Daily Archives: February 8, 2015

In the Wilderness 7: Christ amongst the refugees

this scant and tented city outside Syria.

this scant and tented city outside Syria.

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.

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Filed under christianity, Current affairs, paintings, Poems

In the Wilderness 6: Abba Moses the Black

Abba Moses the Black near Petra

Abba Moses the Black near Petra

For the last two, in our sequence of seven wilderness episodes, we leave the familiar territory of Biblical story and see how that story extended and extends into the life of the Church, for the God of Scriptures extends his steadfast covenant love to us too. Adam’s picture of a shadowy figure meditating in a dark cave touches on a remarkable story. That shadowy figure is Abba Moses the Black one of the great desert fathers, but before his conversion he had been a notorious and grossly violent bandit terrorising travellers. After his conversion it was said of him: “The grace of God worked in Moses to the extent that as much as he hated humankind before his conversion, in Scetis he came to love everybody. He received all visitors with joy. ” You can read his story in greater detail here. He foresaw his martyrdom at the hands of raiding berbers and accepted it willingly, and as fitting, saying that he who had once lived by the sword should die by the sword. But the story of his repentance and new life gives us hope and encourages us to pray that those committing violent atrocity in these same deserts today may also have a change of heart, and I have reflected a little on that in the phrasing of my sonnet.

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

Abba Moses the Black

 

You were yourself what everybody fears:

Sickening terror in the wilderness,

Roadblocks and robbery, as hatred stares

From the eyes of a cold killer, practiced, pitiless.

And then you met your match: outdone, undone

By One whose wounds pierced deeper yet than yours,

One victim’s agony met you alone

To touch and pars a gospel in your scars,

And turn you to what everybody needs:

All-understanding, all-forgiving grace,

A radical humility that bears and feeds

The needy, lets them blossom in the place

Where love has planted them. Your martyr’s blood

Still seeds and feeds and nurtures us for good.

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Filed under christianity, paintings, Poems