Gallery 46

Gallery 46

Do you like art? The other week I happened to be in Oxford, and I took the opportunity to visit the Ashmolean. I fancied looking at some of their European art, and so I ended up in Gallery 46. This gallery focuses on works from the 17th century.

One particular work caught my eye. It was painted in the 1630s by an artist called Pier Francesco Mola, whom I’m afraid I’d never heard of. The painting is called Narcissus and Echo. According to the ancient Greek myth, Narcissus fell in love with his own reflection, and in due course wasted away from love of what he could not have.  This myth has given us the word “Narcissist” and “Narcissistic”, which we use to describe people who have an excessive interest in or admiration of themselves. The key word here is “excessive” – it’s perfectly normal to have an interest in ourselves and in our appearance. But in some cases our interest in ourselves becomes so extreme as to be harmful - harmful to ourselves and harmful to others.

In short, it is easy to become so self-focussed that we lose touch with the world around us. We cease to care about other people and the environment about us.  Sadly, some forms of spirituality can encourage an unhealthy focus on ourselves, and some spiritual activities are little more than fashionable ways of gazing at our own navels.

Reflecting on ourselves and our own lives is important, but it is only a starting point. Within the Christian tradition, the next stage is to reflect on how God is active in our lives, and how God wishes to transform our lives for the better, so that we may be more effective in being channels of God’s love , not only in our own lives but in the lives of our communities. Yes, as Christians we reflect upon our own lives, in all their depth and complexity, but we do so in order to be better able to serve others. We seek to understand ourselves so that we may serve others better.

It will shortly be Lent, traditionally a time for us to reflect on our lives and think about how we might better serve our communities.  May our reflections this Lent bare rich fruit - in our own lives, yes, but especially in the lives of our communities.

Fr Jason