Dan Flavin

The Surface of God

Gary’s Essay for his 1st Eucharist at St John & St Stephen’s. 25 June 2017

Dan Flavin – The Surface of God

Light and Nothingness
Dan Flavin’s simple yet powerfully evocative light installations are beguiling to the eye and the senses. His fluorescent tubes poised at geometric angles evoke a new awareness of our surroundings. Yet Flavin describes these pop-art works as simple and without depth, ‘they are only surface, don’t look for meaning.’

Only surface, without meaning?… yet look again; what a surface is revealed! These light-works intensify the everyday into an experience of oddness; light, shadow, texture and silhouette become vividly re-imagined or re-encountered through the saturation of colour. The surface reveals and is revealed; the viewer is immersed and reintroduced to a moment of presence in the world, and re-acquainted with the material and texture of the everyday.

Maybe in the Eucharist/Holy Communion we see something of this; Christ as ‘the surface of God’ is revealed and revealing, drawing us to an awareness of ‘the other’ as divine and human; clothed in nature and wonder, branch and leaf. We are invited to feast on Christ – the one who draws all things together.

Myth and symbol.
Post/modernity opens a world of truth beyond the rational and to look deeper at myth and symbol; through the living metaphors of baptismal water and the bread and wine of Eucharist we are caught up into the revelation and salvation of God incarnated in our mortal flesh.

Sacramental action is encountered in symbolic or mythic narrative. ‘The crucial function of myth is to make sacred history.’ This Eucharistic liturgy embodies a reality made real within our rehearsal, yet the mythic form remains fluid, undergoing processes of evocation, elaboration and interrogation.

Embracing otherness.
Although Eucharist can represent something reassuringly familiar it also remains deeply strange; but this strangeness may be the point! ‘Despite our attempts to contextualise worship in culture, communion points us beyond our present context, it relativises our best efforts to be relevant’.
‘In every religion’, Chauvet suggests, ‘one observes a break between the ritual “scene” and the “scene” of ordinary life’. To participate fully in the symbolic language and action of the Eucharist requires ‘a language that breaks away from the ordinary’. Ward calls this ‘de-contextualisation’, the point where contextual theology bows and gives way to the otherness of sacramental activity – to let the abstract to be abstract.

Agape – hospitality and encounter.
Yet at its heart Eucharist remains a simple meal – an agape – and simple hospitality is disarming. The table becomes a place of radical welcome; as in Babette’s Feast it ‘interrupts the narrative’, announcing joy in places of hostility. ‘Meeting at a table with a group of strangers has the incomparable and odd benefit of making it a little more difficult to hate.’

Here then, the communal body of Christ is a dynamic in-between-ness of the giving, receiving, and charitable sharing of God’s gift. Divine and human desires enter into a deep sense of intimacy and reciprocity in this Holy Communion. Community is nurtured.

So the inclusive feast of a simple agape meal honours the coded symbols of the ritual, whilst also subverting them. The symbolic ‘code’ of Eucharist is really no code at all, presence gives way to absence as our multi-faceted interpretations allude to its continuing non-containability.

Any time you’re on the earth, kiss me.
So we join together this morning; prayers rise like incense, bodies move and bow; voices sing and silence is known; heaven meets us in our flesh. Like the light of Flavin’s art – the strangeness makes our senses come alive – in taste, touch, sight and sound. We are reminded that the work of our hands, the struggles of life, and the gifts of God meet through earth, flesh, wheat and grape – making bread and wine divine. The blessing of God is within human endeavour; a real presence in material things.

So come, taste and see; all are welcome.




  • Img Copyright. David Urbanke 2013.