Having recently seen the exhibition at St Margaret’s Church in Westminster, London, my imagination was fired by the brilliance of the poetry of Malcolm Guite, that brought to life the excellently ordinary paintings by Adam Boulter.
The words and paintings also bring to life the power of God’s Word as it takes these far too familiar accounts and recasts them in genuinely powerful and contemporary ways, attempting to announce the arrival of God the Son, incarnate, yet forever unsafe in a violent and tempting world.
Or those other encounters with God in the Old and New Testaments – this is the God who pursues us, whether in wrestling, in blinding light, in silence or temptation. The wilderness is the crucible, and I just wonder why our allegedly sophisticated Western world will do anything to avoid this barrenness of wilderness. Ironically, our techno-utopias are in fact a kind of wilderness of soul, and I suspect that in this barren place of techno-babble, this app-fuelled tom-foolery, God will meet with us here too in quite unexpected ways.
Here’s one poem by Malcolm.
We think of him as safe beneath the steeple,
Or cosy in a crib beside the font,
But he is with a million displaced people
On the long road of weariness and want.
For even as we sing our final carol
His family is up and on that road,
Fleeing someone else’s quarrel,
Glancing behind and shouldering their load.
Whilst Herod rages still from his dark tower,
Christ clings to Mary, fingers tightly curled,
The lambs are slaughtered by the men of power,
And death squads spread their curse across the world.
But every Herod dies, and comes alone
To stand before the Lamb upon the Throne.
“Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain their until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’ Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt.”