There was a time when all was not; before even the void of chaos. And yet to call it time is an error, for it was (it is) beyond all time, all matter. Absolute nothingness: emptiness paradoxically pregnant with infinitude. The emptiness of a Virgin’s womb. The emptiness of an empty tomb.
And from this nothingness, ex nihilo, sprung water. And in that selfsame moment the Spirit breathed out and moved upon the waters rippling them into passing dunes of Being. And in that selfsame moment all as in a single grain of sand, a child was born, a Temple fell, a veil was torn, a dead man rose.
Churches laid out in the ancient way, as ours is, carve in stone and trace in image the life pilgrimage of a Christian: from the Font at the West and entrance to the Church in Baptism, through the great ship of the Nave where the congregation prays and learns, to reach the mystic East and the altar, the Eucharist where earth meets heaven as earthly food becomes the bread of angels, and the Christian joins the eternal sacrifice, tastes the first fruits of paradise.
St Michael’s, thanks to the vision of Maciej Urbanek in his HS installation, goes further still. It takes us beyond the life’s journey of the single Christian soul and shows the Church in its cosmic significance. Where the architectural allegory of most churches begins in the West with the Font and Baptism, with the new life of one Christian, Urbanek’s installation reaches back through the West wall to the very font and root of all Creation: an explosion into Being from Nothingness, a cosmic order, light and harmony, rippling out past angels wings all the way into the crumbled and chaotic refuse of our lives below, into the rubbish of our sin – instructive that the artwork is made of bin bags. And yet, even there, at the bottom of the piece, at the furthest reach from the source of light and life, some sense of harmony still prevails, inviting us to seek it among our black bags.
A fitting place to be baptised. Here, in the realm of human sin, the infant catechumen makes no vow herself. But God chooses her. God recognises her, regenerates her, marks her place in this cosmic drama and sends her forward on her way. Her journey started long before she was born, before she was even conceived, before (to say the impossible) time began. And her destination is that which God wills for all that He has made: from purification in this Font, through illumination and discovery in the ship of the Church, to the perfection of being at the Altar – but yet further still, for as Urbanek’s artwork extends our imagination West behind the wall to our origins beyond time and space, so it should encourage us to extend our hopes Eastward, too, beyond even the Altar, to our home, also beyond time and space, where all sacraments shall cease and God wills the baptized, with all that He has made, to feast forever on the presence and light and love of the Lamb.