Sunday, 24 June 2012

Saint John the Baptist

One of the distinguishing qualities of Tricker as an artist, is his freedom to move between media. Whatever theme engrosses him he will be drawn to depict it in a manner that seems to him most appropriate, in stone or in wood, in oils or in water colour, in prints or drawings, or – his latest development, in stained glass. For the uncompromising and heroic figure of John the Baptist, he turns to the medium of print.

Here is a massive prophet, in all the starkness of black and white, striding through the wilderness. The only colour in the print is the menacing red of the sun. John, as we know, is a figure reminiscent of the heroic Old Testament. He lived alone in the wilderness, unshaven, unkempt, dressed in camel skin, living on the meagre fare of ‘locusts and wild honey’. Tricker etches for us the shaggy coarseness of his garment, while at his feet are the locusts and above them, in flight, the bees eager to make honey. He has almost a fanatic’s gaze, big eyes fixed on eternity. Yet, he is no fanatic, but a working servant of God. He carries the roll of sacred scripture beneath his arm and behind him flows the waters of the Jordan in which he will baptise all those who wish to be ‘converted to the Lord’.

His great cry from the desert was ‘repent, the Kingdom of God is at hand’. Although this is desert land, the very presence of this prophet of God has brought into leaf the tree behind him, sheltering the birds and bringing vitality to what has been barren. At the extreme left, at the very top, we can make out the sketchy figures of the well-clothed visitors whom John will summon to disrobe and be immersed in the healing waters of repentance.

Because John the Baptist was important to Jesus, the man chosen by God to ‘prepare the way’, the Eastern Church has delighted to depict him as winged. Perhaps all prophets are winged, since, like the birds, they live in an atmosphere higher and freer and purer than the rest of us. John bears his wings very lightly. He seems aware of nothing except the overwhelming importance of his mission. If he can convince his fellow countrymen of their need of God, and of their own personal responsibility in turning away from the darkness of self towards the demanding brightness of the Lord, then he will have made them ready to hear the voice of the Word of God, of the Christ.

He is ‘a herald, marking out the way’, and, of course, Jesus will later tell us ‘I am the way’. There is a sense in which this great saint lived in the black and white that preceded the full freedom and colour that Jesus brought into the world. He was executed, for his courage and truthfulness, before he had the full opportunity to understand what Jesus was. In other words, St John the Baptist was not as privileged as are we.

Text © ST PAULS Publishing 2011 The Chirst Journey by Sister Wendy Beckett
Picture John the Baptist by Greg Tricker © Nigel Noyes