April/May 2019 - Vol. 103
“Let there be Light”

Part 3: Orange, Yellow, Green

by Ros Yates 

In the previous article I wrote (or rambled) about red – so powerful for positive and negative reasons – the lifeblood of our bodies, but the danger of death when it is spilled, and the amazing life-giving-death of Christ’s own crimson offering for us. But I’m moving on through the spectrum and just as Good Friday passes into the day of resurrection so we move on to orange, yellow and green.

Silver Birches, watercolor by Ros
"Silver Birches", Immenreuth, Bavaria

I mentioned orange last time because of its association with red as a fiery colour, along with yellow too.  On Easter morning churches throughout the world will be lighting bonfires at dawn to dramatically call to mind the resurrection of the light of the world. Most of the bonfires we light here are evening fires; especially with the young people of our families and community who are irresistibly drawn to the natural fireworks of wood being consumed by flame; Maybe it’s the slight excitement of the element of danger that draws them, as well as toasted marshmallows and the companionship of sharing the source of warmth on a cold night as well as songs and laughter.  It’s more of a challenge to get up in the dark of Easter morning, but greeting the fire and the rising sun/Son with exultant praise is well worth it (especially followed by a good breakfast). Ps 19.5 Like a bridegroom the sun emerges from its chamber… perhaps prefiguring the coming of the risen Son and his appearing in glory one day.

Easter bonfire, watercolor by Ros
Easter bonfire

Naming Colours
Orange as a colour is not mentioned in the Bible – neither are the fruit! The sweet orange comes from China. The Portugese probably were responsible for introducing the fruit to Europe. The colour is named after the fruit, and the first recorded use of orange as a colour name in English was in 1512, so it’s not surprising that it doesn’t get a mention in the Bible. Similarly with yellow,  scriptures tend to describe things as the colour of sulphur or other yellow things such as gemstones, natural gum, bronze or gold, rather than naming the colour.  The word for yellow/blond hair means ‘gleaming’.

Of course the history of colour names is all wrapped up with the history of the objects which bear those colours – and that is all part of the richness of language. I love the fact that there are hundreds (or more) names for colours in art shops and interior paint stores. It certainly helps to write more interesting poetry! I was delighted to discover an old book called ‘Werner’s nomenclature of colours’ (with additions by the flower painter Patrick Syme 1814) which compares colours to where you find them – The different yellows are named and referenced by where you’d find it in nature – animal, vegetable or mineral -  primroses, saffron, lemons, canaries, the larva of the large Water Beetle, the wings of goldfinches, and various gemstones and gallstones!  It all encourages me to do that mindful practice – to ‘stop and stare’ at every little thing, and construct my own living rainbow like I might have done as a child cutting out pictures from magazines for a collage or mosaic. To take in the vast array of colours we are blessed with in the natural world should move us to worship – although the modern tendency is to move us to grab our camera or phone to ‘capture’ what is there rather than relishing it in the moment and praising the God who shows a little more of himself in every new hue we discover.

Take a while to look into this picture of a vine below.
Just look, don’t analyse.  What do you see?
See the light not just the structures.
See the different shades of green, yellow, orange, brown, or any others.
And spend a little time just ‘abiding’ in the vine and being part of the picture.
Perhaps you also see the form of a crucified man, holding out his life to you…

yellow leaves on tree, watercolor by
                              Ros Yates
Leaves – Ros Yates 2019

Colour and context
It is refreshing to ask people what a particular colour (orange, or yellow, or green), means to them. How does it make you feel? What does it remind you of? The answers may vary hugely depending on the context and history and culture of those asked the question. While I am feeling ‘yellow’ because I am happy, someone else may be feeling ‘jaundiced’. Yellow has been used as a symbol of cowardice, and in art the character of Judas the betrayer was depicted wearing yellow. More recently the horror of Nazi Germany where Jews were forced to wear yellow stars has given the colour a painful association. And as for orange and green, if you are in Ireland they are loaded with politics and history. The same is true of flags of many nations, rebels, uprisings, and movements for better or for worse – whose colours have become embedded in the stories inherited from parents and ancestors.

Colours are God’s gift to us but we all see them differently. For a start, those who are colour-blind perceive certain wavelengths of light in another way. Forest peoples are sensitive to a vast number of shades of green which I might not be able to tell apart. Our personal and cultural histories affect how we react to colour and we can’t ignore that (or risk causing massive offense or misunderstanding) but let’s reclaim it from politics and rejoice in the ‘colour of worship’!  I’d like to encourage a pure, and perhaps child-like appreciation of colour as one of the channels of grace to those of us who are not physically blind.
How do you see it?
You may have a favourite colour, for whatever reason – perhaps it’s the way your brain is wired. Some suggest that Vincent van Gogh’s medication affected the way he saw the world so that he saw it more yellow than it was. But Vincent embraced and loved the colour yellow. He prepared a room full of yellows and sunlight for the visit of his friend Paul Gaughin, and Vincent’s coffin was covered in the yellow flowers he loved, “symbol of the light that he dreamed of finding in hearts as in artworks” (Emile Bernard, 1890).

                              watercolor by Ros Yates
Mangoes – Ros Yates 2019

I’m staring at a lovely ripening mango – and can smell it too – and musing on the colours of the skin. It displays a little part of the rainbow as the reds shift through orange and yellow to green. In places it seems all those colours are present at once, recalling a Pointillist work of art with spots of different hue on the skin playing tricks on my eyes whilst my brain puts them together to create the glowing image of the fruit in my mind – which in turn triggers the saliva glands in my mouth!!

The orange-yellow flesh inside glows with sweet sunshine as if the warmth of the tropics has been concentrated, packed into a living parcel and flown across the world to bless my senses with its delectable sight, smell, and taste. How would you describe the taste of a mango? Edible sunshine? In a sense it actually is just that. 

The energy of the sun’s rays has been captured by the mango leaves; the chlorophyll – that amazing green catalyst molecule – has married water and carbon dioxide and bonded them with sunlight-power to create sugar (sent to the developing fruit to make mango juice) and at the same time producing that other life-giving molecule: oxygen.  It’s schoolgirl biochemistry but I still find it an absolutely mind-blowing process, brimming with the wisdom of God in action. For me green is so very much the colour of the life-giving Spirit of God – and yet in a complimentary way to red, which I explored in my previous Part 2 article.

The greening of the Spirit
And so green and red, complimentary colours in the paint box, both speak of life in different ways.  How fitting that in different traditions of the church these colours are both used liturgically for the feast of Pentecost. See what we can learn from each other!

Red – the colour of tongues of fire, sacrifice and martyrdom – drapes our Anglican church communion table on Pentecost Sunday.  But when I lived in Russia we visited a Cathedral on the eve of Orthodox Pentecost to find the whole place decked in green, and living green at that, with fresh birch branches about all the doors and windows, and mown grass strewn all over the floor – it smelled like a newly cut lawn.

In the Bible the greening of the desert is one of the most powerful images of the life of God returning to a dried-up land and a parched people.  Isaiah 35.1 ‘Let the wilderness and desert be glad. Let the arid rift valley rejoice and bloom like a lily.’ 
Have you ever seen one of those time lapse films of what happens when the rains come to arid places? Within a few days dormant seeds come to life and rapidly shoot, spread and bloom while the water is available in order to set seed for the next generation of plants.

Greening Desert, watercolor by
                                  Ros Yates
Greening Desert 2017 – Creative Worship Workshop at Twyford School, Acton

It’s been recently confirmed that our family will be moving with my husband’s job to live in Oman so I’m hoping to see something of that spectacle first hand. At least the experience will make me utterly more appreciative of “England’s green and pleasant land” (where everyone complains about the weather) even knowing that the Irish have a thousand more shades of green than we do – that come with even more wet days.  I will also miss the northern passing of seasons – another of God’s blessings – where each winter is just long enough to really make me appreciate the fresh green growth of Spring;

Apologies to antipodians who celebrate Easter in the Autumn, and those of you in the tropics who never get a winter, but I do pray that as the days lengthen and the sun’s heat gathers strength the firey sunrise will remind you of the risen Jesus, his golden light will power you up, and that green shoots of renewal will sprout as you put your roots into Him.

The Lord is my sun and my shield. (Psalm 84.11)

Be like ‘a tree planted by flowing streams;
it yields its fruit at the proper time,
and its leaves never fall off.                        Psalm 1. 3

cleft oak tree, photo by Ros Yates
Cleft oak tree still sprouting green in old age.  Near Church Knowle, Dorset, UK.

Luke 11.11-13
What father among you, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, although you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Ask for an egg!!
Enjoy looking forward to a colourful Easter and a powerful Pentecost.

Easter Egg collage card, by Ros
Easter egg collage card
Happy Easter!
 from Ros Yates

Ros Yates is a member of the Antioch ecumenical Christian community in London. She has been painting and drawing from an early age. Having studied Biology and Theology she is now an ordained Deacon in the Church of England, a self-taught artist, and mother of four children.  Not surprising then that themes of creativity, spirituality and the natural world are constantly interwoven in her life and art. 

She uses art and crafts in prayer and Bible study workshops with adults and children. The natural world is a constant course of inspiration. She loves gardening and spending time at The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in London, the London Wetland Centre, and holidays in Purbeck on the English South Coast. All these find their way into her art, as do the word-images and parables of the Bible.

> See other articles by Ros Yates in Living Bulwark

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