Norfolk vicar's painting palette is canvas of life
When the canvas of life is difficult, Rev Paul Burr takes up his palette to release a new surge of joy and beauty to feed the soul. Sandie Shirley reports.
The vicar of Swardeston, who celebrated ten years at the parish this summer, began to paint seven years ago. Today his creative series are a celebration of nature that include seascapes, trees in blossom, and harvest bales in summer. He largely uses a palette knife to apply texture and form and hours later he delivers a message of life, light and beauty.
Painting for Paul touches deep emotions: “It's about joy. Joy is an elusive thing - it often comes unbidden. But the spiritual life invites us to allow joy to become a way of seeing. Jesus calls us to open our eyes. 'Consider the lilies of the fields'. Painting is a way of 'considering' - a form of meditation."
Painting can be a diversion to pain, says Paul - a lawyer turned minister. When a holiday was cut short by a bereavement, he received an unexpected request for a painting for a church fund-raising exhibition and auction.
He walked into the surrounding fields near the rectory and began to recreate what he saw with unexpected energy, and has continued ever since. It heralded a turning point from his previous attempts and a new burst of life and joy.
"I think I will always paint now," says the minister. "Painting makes you see the world differently. Beauty is everywhere, though we often fail to notice. But painting makes you attend to the beauty in the ordinary - and it feeds the soul."
"Everything God makes is beautiful. 'The heavens tell out the glory of God and the earth declares his handiwork.' When he looked at his creation 'God saw that it was good' - which means he saw it was beautiful!"
"Being created in God's image means we are made to be creative. Creativity isn't an indulgence - it's what we are meant to be about, an essential part of being human."
"Things look different with the changing light and passing seasons - so there's endless variety. It means you can paint the same thing again and again. There are two trees in the water meadow I've painted a dozen times. And when I saw three trees in blossom together it was such a magnificent sight it inspired another series of studies."
Paul traces his sense of call to ministry back to a moving and enduring encounter with God just before his law finals at university. "I'd found it very difficult to find peace but sensed that if I prayed I would find God and find peace. Through prayer, the way I saw the world began to change. I was encouraged to read the Bible again in a modern version and it became hugely alive, especially St Paul's words about God's love being poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. It has been a framework for making sense of the world ever since and I had a strong sense that God was calling me to serve him."
Working out exactly what that meant took time. Paul completed his legal training and worked as a solicitor as he took a long and patient route towards ordination.
"Vocation isn't just for those in paid Christian ministry - Jesus calls all of us. Following Jesus isn't just doing things he asks of everyone; it also means learning who God has made me to be and what he wants me to do. Learning to paint has become part of what I think God has called me to."
Pictured above is Rev Paul Burr with some of his work in his study.