Multiplying Everything

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When friends gave my youngest a kaleidoscope, I didn’t ask if they read this column. It proved to be the perfect gift, regardless. Nothing fancy or particularly high tech—just a round piece of wood, hollowed out and fit with a lens at one end. It is absolutely perfect for a three-year-old fist.

When I was a child, I had a kaleidoscope, too. A cardboard one, all rainbow-coloured. It looked a little gnawed at one end. I think my little brother tried to use it as a whistle. There was also a loose bit of glass inside which needed to be shuffled into place each time you wanted to play with it. Probably I dropped it too many times.

I’ve thought of acquiring a new one. Something more substantial, maybe with a brass tube or something wooden and handcrafted. It might sit on the mantelpiece in my house someday, a thing of beauty waiting for visitors or a quiet morning when the light would be right.

But none of this is why I called this column Kaleidoscopically. That was a matter of word derivation and imagery. I like the rich image of holding changing things up to the light to find new beauty. And the word kaleidoscope comes from the Greek kalos, meaning “beauty,” eidos, “that which is seen” and skopeo, “to examine.” A kaleidoscope is an observation of beautiful forms. And one that you can hold in your hand.

The kaleidoscope was invented in 1816 by the Scottish scientist Sir David Brewster. He meant it to be a tool to help study the polarization of light, but it soon caught on as a child’s toy.

Officially, my little one’s toy isn’t a kaleidoscope at all but teleidoscope because it doesn’t have any tiles or beads hidden inside, but instead fragments the view itself into an abstract repeating mosaic. He likes it because he can stick his thumb inside and hold it tightly. And because it multiplies everything. He tells me you can see everything in the world as two or six things. So it has to be in his backpack whenever we leave the house, especially on Sundays. He likes to look at the lights in church and at the statue of Jesus.

This statue is huge: 16 feet tall and set onto an impressive double wishbone concrete arch above the centre of the church, part of an extensive restoration project after the Second World War. Llandaff Cathedral was bombed in 1941 and the roof collapsed, destroying much of the interior of the church. George Pace, the architect who oversaw the restoration, noted that in mediaeval days, the cathedral had a pulpitum, a stone screen which divided the sanctuary, creating a sense of veiled mystery. His plan was to create a similar effect while not obscuring the view throughout the whole length of the building at ground level. So he designed the wishbone arch and Jacob Epstein was commissioned to create the statue. Epstein was a modernist sculptor whose parents were Polish Jewish immigrants to New York in the late 19th century. He later moved to Europe and played a significant role in the post-war art world there. The Christ figure he created for Llandaff is unusual and compelling. His face is beardless, unfamiliar, compassionate, open and enduring. It is a face that invites contemplation in the middle of the worship space. Though the space is divided, Christ is present through the sanctuary. In many ways, I am not at home in this Anglican cathedral where my family worships these days. The traditions and habits are still unfamiliar, but this image of Christ helps me. Seeing it, I remember that I am met on the road and there is comfort in that mystery. Watching my little one carefully holding his toy to his eye, and looking at the duplicating image, he tells me that it is beautiful. During the service for the rehallowing of the sanctuary on April 10, 1957, Bob Evans, a newly appointed curate sat next to Epstein, looking up at the powerful figure. His question was clumsy, but understandable.

“Was it difficult for you, a practicing Jew, to create a Christ for a Christian congregation?”

Epstein replied: “All my life I have searched for truth and beauty and, in the end, I discovered that it is in the idea of the Christ that they are to be found.”

Indeed. In the face of Christ wherever we may find it. In the image of Christ familiar and strange. In the face of many faces all mirroring the image of God. In the two things or the six things or 600 things that help us observe wonderful forms, truth and beauty are found and God is praised.

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About Katie Munnik

Katie Munnik is an Ottawa writer currently living in Cardiff with her Spouse and three growing children. Each Monday on the Messy Table, she writes about the practice of reading lectionary and the practical theology of parenting - from birthday cakes to broken hearts and everything in between. Katie also writes Kaleidoscopically, a monthly column in the print edition of the Presbyterian Record. You can also find Katie on twitter @messy_table Subscribe to this blog.