Sweet Peace where doest thou dwell?

Reflections of Peace

George Herbert asked this question in the 17th Century and it is as relevant today as it was then, 'Sweet peace , where dost thou dwell ? I humbly crave, Let me once know.'

He comes to the conclusion it is not something we can find in a place but it is something that might be found and shared all the same. Peace is something that has become very precious this year. Three isolations in, and most people now feel stressed, many feel depressed and long for rest. It is odd that we long for rest whe we seem to have had more rest than we need. But peace is so much more than the absence of war; it is so much more than the quiet. Peace seems to be something we need as much as air and water. Being alone is not always peaceful, as we have found out over the past year.

This painting was inspired by a day on the Northumberland coast, A place where I usually find rest, and a measure of peace. However it has not always been a place of peace. This area was once a vital military headquarters. Its good access to the sea and to navigable inland rivers made it strategic land. In Medieval England it was fought over by the English and the Scots as it was a strategic place for bringing troops north or south. Two millennia on and it’s a tourist destination, a land of wild beauty, of what are now romantic castles, snug harbours and vast beautiful beaches.

This painting is a reflection of a summer morning, when Andy and I were privileged enough to take a Filipino friend on a sightseeing trip along the Northumberland coast. The weather was amazing with light that only Northumberland can offer; crystal clear. It was warm but the air was clean, and everything seemed pure. It was an incredibly special day that I remember with fondness.

The view was taken on my phone from the edge of Amble harbour looking back inland along the river Coquet. Warkworth Castle rises above the river as it uses the steep slopes of the Coquet and the natural high ground to its best defensive potential. It stands as a quiet echo of past conflict. In the foreground, the river spreads out as it heads to the sea. Amble harbour has memories and whispers of past fishing days, but now its marina is full of expensive leisure craft. This painting shows the peace now to be found in quiet moments when the main tourist rush has not hit, and the weather is for once behaving more than kindly.

As a painting, it is deliberately stripped back. Working from a less than good phone image, the details were just not there to be worked with. The sky is light touch and stylised, but I like it, as it is true to that morning. The background also is basic and stylised but again it tells its story, there is agriculture, there is history and there are beautiful homes edging the river.

In the foreground the boats are a little stripped down. I am not a sailor and I had to ask help from a friend to explain what I was looking at. So, the rigging is also well stripped back just giving the suggestion of what it is. The whole painting holds a pathos for me. I like the final product - its not perfect and there is much I do not like about the water. I would say if the viewer does not like it go to the photograph but that is far from perfect itself. I like to think the feeling of the day is caught in the painting. The peace was almost tangible, and that is the beauty of the painting. However, what we are looking at is wealth that is for most people unattainable. We can stand and breathe in the beauty; we can feel the peace but we dare not dwell for too long on the beautiful boats the luxurious houses. For if we do, we might become envious. This has become an area, that is unattainable outside of holidays. The lucky few who can afford to live there are very blessed, but many who are born there may not be able to afford to stay. So, there is peace, but it’s not necessarily available to all. There is beauty, but it fragile, and too many people visiting can disfigure the face of such beauty. There is the pathos of being good stewards to our environment. We want to make such beauty available to all, we want to share the peace it offers, but we also need to provide sustainability for a genuine community to live there and to maintain the history and nature that makes it so special. No tall order then, but something for us to aspire to. So in this tension, we come back to the words of Jesus ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you, I do not give as the world gives. Do no not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.’ It is in these words that George Herbert found peace and its in his peace that we will weather the storm of covid. Its a small reflection of that peace that is found in special places as shown in this painting but that is a fragile and passing, true peace is eternal.

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