Sunday, 4 August 2013

A work in progress ...

Some years ago, when I was beginning my D.Min. through the Melbourne College of Divinity, I had an assignment (for a unit in Ministry and Culture taught by Fr. Pat Negri) to write a theological reflection on a work of Australian art.  I chose this painting "The bridge in-curve" (1930) by Grace Cossington-Smith, depicting the Sydney Harbour Bridge while it was under construction.  While I can't find a copy of my original reflection, here's some of what I remember writing.

I chose this picture for a number of reasons.
  • One reason is that it is an urban landscape.  Landscape painting was always important in Australian art (Glover, Roberts, McCubbin, Namatjira, ...) but, for the most part, Australian landscape painting depicted rural scenes rather than urban ones, even thought the vast majority of Australia's people have always lived in or near cities.  This painting, thus, is a rare Australian landscape, focussing on Australia's urban reality rather than Australia's rural myth.
  • Another reason is that it is a link with my life before I lived in Australia.  The Sydney Harbour Bridge was completed within a year of the Bayonne Bridge, linking Bayonne, New Jersey, with Staten Island, New York.  The two bridges are of the same type and look very similar to each other.  For decades, one was the highest and the other the longest bridges of their type in the world.  Many of the same engineers worked on both bridges.  I grew up in Bayonne.  The Bayonne Bridge is "my" bridge.  For many people in Australia, the task of relating their life in Australia to their life pre-Australia is a significant cultural task.  This picture speaks to me as an Australian-by-choice who grew up in Bayonne, New Jersey.
But, most importantly, I chose this picture because it showed a work-in-progress, i.e. Sydney's iconic "coathanger" before the roadway was put down, and even before the arch was completed.  The idea of "a work in progress" speaks to the Australian reality.  The relationship of most Australians with Australia's indigenous people, ... the relationship between Anglo-Celtic Australians and those who have come to this land in more recent decades,  ... our relationship with neighbouring countries, ... our constitutional arrangements vis a vis the UK:  all of these aspects of Australian life are very much "works in progress".  The notion of "a work in progress" richly expresses the Australian reality.

As well, "a work in progress" is an important note of any spirituality - Christian or otherwise - that has integrity.  Most people in the community have a healthy mistrust of any religious leader - Christian or otherwise - who has their beliefs, spirituality, ethics, etc., all neatly packaged up with no room for change, growth, or doubt. 

On the other hand, a spirituality - Christian or otherwise - that has an authentic sense of being "a work in progress" has the potential to engage the community in an lively exploration of life's meaning.  Developing this sense of being part of "a work in progress" is an important challenge for churches and other faith communities today.

 (The Bayonne Bridge)

1 comment:

  1. Bob, I like your reflections. I recently stood at approximately this place and enjoyed looking at the bridge. (It is just down the road from Mary MacKillop's burial place in North Sydney- she would have walked up this way from the Milsons Point ferry.) I too have liked this and other similar paintings of Cossington-Smith, and and photos of the era showing the work in progress. your reflections probably suggest why I prefer the work in progress to the finished product. We are all works in progress, and even our images of God are works in progress. IF they are not, then we have reached idolatry. Sean McManus


Constructive comments, from a diversity of viewpoints, are always welcome. I reserve the right to choose which comments will be printed. I'm happy to post opinions differing from mine. Courtesy, an ecumenical attitude, and a willingness to give your name always help. A sense of humour is a definite "plus", as well.