I wonder what it was like.
Eyes stinging, heads aching, fingers smudged and the bitter smell of iron gall ink. This was painstaking work - copying letter by letter. There was no automatic spellcheck just a diligent attention to detail.
I’m not sure which came first - the words or the colour but on page after page, they are interwoven.
Imported from distant shores, artists ground pigments from red and yellow ochre, verdigris, indigo and lapis lazuli. These vibrant colours illustrated and illuminated until the finished book was unlike any other.
This was no quick mix, just-add-water, instant snack pot. There were no formulas or short cuts to by-pass the process.
I wonder if they considered the words they copied or the meaning behind the pictures they painted? Were their hearts burning as they worked? Did they lift their heads and look down through the ages to consider the result of their work?
John’s introduction to this fascinating series got me thinking about the book of Kells… and Ireland… and the Gospel…. about what it means to share the beautiful, life-changing, mysterious, powerful, disturbing, hope-filled good news of Jesus with those around us.
Today the Book of Kells is considered a national treasure; it is ironic perhaps when few seem to treasure the good news of the gospel.
As usual my mind is a kaleidoscope of thoughts and impressions. I’ll share just four…
I’m constantly amazed at the power of words: to build up or tear down, to condemn or to encourage, to inspire or demotivate, to sooth or to irritate, to give life or leech it...
As an editor, I know it is not enough to throw words onto a page. My thoughts may seem profound and beautiful but clothe them in prose and too often they emerge clumsy and confusing.
You might be surprised at how often I wrestle with a phrase only to hit backspace… (Case in point… I just re-wrote that sentence
If we take so much care over our communication in daily life, why would we imagine that sharing God’s Word is any different? Just as a translator seeks the best possible word, idiom or expression to convey meaning, we forget to translate the gospel into language our audience can understand. And to do that, we need to know what language our audience speaks!
Illustrated and illuminated
As someone who dabbles (unsuccessfully) in screenwriting, I’ve learnt that the mantra of the film is “show not tell”. Our nation has become disillusioned with those who say one thing and do another.
If Jesus was the word incarnate (lived out… become flesh) and he “moved into the neighbourhood”, why do we imagine our spoken words are all that is needed to bring people to faith?
It may be trite but actions speak louder than words, especially when the two are contradictory.
If we want to share the gospel in Ireland, our lives must be Jesus-shaped. We are the illustration of our own message. And if the two don’t match up, people will (quite understandably) walk way.
On the flip side… when people see a radically different, Kingdom-flavoured approach to life, they are intrigued. There are no short-cuts but when selfless service, genuine compassion, gracious responses, righteous choices, forgiveness, generosity and hospitality (to name a few…) are the fruit of your life… then those around you WILL take note and make no mistake… after a while they WILL ask questions!
We may illustrate but it’s the Holy Spirit who illuminates. Too often we forget that God’s Spirit is at work. He is the one who unveils blind eyes and softens hard hearts, who ignites the spark of conviction and inclines the heart’s cry towards the Father.
It is a huge relief to realise it is not all down to us. We are simply called to cooperate with what our Father is doing.
Ground to dust
Every pigment used in the book of Kells had to be crushed and ground to a fine dust before it could be mixed and used. It was a costly business…
Confession time. I’m a big fan of 24. Yes, I know why I shouldn’t be. It’s a disturbing reality but for some reason I find it easier to relax with extreme action thrillers than with any other genre.
In the first season, Jack Bauer’s wife and daughter are kidnapped and we watch his increasingly desperate attempts to save their lives. He is willing to sacrifice (almost) everything… his reputation, his career, even his own life because he loves them. While not condoning his actions, at a basic level we understand.
Bringing the gospel to any community is hard work. It will be painful, exhausting, frustrating, disappointing, confusing, heart-breaking… If we love those we are seeking to reach, somehow it all seems worth it. If not, it is no surprise if we give up.
Creating a masterpiece
“We over-estimate what we can achieve in the short term and under-estimate what we can achieve in the long term.”
Too often we crave quick fixes and guaranteed success formulas. But when it comes to the Gospel, we need to be willing for the long haul. Just as a baby born too soon will not survive, too often we try to create spiritual “preemies” instead of full-grown disciples.
Having spent three years with Jesus himself, the twelve disciples still didn’t understand truths we might consider absolute basics (take a look at the conversations that take place towards the end of John’s Gospel).
Do we have the love and patience to walk with people throughout their journey? Are we creating a masterpiece or will we settle for a pot noodle?
This series is being brought to you in partnership with VOX Magazine.