‘Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds’. These words from Romans 12:2 get to the heart of the passage: in the light of grace, the world is not to be annihilated but transformed, so that the glory of the redeemed may be revealed. With its numinous fullness, David Jones’s watercolour of three translucent glass chalices (Latin: calix) on a table by an open window amidst a plethora of flowers may help us to imagine such a transformation.
Jones was influenced by the works of French Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain (1882–1973), and had absorbed his Thomistic insight that ‘things are more than they are and they give more than they have’ (Williams 2005: 60–1). The insight was essential to his whole way of seeing the world and of being an artist. In Flora in Calix Light everything, down to the smallest detail, is abundantly ‘more than it is’ and ‘gives more than it has’.
There is here a sense of sheer pleroma, of overflowing and undeserved abundance. In Anne Price-Owen’s (2010) words, ‘Calyx is [both] the flower’s cup and Eucharistic chalice’. This table is also an altar. And it seems that everything at this altar flowers and is fulfilled. Even inanimate things, like the curling metal spiral of the window latch—seem to have come to life, and to be curling and growing like the tendrils of some vine. The window itself, partially open, seems to beckon, drawing the eye to go through and beyond the panes of ordinary sight. The effect is further enhanced by Jones’s curious double perspective: we see the three chalices as though we approached them to receive the sacrament, and yet we also look down on the whole table/altar, as though we ourselves might be standing there to make a consecration, and scattered on that surface we see the little ears of wheat that form the other element of the sacrament.
All of it is waiting, not to be conformed, but to be transformed.
Price-Owen, Anne. 2010. ‘Materializing the Immaterial: David Jones: Painter-Poet’, www.flashpointmag.com, 13, available at http://www.flashpointmag.com/priceowen.htm
Williams, Rowan. 2005. Grace and Necessity: Reflections on Art and Love (London: Bloomsbury Publishing)
12 I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
3 For by the grace given to me I bid every one among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith which God has assigned him. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; he who teaches, in his teaching; 8 he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who contributes, in liberality; he who gives aid, with zeal; he who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.