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After Eight: The Bible in Colour

Written by Emily Essex, posted on Tuesday, October 2, 2018
Four speakers bring to life key passages from scripture through works of art, poetry and music.


I learned today that David Attenborough was one of those responsible for introducing colour television to a nation of viewers. To me it seems entirely appropriate. Appropriate that a man famed for his discoveries should have been the one to bring us colour. Appropriate that someone who would explore the depths and breadths of the planet should have encouraged the depth of experience that colour brings.

Attenborough and his team began capturing film in colour at a time when most people only owned black-and-white televisions. It was their vision and their drive that led to the success of a project which some thought impossible. Today it’s easy to forget that colour TV has not always been the norm. We take it for granted to the extent that black-and-white film can be jarring, off-putting, wholly unexpected.

Colour brings life to images that once seemed flat and wonder to the evening sky. Seeing in colour opens up vast possibilities and our experience of the world is deeply enriched by it.

So what does it mean to see the Bible ‘in colour’?

For many of us, the Sunday School wonder of the stories we heard has faded over time. The vibrant hues have greyed and dulled, the words which wove tales beyond our imaginings are reduced to strokes on a page.

It is hard to keep alive the wonder we felt at first hearing those stories, in part because wonder is not something that can be held on to. Wonder must be fanned like the dying flame, fed and kindled and bellowed into continuous, roaring life.

So it is with our engagement with Scripture. It is not enough to read the Bible: it must be discovered and re-discovered and re-discovered again. We must strive to see the Bible in colour because without the same vision and determination that the pioneers of colour television embodied, we risk letting our sense of wonder flicker and die.

This makes it sound like the task is hard work but that doesn’t have to be true. Because it’s not about the effort it takes so much as the intention: the choice to view the scriptures through a different lens.

Art, poetry, music: these capture some of our most profound experiences. They embody something of how it feels to live a life in the world, to be hurt by it, changed by it, inspired by it. They have the potential to lift us out of ourselves and to help us peer more deeply into ourselves. They are the lens of lived experience by which we can re-glimpse the Bible in colour.

The Bible is not merely a collection of distant stories. It is the story. The story of God’s plan of salvation played out in human history. And everything else in time and space is supplementary material.

This series of After Eight takes the opportunity to explore some of that material together. To view the Bible afresh and emblazoned in vibrant tones, sharing together in worship and exploring together the landscape of a Bible illuminated afresh in the light of art and architecture, poetry and music.

Our Cathedral contains some beautiful stained glass windows. Anyone who has watched the sun rise during the morning Eucharist will know what it’s like to watch the Bible stories spring to life in delicate, glowing colour; the Last Supper picked out in shining intensity as we recollect it at the altar.

In the same way that the morning light gives life to the image of David wrestling with Goliath, or John the Evangelist reclining at Jesus’s side, my hope is that our sight of scripture would be enlivened and transformed this term.

May the fire of wonder inspire us anew, and the psalmist’s words ever be our prayer: “Open thou mine eyes * that I may see the wondrous things of thy law.” (Psalm 119: 18, BCP Psalter, Coverdale/1662)