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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Tuesday, March 25, 2003
    A sort of reverence, a real looking
    What do you do when you hear your nephew, 250 miles away, has fractured his arm and is obviously suffering for it? Well, this says something about me, and him, perhaps, but what I've just done is sent him a Leunig.

    If you don't know what a Leunig is do look at Curly Flat, a Michael Leunig appreciation website. If an Emin is a mucky unmade bed full of self-revelation, a Leunig is a simple cartoon of a little man looking at a duck, pondering life deeply.

    In my search for the perfect on-line Leunig cartoon to post to my laid-up nephew, I happened across a fascinating transcript of Leunig in conversation with Rowan Williams in Melbourne last year. Williams, as we know, writes a lot about icons. Those who know Leunig may be sympathetic to my view that his little people, appearing regularly in the Melbourne Age, are also icons of a kind. Icons like us. Here's a bit of their conversation.....
      RW Earlier, I think you used the expression "expecting a certain patience from people". Most of our activities these days have in common a deep impatience. We need to be aware that some things cannot be done impatiently. There are certain aspects, even of the most apparently functional economic life, that you can't do without taking time. I mean the exercises of life together, the exercises of patience, the exercises of the time taken to listen to someone else's humanity, whether it's locally or globally.

      ML Yes, that is endangered perhaps, because it seems to me that speed is revered. And the problem is that certain human things cannot happen at speed. Can you love at speed, can love flourish at speed? That sounds glib, but the dreadful worry for me is that we tend to copy unconsciously our technologies. I think, for example, we imitate the way movies are edited. This cutting and close-up quick grab, this strange traumatic discontinuity, which we accept as normal, and we enjoy it because of its speed and its traumatising stimulus. And there we sit and expose our eyes, the windows of the soul, to this bizarre chopping up of reality. Now we say we can handle this, but I think one thing that's doing us great damage is this visual cacophony as a depiction of reality. The eye makes great meaning out of life, much more than we understand. It tracks this room as it looks around: as one point leads to the next point, there is sense being made all the time.

      RW Let me come out - [I'm] a closet monastic! I think that the recovery of what that is really about is imperative for Christianity. And it's very easy to trivialise all that and say well it's about denial, it's about withdrawal. But there is [...] in the monastic tradition, quite a lot about seeing, about how you see. The word "contemplation" is just a long way of saying "looking". Now if the monastic tradition is about contemplation, it is about ways of seeing, and part of the monastic experience in the early church speaks of the whole practice of that life as an education in seeing. There is the looking at your own reactions, your own emotional rhythms, and the careful, truthful monitoring of those responses. Then there is the looking at the structures of the universe as patiently and faithfully as you can, to see what the rhythms are there, and feel those rhythms. And then if you are learning all that, then maybe, by the grace and gift of God, you end up aligning yourself, not only to the rhythm and pattern of the created universe, but to the rhythm of God's breathing in and out.

      ML What you've said has made me think of reverence. It's about a way of looking. I notice children tend to have a natural reverence. It's what they like to do: to get down on their hands and knees and look very closely at things and be absorbed in them and that to me is a sort of reverence, it's a real looking.
    That's what Leunig's cartoons invoke in me, a sort of reverence, a real looking. I wish sometimes rather than preach at 300 youngsters on Wednesday mornings I could just hold up a Leunig for them to contemplate. It'd have to be a big 'un, though.