Those Goofy, Tender Pictures

by Daniel Wildish

Daniel is a new member of Madonna House who was recently sent to MH England on a temporary assignment of three months.

My first response, when my local director, Cheryl Ann Smith, asked me to write a first impressions newsletter was one of hesitation. I managed to continue hesitating for quite some time.

Do I even have any impressions? Sure, my stay in Robin Hood’s Bay has been a good one, and yes, I’ve seen a lot of beautiful scenery and met a lot of delightful people. But can all that really add up to an “impression”?

Here, just like in Combermere, life seems to mostly be made up of one “duty of the moment” after another. These dishes to wash, the doorbell to answer, these people to meet, that hedge to trim, this compost to shovel—you get the idea.

Good days and not-so-good, pleasant and stressful moments. Can I get an impression out of all that? It just is what it is. What is an impression anyway?

Then, last week, the four of us went on a field trip to the Pickering area, visiting several very old, beautiful churches, including the ruins of Rievaulx Abbey.

But the place that really struck me was a (currently) Anglican church in Pickering, Sts. Peter and Paul. In this church the walls on either side are covered with huge colorful frescoes depicting scenes from the life of Christ and the saints.

These pictures had been painted during medieval times, then plastered over during the Reformation, and were only recently uncovered and restored.

There were pictures of St George slaying the dragon, and St Christopher carrying the Christ Child across the river and many more. The style of the frescoes was somewhere between an Eastern icon, and something that your six-year-old son or grandson might draw in crayon and stick to the fridge.

Not that there was a lack of artistic skill, but there was an enthusiastic inexactness about the whole thing that made them look alive. I think those pictures are my impression.

Somehow those pictures, hidden away for so many years, summed up for me this place, and the people here. I’m thinking of the kind of casual joy, hospitality, and humor I’ve seen in the older people I’ve met here, many of whom grew up in the shadow of World War II and have memories of bombings and food shortages.

Or the genuine delight that so many people seem to have at seeing human faces again after so many months of masking and lockdown. Or the man and woman at our parish that we’ve been accompanying through the RCIA process, and their quiet conviction and enthusiasm in the midst of this country still bearing visible scars of the Reformation, and where so few go to church anymore anyway.

A small, quiet flame of life and hope that doesn’t try to prove itself and doesn’t advertise itself—it just is what it is.

Just like snowdrops blooming in February or a lamb skipping across the moors. Or like a consecration of nations to Our Lady during a war. Or like those goofy, tender, sacred pictures patiently waiting beneath the plaster for century after century.

I’m pretty sure only God can make stuff like that happen. I’m glad that he does, here, and I’m glad he let me see a bit of it. Amen. That’s my impression.