On the route from our village towards Cottenham, the traveller will pass a grassy area in front of houses, where some amazing sculptures are on display. These impressive works of art, presenting a wide variety of subjects, were designed by the late Tony Hillier, formerly a fellow and teacher of the University of Cambridge. Remarkably, these sculptures were created from steel sheets with a patina of rust. Devoid of painted decoration, they illustrate the gratifying idea that aged and often discarded materials can take on a completely new purpose and display a beauty normally overlooked. These are not old structures patched up to prolong longevity. They are whole new entities destined for fresh artistic significance.
Back in March 2011 a mysterious gift was left on a table in the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh. It was a finely crafted paper sculpture of a tree growing from an old book. It was anonymously donated by a lady who wanted to highlight the national treasure we share in libraries full of books and educational benefits. In the following year, ten more intriguing sculptures were found in different locations around the city. These were not old books with new covers. Instead, butterflies and birds took flight, flowers bloomed and tiny characters rose up from old pages. As international attention marvelled at the ingenuity of this delicate craftsmanship, the Scottish Book Trust commissioned five new works representing the classic titles of Tam O’Shanter, Whisky Galore, Peter Pan, Lanark and Treasure Island. The identity of the artist remains hidden, but these iconic creations have blossomed into what has been described as an attempt to communicate the transformative magic that happens when a book is read.
Across our landscapes, other transformations are taking shape. Those who manage the productivity and health of our crop growing areas are increasingly mindful of the value of older, natural systems that can inform and enhance the welfare of the land. The returning care of wetlands, the replanting of forests and hedgerows, rewilding of seeded fields and riverbanks all contribute to the protection of habitats so recently in danger of losing vital species of wildlife. Old docklands have become pleasant marinas and walkways, coal blighted beaches cleaned once more. Community parks are growing from wasteland and redundant warehouses become refurbished apartments.
The message of renewal and rebirth has always been a central theme of Biblical text, applied not simply to the environment, but particularly to people. The Scriptures record many stories of lives completely changed by a faith encounter with the risen Christ. The Apostle Paul who pursued and persecuted the early converts to Christianity, experienced a complete transformation of the heart and mind. He declared,
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5 : 17).
When the religious teacher Nicodemus visited Jesus secretly to question him, he was baffled by the words,
“You must be born again.” (John ch.3)
He associated birth with the natural process of an individual becoming a newborn creation. Later he realized that the inner being, the spirit and soul of a grown adult could be cleansed, renewed and quickened into a whole new dimension of eternal life through faith in Christ as Redeemer.
The Apostle Peter wrote (I Peter 1 : 3),
“In his (God’s) great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”
King David, who had fallen so far from grace pleaded,
“Create in me a clean heart O God and renew a right spirit within me.” (Psalm 51)
Thousands of years later, God is still renewing hearts and minds from the hopelessness of addiction, bitterness, malice, self-harm and dysfunctional practice into new purpose, new hope and changed attitudes. He reconciles us to himself.
The book sculptures wanted to spotlight the power of words to change lives. Jesus said,
“The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.” ( John 6 : 63).