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.