Upwards and downwards movement are typical aspects of the Bible’s descriptions of angels (e.g. Genesis 28; Matthew 28:2), and in Judges 13 the announcement of the miraculous conception of Samson ends with the angel ascending in flames.
In Nick Crowe and Ian Rawlinson’s short film The Carriers’ Prayer, a feat of theatrical staging plays with such movement to engender a seeming miracle.
Candles with flame-tips that point downwards could be said to both parody and pay homage to the vertical axis which we have long associated with prayer. These so-called ‘scally fireworks’ are made from tightly coiled carrier bags. They are suspended from the ‘ceiling’ of a space that has been built to resemble an austere, white-walled church—but this ‘church’ is upside down. Once lit, the fireworks are filmed. The resultant footage—in which the fireworks drip burning plastic producing an eerie sound track of pops and whistles—is then rotated 180 degrees, so that the church interior appears the correct way up and the fireworks look like malformed candles releasing their ascending pyrotechnics.
While not at pains to hide their trickery, Crowe and Rawlinson’s film brings a sense of irony and playfulness to the reverence that often surrounds prayer—as it also, perhaps, surrounds attitudes to the angels of biblical narrative.
Our attention to the movement between heaven and earth can be rooted in more than the traditional symbols of prayer: the rise of incense and the odour of burnt offerings, the bowing of heads and the upward pull of a candle’s flame. In Judges 13, Manoah’s wife is said to be ‘out in the field’ when the angel appears to her for a second time (vv.9–14). There is perhaps in this an indication of the ordinariness of that moment.
The Carriers’ Prayer reminds us that our own prayers, often mundane and material expressions of need or desire, can be nurtured and celebrated as our best efforts to reach heavenwards. And that—as with the scally fireworks—we should not belittle their everydayness.