Ian Adams is many things; a poet, a photographer, an Anglican priest. I was fortunate to sit in on his Sunday service in the stunning 15th century church of St Endellion. There was a mix of friendly church regulars, visiting bookworms, believers and nonbelievers which produced a refreshingly inclusive ambience. The church itself was the epitome of traditional beauty with its ornately carved wood and stone pillars, yet it had a modesty that drew on the light that poured in through the windows. This made it perfectly apt for Ian Adams’ “You Are the Light” exhibition and meditation service.
“When you come into a space like this there’s always a tangible ‘something’,” he said in his talk, and I was very inclined to agree with him. He spoke very gently throughout the service with a sense of calm contentment I would have associated with a Buddhist monk. The service itself was anything but solemn. Ian engaged us by singing a melodic line, one at a time, which we sang back to him in unison – people had their eyes closed and sang perfectly in time with each other. There was a great sense of unified peace.
After a pause, Ian then read some parts of his poetry, which served as an ode to nature. Following this, he asked everyone to sit comfortably and said a few words to prepare us for a three-minute meditation. For the meditation, he advised us to have a “stilling” word in mind, such as “pour” or “spirit,” to focus our attention if minds were to wander. I found this very useful. He then gently hit a metal bowl which sounded softly like a gong to begin the meditation and again after three minutes to signal its end. Much to my relief, the mediation was very natural and unforced. Ian spoke about the importance of meditation in achieving stillness, and quoted “be still and know that I am God” from the bible.
The vicar – a lady with kind brown eyes – read the beatitudes which Ian referred to as the “core wisdom teachings of Jesus,” describing them to be “profoundly counter-cultural.” He encouraged “being open to the world and to the divine” and “nurturing inner attitude of receptivity and openness”. According to Ian, only then “is it possible to receive anything.”
Half-way through the service, Ian invited us to get up and observe his exhibited photos as he played some Miles Davis. The photos themselves were taken on Plymouth’s seafront and captured elements of both nature and the urban. There was a third meditation, followed by something I had never heard of before: a body prayer. We were asked to stand and Ian showed us some yoga stances for the prayer. This seemed in keeping with the atmosphere of the service, and Ian had previously explained that when he prays he wants it come through his entire self. After being shown the stances, we went through them in succession as he said the prayer. To close the service, the Vicar stood at the front and blessed us; it had been a very uplifting morning.
I caught up with Ian after the service to ask him some questions about his creative work and his spirituality. We sat in the church once it had quietened down; a few people remained chatting quietly. Ian spoke in soft tones as he had through the service and had a modest air that matched the church. On human creativity, he told me that “whenever we engage with our creative impulse we are entering into a flow that is bigger than us, so actually the creativity in that sense isn’t coming from us, we are stepping into something that’s already there – discovering it and finding ourselves to be discovered at the same time.”
Ian’s poetry is very focused on a sense of reconnecting with the divine through nature. One of his favourite places he feels to be holy is the island of Iona off the West coast of Scotland, “which famously was called “the thin place” by George Macleod, who was the founder of the contemporary Iona community”. He said: “there was something about the light and the stone and this ancient site of prayer which seems to really resonate with me. It feels like a holy sacred place. My sense is that places like Iona are a gift to us to show us that everywhere is holy, everywhere is sacred. So the photos I took for the exhibition here on the seafront of Plymouth are just lovely, but it’s also a bit grubby in places and a bit gritty, but they are holy places too.”
<p class=”p1″>I commented on the seeming contrast of man and nature in his photos. “It doesn’t feel like there should be a divide between them,” he told me, “we are human beings in the natural world – we need to reconnect, whether that’s in a city or in the countryside – I live in a village in south Devon so in that sense it’s quite easy to sense the holiness, the sacredness, the divine within the land, within the hills or the river that we live nearby and so on. But I think that it’s in the city as it’s there.” This is evident in Ian’s photos, which seem to capture light and poignancy in the lives of everyday people in a simplistic and understated way; scenes we see all the time.
I asked him what meditation could do for prayer. He answered: “whatever our spiritual path, we need stillness, we need to find a way to be still – and my own experience is that we need to practice, to rediscover that it’s really natural to us to be still.” Talking to Ian makes me continuously more appreciative of where we’re sat, and he continues “I sense I’m thinking about the tradition that’s celebrated here, in the sense that if we give ourselves to that path of stillness we may discover that we’re not alone, that we are loved and that it’s okay and that all will be well – to use a phrase from Mother Julian from Norwich, one of our great mystics.”
Ian described the process of matching lines of the beatitudes to his photos as “an intuitive thing,” which given the spiritual direction of his work probably comes as no surprise. He said: “I took a whole series of photographs and then was trying to narrow them down for the ones that I felt were energizing for me – in the background I had the idea of the beatitudes, and they gradually began to fall into place. So I probably could have matched them with different beatitudes, but it was just an intuitive thing for which one kind of worked for me.” I asked him if he was a hippy at heart, he laughed – “Yeah, that’s good – yes I probably am a bit of a hippy at heart.” I then asked Ian if he considered himself a progressive Christian, he told me “that’s probably a good description… but I want to be an ancient Christian as well.”