In the Wilderness
This set of paintings have been painted for St Margarets Westminster for their Lent Season 2015 and are a collaboration with the Poet Malcolm Guite.
The Biblical wilderness with its rocky mountainous desert has been a place of sanctuary and transformation for prophets and holy men since the dawn of history. Here Abraham and Jacob encountered the divine, Jesus confronted the diabolical, St Paul and the early monks learnt to speak the truth to those who would listen, and contemporary Christians seek refuge from the wars that are ripping apart this region. Here many stories and cultures that have shaped civilisations are layered onto the land. These paintings by Adam Boulter and poems by Malcolm Guite uncover some of these stories and tie them into our lives and times.
1 Abraham and Sarah at Mamre
They practice hospitality; their hearts
Have opened like a secret source, free flowing
Only as they take another's part.
Stopped in themselves, and in their own unknowing,
But unlocked by these strangers in their need,
They breathe again, and courtesy, set free,
Begets the unexpected; generosity
Begetting generation, as the seed
Of promise springs and laughs in Sarah's womb.
Made whole by their own hospitality,
And like the rooted oak whose shade makes room
For this refreshing genesis at Mamre,
One couple, bringing comfort to their guests,
Becomes our wellspring in the wilderness
2 Jacob Wrestles with the Angel
I dare not face my brother in the morning,
I dare not look upon the things I've done,
Dare not ignore a nightmare's dreadful warning,
Dare not endure the rising of the sun.
My family, my goods, are sent before me,
I cannot sleep on this strange river shore,
I have betrayed the son of one who bore me,
And my own soul rejects me to the core.
But in the desert darkness one has found me,
Embracing me, He will not let me go,
Nor will I let Him go, whose arms surround me,
Until he tells me all I need to know,
And blesses me where daybreak stakes it's claim,
With love that wounds and heals; and with His name.
3 The Flight into Egypt
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 the wrath of 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.
4) Temptation in the wilderness
‘A sacred place is good for looking down from;
You stand above the world on holy heights,
Here on the pinnacle, above the maelstrom,
Among the few, the true, unearthly lights.
Here you can breathe the thin air of perfection
And feel your kinship with the lonely star,
Above the shadow and the pale reflection,
Here you can know for certain who you are.
The world is stalled below, but you could move it
If they could know you as you are up here,
Of course they'll doubt, but here's your chance to prove it
Angels will bear you up, so have no fear....’
‘I was not sent to look down from above
It's fear that sets these tests and proofs, not Love.’
5) Paul blinded being led into Damascus
He cannot see the crescent moon, but feels
This night’s wide wilderness. He is afraid,
And holds the hand of one he used to lead,
Through folds and shadows where the moonlight falls
He holds his counsel and still holds the road,
As it winds northward. Rounding a last bend,
Paul senses each slight change in scent and sound;
A gradual Damascus just ahead,
Whose pre-dawn hush is filling him with dread,
For what awaits him there is his true end.
Slowly from Ananias he will learn
To touch the body and to break the bread
And, as the scales fall from his eyes, discern
How Love himself has risen from the dead.
6) 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.
7) 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.