House and home

At the end of last week we welcomed a new installation into the Cathedral. The piece is called ‘The Small House’ by the artist Richard Woods. It was ironic that the construction encountered one or two challenges just as many domestic building projects do and some of the paint was still drying as a crowd of people gathered for the private view. But what an amazing piece of work it is, and provocative and engaging.

‘The Small House’ stands in the High Altar sanctuary and effectively shields the Great Screen from view. Our Lent art installations have always had something of the ‘veiling’ feel to them and this piece, purposefully delayed so that we were confident that Covid would not get in the way of people seeing and enjoying it, does something similar.

The title hides the fact of the scale of the work; as you enter the Cathedral you will be surprised by how strong and dominant its presence is. Initially you may not be taken by it, but trust me, as you look and look again, as you approach it, you will be captivated.

Ask a child to draw a house and they will probably draw something that is similar to the house that all of us have drawn. Our images of a house are iconic. But whilst we will draw such a house few of us live as comfortably, with a smoking chimney, a picket fence, outside space and roses round the door. ‘The Small House’ invites us to think about our concept and fantasy of house and home and to ask the serious questions about why so many live in sub-standard housing or on the street. Richard Woods’ ‘The Small House’ sits in the big house, the house of God, iconic in its own right – the abiding with us God, who opens the door of the divine house and invites us in to find a home.

There is also something about the divine and the domestic. ‘The Small House’ is the product of domestic architecture. It will provide the backdrop for the Eucharist in the Cathedral. As many will know, the main altar at Southwark is very much a wooden table, a place where a family gathers. There is something basically domestic about the Mass, the occasion when a family gathers around a table for a meal – and the house, the home is the context for that encounter. As we say Grace before we meet to eat in our own small house we point towards that heavenly banquet of which the Eucharist is a foretaste in the divine house, the big house, God’s house, where we are invited to find a home.

As Jacob wakes from his sleep he remembers his dreams and exclaims

‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’ Genesis 28.17.

Whatever ‘The Small House’ brings to mind for you I hope that awe will be part of it – the ordinary within the grand, the domestic in the divine, complexity in simplicity, the familiar in the unfamiliar, the archetypal in the iconic.

This is the prayer I have written for those who will visit.

Jesus said, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ (Luke 9.58)

who set your home among us,
a house for all people,
a shelter and a dwelling;
bless our homes and those we share them with;
bless those without a house who seek a place to call home;
bless those who open their doors to others;
bless this small house
and draw us into your mansion of many rooms
where we will dwell with you for ever.

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