourite piece of art and how it speaks to us about faith and the meaning of our lives. Like a form of lectio divina we have asked them to share with us their thoughts and feelings evoked by these doorways into "the provinces of joy".

We will be honest and declare that we are plagiarizing the idea from the wonderful national treasure that is the National Gallery of Ireland. Currently they have an exhibition called "Lines of Vision" where Irish writers find inspiration in the wonderful collection in the gallery. This exhibition coincides with the launch of the publication Lines of Vision: Irish Writers on Art, a beautifully illustrated anthology of new poems, essays and stories by 56 Irish writers, inspired by the Gallery’s collection. The contributors have selected pictures from the collection as setting-off points to explore ideas about art, love, loss, family, dreams, memory, places, and privacy. Both the artworks and the literary responses to them are wonderfully diverse in subject-matter and tone.

When we set the challenge to our contributors we said that the art pieces didn't have to be strictly religious in tone, but given that we are entering into Lent challenge was for a reflection/piece of creative writing based on their favourite piece of art with a Lenten slant (where possible). 
The title of the series is taken from a letter written on July 14th 1964 by Flannery O'Connor the American writer and the quote is taken froma book of the same name by Angela Alaimo O'Donnell - "The Province of Joy: Praying with Flannery O'Connor".

The quote is taken from a letter O'Connor sent to her friend Jane McKane. Angela O'Donnell makes the point that
"in the face of loneliness, isolation, daily physical pain and limitation, and the psychological burden of living with a fatal disease, [O'Connor's] daily prayer to St Raphael is a daily passage to the "province of joy". O'Connor knew that the "true country", the proper destination, orientation, and disposition of a believing Christian, is joy............." 
Lent is often seen as a joyless season, but the reminder to us when we reflect on beauty and art is that it is a time set aside (a kairos moment) for us to turn again to the Lord towards the place of joy which is resting in the embrace of the One Who Embraces All.
Prayer to St Raphael
O Raphael, lead us toward those we are waiting for, those who are waiting for us: Raphael, Angel of happy meeting, lead us by the hand toward those we are looking for. May all our movements be guided by your Light and transfigured with your joy.

Angel, guide of Tobias, lay the request we now address to you at the feet of Him on whose unveiled Face you are privileged to gaze. Lonely and tired, crushed by the separations and sorrows of life, we feel the need of calling you and of pleading for the protection of your wings, so that we may not be as strangers in the province of joy, all ignorant of the concerns of our country. Remember the weak, you who are strong, you whose home lies beyond the region of thunder, in a land that is always peaceful, always serene and bright with the resplendent glory of God.

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