Mary at Christmas

When Mary came to our house on Christmas Day she smelled of smoke and found it hard to walk. She had a croaky voice and a deep laugh. Our young children circled shyly around this strange new person as she sat on our loungeroom sofa. Mary kept saying thank you for inviting her and apologized for being emotional when tears came to her eyes.

I had not wanted Mary to come. My husband was her Volunteer Guardian and was resolute about inviting her for lunch before we went off to our big shebang with the extended family. He said living in a Special Accommodation Rooming House was lousy at the best of times, worse on Christmas Day. I did not feel a corresponding sense of grace. I said the children would not cope, I said Christmas was a family day, I claimed it was too complicated. My husband said it was simple – she had nowhere else to go. I got angry, I said I couldn’t bear it. He said it was only for lunchtime and he would do whatever it took – he wasn’t giving in.

We ate on our laps in the loungeroom because Mary couldn’t come to the table. Once I could see the kids were okay I let myself sit near her. I was cautious and curious to be near an adult who would speak with the honesty of a child. There was a strange magnetism about her acute directness; she was straight up. The children stayed close by her and held out their toys to show her. ‘Thankyou for having me,’ she said again. I felt like blushing.

When Mary said ‘I gotta go,’ I showed her to the loo. But still she didn’t stay long. ‘I need a lie down, I have to go back.’ Mary wanted to say goodbye to the kids, ‘Can we come in the car?’ they asked. My husband drove Mary back to her Rooming House in St Kilda. On the way home she asked to stop in at her local Milk Bar – they’d let her borrow two dollars and she wanted to pay it back.

Mary died later that year. She never made fifty. She’d had a life full of hardship and been ripped off and abused in more ways than I could begin to imagine. My husband keeps a framed photo of her – she’s wearing a pink cardigan and smoking. I always think of her at Christmas; Mary, so unlike the Christmas card version of her namesake. She was not young or beautiful, she did not gaze heavenward with her hand on her heart. I think of her as a gravelly voiced angel messenger announcing, ‘Do not be afraid.’



Visualising the Fanfare

fanfare 2.JPG

Last night, we went to the Christmas Sydney Town Hall Concert. It was a family event organised by my wife Heather; a wonderful gift for our extended family. I sat next to my 8-year-old grandson, Tom, and invited him to anticipate the ‘fanfares’ that came at regular intervals in the concert. The ‘fanfare’ to me is a loud crescendo of orchestra and organ, working together to lift the whole work to another level, and to attract my attention so that I know that something special is happening. I enjoy the way the fanfare calls my attention to something special, and it invites me in to pay close attention.

This morning, I have come into the studio, and with lots of energy have used smaller brushes very freely, energetically, and gesturally, building on a structure made with my freehand scribble that grows from the discipline of decades of looking and drawing to the point that all that drawing influences, shapes, and forms the scribbles that I make. And, in the midst of my frenetic activity on plywood boards, a thought emerged in my head – that what I was painting, and the manner of my painting, was, ‘fanfare’. 

fanfare 1.JPG

I want to use colour, line, subtle layering, and gestural mark-making to announce the mystery for which I have no adequate name. Our culture for millennia has used the word, or sound, ‘God’ to give name to the mystery and centuries of scholars have worked to ‘grasp’ that mystery. Simpler minds (not meant as a derogatory comment in any way), have personified the mystery to make it easier to grasp and to talk about … even to relate to. 

In the concert, the fanfare was used five times, each to announce a special carol or notable verses or stanzas within the carols; each announcing the arrival of someone special (Jesus, Emmanuel, King of Kings, Son of God). In my paintings today, I want to create works that somehow evoke the crescendo of the whole organ and orchestra, working together, calling us to notice that which is special. For me, what is special is that we humans can be aware of the mystery, and then have a willingness to be open to, and, to be willing to be addressed by, (the voice of) that mystery. In so doing, my hope is that the viewers might be enabled to live into the fullness of their being.



Theology and the Arts, at Whitley College.

In February 2019, I will be coordinating and teaching an intensive class on Theology and the Arts at Whitley College in Melbourne. The class is an introductory-level doorway into a range of other related subjects, including those on film, on imagination, on poetry, and on creativity and spirituality. It is aimed at practising artists, theologians, curators, pastoral workers, and anybody else with interests in the arts and/or Christian theology.

This year, I am delighted to announce that a number of wonderful people will also be contributing: Peter BlackwoodAnne MallabyPádraig Ó Tuama, Safina Stewart, Christina Rowntree, Rod Pattenden, Joel McKerrow, and Libby Byrne.

The class is open to all, and is available for study credits at Undergraduate or Postgraduate levels, or you can participate as an Audit student.

For more information about the class, or to apply, visit here.


Theology and the Arts - Poster 2018.jpg



Finding Christ in Asia: The Great Disrupter

Emmanuel Garibay, ‘Bathala’, 1997. oil on canvas, 182.88 x 137.16cms. Collection of the artist.

Striding out of the picture plane, this figure of Christ seems to rip through the surface of the work, hammer and crowbar in hand ready to disrupt the very order of things. No gentle saviour or calm man of peace who would be at home in the churches of the middle class, this figure concentrates his gaze on some point situated in the world of the viewer. He is striding with urgency towards an appointment with the future. Two sets of eyes, one fixed perhaps on the viewer, the other on this moment of decision and disruption. This Christ is the Liberator, disturber, prophet, and builder. He has in one hand a hammer to build; in the other a crowbar to pull apart. One can imagine that this tool could have even been useful in pulling out the nails in his hands. This is a figure of fierce passion and decisive action, an unstable, unpredictable force for renewal, the iconoclast, a breaker of images, with eyes on the emerging signs of justice and compassion.


This is the work of Filipino artist Emmanuel Garibay, an artist who has received wide recognition in his native country for his challenging and moving realist images of Filipino society. He is a person of great warmth with a steely eye for injustice and pompous self-righteousness. In a country that is mainly Christian, he scrutinises the conventions and comfortable icons of his culture to shake out the new possibilities of hope and renewal. His works are often funny, ironic, and full of curiosity and compassion. They often represent the poor in dignified roles while upending those in power who are too familiar with their social prestige and the trappings of position. When he turns to religious imagery he is particularly sharp and incisive. This Christ is not a light-skinned person of European origin, which is the manner in which the Spanish depicted the figure during the 400 years of colonial rule. Nor does he fit the glossy expectations of TV evangelists and modern-day miracle workers that have arrived through American pop culture. This is an indigenous Christ, who arises within the culture as a force for hope and liberation.

The European colonialisation of the Philippines stands out in contrast to most other countries in Asia. While the rest of the region has maintained distinctive indigenous cultures and religious expression, mainly through Buddhism, the Philippines has been subject to over 400 years of European colonisation. From the 1540s, the Spanish ruled this chain of over 700 islands, linked closely to trade and cultural links with their Latin-American colonies in Mexico and Cuba. This was followed in 1898 when the USA annexed the country as part of their colonial expansion. The country only found its independence in 1945 after the Second World War, and now boasts a population of over 100 million people. It is a country with a split personality, where the tourist brochures proclaim the citizens as the happiest people on earth, while its inhabitants continue to live under this colonial imagination, held captive by corruption and the forces of globalisation.

Garibay, through his lively and expressive works, provides a sympathetic window into this complex yet wonderful country. He also gives insights into the complex problems of colonisation and the challenge of seeing things as they really are. Garibay’s search for an Asian or indigenous Christ figure is at the centre of his work. In that search, he draws attention to the nature of our situation where we are often blind to the truth of things because we are cultured, because we see things as natural and self-evident when in fact they are mediated to us by our context. Simply put is the image of Christ a European one fair-haired and blue-eyed, or even perhaps a Middle Eastern one darker skin with a curly dark beard? Garibay peals off the skin that sticks to our eyes to realise how conditioned we have been to the figure of Christ who is at home within our culture and rendered as a safe citizen who obeys the laws. This familiar Christ is rather ineffective and finds no vocation as a prophet within our world.  The work Bathala renders the Christ as a disruptor of culture. It is representative of Garibays tendency in all his work, to wake us up to our blindness, and to awaken a Christ set free from stereotypes, churchly piety, and good manners, that in turn may upend the order of the things towards a more just and humane world.


Emmanuel Garibay is an important artist from the Philippines who has gained wide recognition in his own country for his social realist painting and drawings. His works have been exhibited in Australia, Europe, and North America. His work has also been widely reproduced through many publications around the world as they explore issues of justice and the search for Christ in Asia. In 2011, the Overseas Ministries Study Centre (OMSC) published a 72-page book Where God Is: The Paintings of Emmanuel Garibaywhich provides a useful full-colour survey of his work.
Rod Pattenden is an artist, art historian, and theologian interested in the power of images. He lives and works on Awabakal land.

Riza Cages

Full of Grace (1).jpg
Alfonse Borysewicz, ‘Full of Grace’ (2017–18), 84 x 34″. Oil & Wax on Linen with Riza Cage.

Two years ago, a friend asked me to make a sculptural piece for her dance company. All of us involved in New York City had limited means and space, as artists are pushed out of this-once art capital. As such, I began to create these shapes out of chicken wire mesh with tomato wire stakes as its armature (the garden), wrapped with electrical/lamp/cable wire (offering a gold leaf like light and hue). Eventually, I filled these voids with paintings of mine and/or crumbled up pages from discarded icon books, thinking of the “throw away culture” so poignantly revealed in Pope Francis’s Laudato Si and of my own attempts to rescue and to recycle these images.

Icons have traditionally employed metal coverings with stones and emeralds, Rizas, to protect the sacred image. Same here. Recently, I met a Ukrainian woman at my art opening who didn’t appreciate what I was doing with her tradition of sacred icons. Slowly, I walked her through my creative process and offered her the possibility that I was not only rescuing these images but liberating them from discarded books, bringing them out into the open. She nodded and had a change of view. As evidenced in Star, a light for us to follow in this Advent season.

Also brought to my attention by various strangers (this is why the viewer is so important in the visual arts) was the realization that these Riza sculptures which to me reveal the sacred icon image outside of book form, as well as my own renderings, were in the shadows – literally, cages – that echo the tragedy unfolding in my own USA, the dystopia of incarcerating immigrant adults, families and children.

Alfonse Borysewicz, ‘Star’ (2018), 30 x 12″. Collage with Riza Cage.


Alfonse Borysewicz is a Brooklyn-based painter.

Christ You Made Me Wait

You made me

So long
Her work
And now

I can leave you



Vessels: Theology and the Arts Symposium

Karly Michelle Edgar, ‘Vessels’. Paper and wax.

What does it mean to live in the in-between? As a trauma survivor, artist, and theologian, I actively seek out the edges of creative and scholarly domains. This is because my story and my lived experiences are not adequately represented at the centre of traditional ecclesiastical practice. Consequently, I work in the in-between spaces of: femininity and the Christian Church, living in the aftermath of sexual violence, mental health, spirituality, artistic practices, and transdisciplinary research. My artistic practice – specifically, faceted glass – provides the visual framework to bridge the gap between a theology of trauma, lived praxis, and contextual knowing.

I believe that the creative arts are an external action whereby ‘an individual or group’ can, in the words of Frank Burch Brown, ‘participate in sacred time and space and . . . [potentially] discover transcendent, timeless meaning’. Museums and churches are historically in the practice of visually documenting and curating humanity’s ongoing relationship with creation and Creator. It could be argued that ecclesiastical art forms such as architecture, stained-glass, and liturgical ornamentation contribute to the archiving and interpretation of humanity’s perpetually-unfolding creative response to the infinite self-communication between humanity and the divine. Ecclesiastical architecture and stained-glass windows have been a constant historical visual expression of Western Christian theological debate. The aim, however, of these art forms is to move those who encounter them beyond their own purely objective knowledge of reality, as if there is such a thing, and toward a curiosity of the incomprehensibility of God.

Yet, when one speaks of the creative arts as a significant avenue to generate and contribute to theological knowledge and spiritual engagement, my experience is that it is still met with suspicion and mistrust. I believe that the arts are a symbol of embedded thought whereby humanity and divinity meet within temporal creation.

Alexandra Banks, ‘Lamb of God’. Faceted Glass panel, St Luke’s Anglican Church Woy Woy.

To explore the transdisciplinary intersections between the arts and theology I will be hosting a three-day symposium at St Luke’s Anglican Church, Woy Woy, between 12–14 July 2019, where theologians, artists, clerics, and philosophers will gather to explore the relationships between the arts and theology. The three keynote speakers – Rev Dr. Rod Pattenden, Dr. John McDowell, and Father Chris Bedding – are drawn from across the Australian theological and creative arts landscape. The symposium will also comprise of an art exhibition, poetry, creative workshops, short papers, and music.

The last fifty years has seen some astonishingly-inventive solutions to creatively engage with theology, ecclesiology, liturgy, and the public sphere of spirituality and faith. This three-day symposium seeks to explore the shifts in method, style, and theory found in the liminal space created when the creative arts, scripture, theology, faith, and community coalesce.

The aim of this symposium is to draw people from within the Australian context to reflect, discuss, and analyse the integral place of the arts in Christian expression. If you are interested in attending, or in submitting an abstract or an artwork, please visit either the event website, or its Facebook page.


Alexandra Banks is a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Theology at St Francis’ Theological College, Charles Sturt University.