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gościnność / hospitality and Crossings: an artwork and a poem by Ela Łazarewicz-Wyrzykowska

Ela Łazarewicz-Wyrzykowska is a Biblical scholar, visual artist, poet, educator and mother, at home between Warsaw, Poland, and Cambridge, England.

gościnność / gość-inność

(hospitality)

Genesis 18:1-33; Hebrews 13:2; Psalms 23:5, 33.5; John 1:11, 14; John 13:1-17:20

Notes

My mediation on the theme of hospitality is anchored in women’s experience of hospitality, both on the level of our traditional cultural roles as home makers, house keepers, hostesses, providers of shelter and nutrition, and on a deeper, visceral level: a woman receives a man into her body, and within the same body she gives temporary shelter to her baby, as she herself was once a baby, a guest sheltered within another woman’s body. Voluntariness, generosity and risk are entailed on both levels of this experience.

This orientation of my work is conveyed through the techniques and media (herbarium, embroidery), associated with women. Herbaria reflect and express women’s connection and relationship with nature, with its beauty, generosity and healing powers, and have been used as media of artistic expression by women artists, intellectuals and activists, including e.g. Emily Dickinson, whose herbarium recently has been digitalised and can be browsed online (further examples of herbaria as spaces of women’s emancipation and expression are discussed in a recent article in Polish). Embroidery is used in clothing but also in liturgical textiles and in domestic decoration. This tradition recently has been revived as subversive wall hanging.

The choice of colours of the thread is a polemic against rejection of refugees and migrants from Poland, and against the divisive rejection of ‘other’, or simply different, individuals and groups over political, social and religious issues, in the country taking pride in the tradition of hospitality (‘gościnność’), epitomised by lime, the old Slavic sacred tree. I had connected the motif of hospitality with the symbolism of lime tree in a poem entitled Crossing (below), written in the wake of a disastrous storm in the summer of 2019.

In the work gościnność / gość-inność (hospitality), I utilise a false etymology of the word gościnność. However, I also allude to real historical connections of this word, discussed in an inspiring short essay (in Polish) by Fr Andrzej Draguła. In fact, it originates from the old Slavic adjective gostin, ‘belonging to a guest’, with the suffix –ość denoting an abstract noun. Two lines leading radially to, or from, the central while circle, form a schematic shape of a road depicted in simple one point perspective, hinting to the sixteenth century noun denoting a road, or a highway, namely, gościniec. Thus, a highway was a road through which a guest, a friend, would arrive. Later, the word gościniec acquired a different meaning, of a food gift handed by the host to the guests, either to be eaten during the journey, or to be brought back home. 

Arriving and departing, generosity and nourishment, all of these concepts belong to the cloud of connotations surrounding the Eucharistic motif, introduced in this work not only through the central visual object, but also the golden background, alluding to Rublov’s masterpiece Trinity, also known as The Hospitality of Abraham.

I consider all my creative work as organically connected with Christian spirituality, because practising it is central to the way in which I process the world and my own life, and its language and symbolism are woven into my personal and artistic language. The work gościnność / gość-inność is a product of prayer and meditation on hospitality, guided by the scriptural passages listed below the image. I invite the viewers and readers to consider my work as an invitation to prayerfully meditate on these passages, and to contextualise them in their own language and culture.  

Ela Łazarewicz-Wyrzykowska

A Poem

More about Ela…

Photo: Silvia Pogoda for Wszyscy Jesteśmy Fotografami – Portret Osobisty VOL.3”

https://www.facebook.com/wszyscyjestesmyfotografami/

Ela Łazarewicz-Wyrzykowska is an acrobat specializing in a juggling act of balancing four different but related areas of activity and creativity, including academia, art, education and, last but definitely not least, family life, while also managing the impact of the pandemic. Each of these areas has a dynamic of its own, and each can at times feel as delicate and light as a bubble, or as sturdy and heavy as Sisyphus’ rock. If she remains relatively stable, she owes it solely to God’s grace and the constant work of the Holy Spirit in her and in her life.

Ela’s academic identity is that of a biblical scholar (PhD in Biblical Studies, University of Manchester) with a background in literary studies (MA in Polish Philology, University of Warsaw), specializing in the Hebrew Bible and biblical reception. In her capacity as Research Associate at the Margaret Beaufort Institute of Theology, Ela is currently working on a number of research projects, regarding creating a new vision of biblical formation in the Catholic Church, and investigating prophetic aspects of contemporary art and literature. Her essay on reception of Davidic narratives in the contemporary Catholic liturgical collections is included in the forthcoming collection of essays dedicated to character of David in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, in Brill’s series Themes in Biblical Narrative.

Thanks to inspiration and encouragement from her remarkably talented, supportive and encouraging poet friend Kate Caoimhe Oliver, Ela has recently returned to writing poems, in her native Polish and in English. In 2019 she wrote her first volume of poems in Polish entitled Squiggle Pills (Pigułki z arbuza, in preparation for publication), in which she deals with themes of the experience of life as a mother of young children, and of transition and loss, and she is working on the next poetic cycle entitled Fractals. She has written, in Polish, a book entitled Gospel according to a child, which she is hoping to publish as a picture book. For the past few years, she has been exploring various areas of visual creativity, including photography, collage and mixed techniques.

Ela teaches in Medical Humanities at the Warsaw Medical University (courses in creativity and play, and in writing, for English speaking students). She is a Godly Play practitioner.

Ela lives in Warsaw, Poland with her husband Łukasz, astronomer and black hole hunter at the University of Warsaw, and their three children, educated in a small home education cooperative. Recently, their family acquired a young new member, Alpha, a Welsh springer spaniel puppy. Ela enjoys practicing yoga and Nordic walking, crocheting and weaving. She looks forward to the nearest opportunity to visit Cambridge, where she spent around eight years and which she considers her spiritual home.

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Pentecost: Breathing with the Breath of God

In the present circumstances of pandemic, it’s ironic that the Biblical words for Spirit (Hebrew ruach, Greek pneuma) literally mean breath – as in the hymn, Breathe on me, breath of God. Covid-19 causes an often vicious respiratory illness, one of the symptoms of which is struggling to breathe. Fear is, of course, bad for our breathing: we tend to breathe more shallowly when we’re anxious, which makes it harder for us to expel toxins – and this puts us at more risk of falling ill. But early Christian baptism was, on a bodily level, an experience of deep breaths. The baptismal candidate was plunged into cold water. When you come out of cold water you naturally breathe in deep and sharply. So receiving in baptism the “breath”, the Spirit of God whom Jesus had breathed over his disciples (John 20.22), would have been a very physical experience. The Christian was to be a “spiritual” (pneumatikos) person, able “to discern all things”. Early Christians, as some still do today, were to pray “lifting up holy hands” (1 Tim. 2.8). Raising the hands, and arms, as we see in early Christian art, opens the chest to breathe.

If early Christian initiation and prayer were good for the health, they also belonged to a Christian context which experienced real bodily healing: Jesus healed people, so did the first Christians (such as Peter healing Aeneas, Acts 9.32-33). “Save” and “heal” are actually the same word in the Greek of the New Testament, sozein: “Get up and go your way,” said Jesus to the leper, “your faith has saved/healed you” (Luke 17.19). (And note that “get up” is the same as “rise”, as in the Resurrection.)

Since then saints have continued to heal in Jesus’ Name, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Also, whole communities and religious orders have been raised up who dedicate themselves to the care of the sick and the dying. But as the centuries have gone by, have we Christians become more anxious to avoid illness than to embrace wellness? Is our faith sometimes only a prop? Do we fear being healed (on every level) when our sickness and neurosis keep us safe?

This is not in any way to say that if you’re sick it must be your fault. Nor to deny the real apostolate of the sick and suffering. Saints like Thérèse of Lisieux and Elizabeth of the Trinity died young from illness. They, like St. Paul, and very knowingly, carried in their bodies “what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is the church” (Col. 1.24). In union with Jesus, they carried the sufferings of their weaker brothers and sisters. But they were not malingerers: they were fully alive. They had already died and risen in baptism, fully embraced the Resurrection, and were full of the Spirit: Thérèse and Elizabeth were already great spiritual teachers in their early twenties. St. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380) healed victims of the plague in her city, though died young of illness herself. She had long overcome any fear of death.

This doesn’t mean either that Christians don’t need medicine or should ignore true science. All truth comes from God: “the truth will set you free” (Jn. 8:32), and discerning that truth is part of living a truly “spiritual” life. So we might be surprised what medical science has actually discovered. Dr Gabor Maté, a general practitioner in a poor quarter of Vancouver, had a gift of attentive listening. Beyond the obvious discovery that illness is often caused by stress, he starting noticing correlations between types of illness and personality types. For example, he found that people with auto-immune diseases, which are difficult to treat, were often over-independent personalities, unwilling or suspicious of accepting help and love. Experience had turned them in on themselves – just as in an auto-immune disease, the immune system turns inwards and attacks the body. Maté also found that when people started to realise this, and he was able to help them have a change of heart (“repent”) and start to accept care and love, they started to heal.[i] It is simply not true that “this is just how I am”.

And if this is true even at a “secular” level, how much more true is it at a level of Christian faith, when Jesus calls us to repentance so that we can receive his healing salvation? My own experience of a complete healing from asthma has proven to me how Christ “baptises” medicine and therapy with the grace of repentance – a change of heart, an entering into the mind of God, starting to breathe with the Breath of God.

So I suggest it’s time for us Christians to rediscover Christ’s healing (with all the “dealing with one’s stuff” that that involves), and to breathe with the Spirit. St. John Henry Newman, in a meditation on the Holy Spirit, made an extraordinary prophetic statement: “By Thee we live in the atmosphere of earth, proof against its infection.”

With Christ’s love dwelling in us through the Holy Spirit, and in the maternal gaze of the Blessed Mother of God, we will live without fear. Our gaze will then be a healing gaze, our breath a healing breath. Community and the touch of love will become more real, rooted in the healing Christ and breathing the life-giving Spirit, together singing creation’s praise of God.

May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thess. 5.23).

[i] Gabor Maté, When the Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress, new edition, London, Vermilion, 2019.

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