When Adam Boulter sent me the final sketch for his Wilderness series, titled ‘Contemporary Christian Refugees,’ I began to see the whole series in a new context. These stories of life-changing wilderness journeys which began with the well-known and resonant Biblical Narratives are not over. The Lord is still with his people in an exodus through the desert, Jesus is still with the displaced people ‘on the long road of weariness and want’. We have all been horrified by the events unfolding in Syria and Iraq, and as Christians flee from Mosul and the other places where ‘ISIS’ has persecuted, and painted ‘Nazarene’ on their doors, we are tempted to ask ‘Where is Christ in all this’?
But we must answer,’Christ is where he said he would be! With his people on the road, with the poor and persecuted, even where two or three are gathered together.’
Adam visited the UNHCR refugee camp where he sketched this tent, and there was something about the tent itself that moved me. Not only that it linked with the tent of hospitality pitched by Abraham and Sarah in the first painting and poem of this sequence, but because it set me in mind of how the powerful Greek word that’s used for ‘dwelt’ in John 1:14 14 ‘And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us,’ is εσκηνωσεν (eskenosen) which comes from ‘skenoo’, which means ‘to have one’s tent’, or ‘to pitch one’s tent’. As I saw the tented city of these Christian refugees I thought in a new way of how Christ pitches his tent in our humanity, and I try to suggest a little of that in this final poem in the series, into which other details Adam had observed at the scene, like the dark smoke from a devastated city looming over the horizon are also woven.
As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the title or the play button and you can visit the exhibition with the finished paintings and poems at St. Margaret’s Westminster throughout Lent. If you are not able to come to the exhibition, Adam has created a page on which you can see images of all seven finished paintings alongside their corresponding sonnets HERE
Christ amongst the refugees
That fearful road of weariness and want,
Through unforgiving heat and hate, ends here;
We narrow sand-blown eyes to scan this scant
And tented city outside Syria.
He fled with us when everything was wrecked
As Nazarene was blazoned on our door,
Walked with the damaged and the derelict
To where these tents are ranked and massed, foursquare
Against the desert, with a different blazon;
We trace the letters: UNHCR,
As dark smoke looms behind a cruel horizon.
Christ stands with us and withstands, where we are,
His high commission, as a refugee;
To pitch his tent in our humanity.