I have just watched the beginning of Rob Bell’s Drops Like Stars presentation on youtube.
I saw this show live in Cardiff a couple of years ago, 4 of us drove 4 hours there and 4 back for the experience. We weren’t disappointed. But I had not remembered his opening story about the two sons, and as I watched it again now I realised I have a certain resonance with it. Rob tells the true story of two brothers and their families – one son and his wife lost an unborn child, while a few months later the other celebrated the birth of a healthy baby. The family experienced heartache and wonder in the same hospital. A decade or so ago my wife and I raced to Barnstaple hospital so Lynn could give birth to our daughter and I’ll never forget the wonder and pleasure of walking around with the two-minute old Amy in my arms. Just a few years later we raced to that hospital again for a very different experience. Lynn had a miscarriage and it was a time of sadness, trouble and pain. Early in Drops Like Stars Rob Bell describes how we live in the corridor between these two kinds of experiences. One full of life and laughter and wonder, the other shot through with grief, heartache and loss.
As he said this I recalled our two experiences, and I remembered again something common to them both. Compassionate people. We had prayed for an easy birth for our beautiful daughter Amy. It didn’t go that way, dragging on for 36 hours and involving a fistful of drugs and two epidurals. But what we did get was a series of caring, understanding midwives, one of whom was a Christian and had worked at the Conference Centre where we lived. On our second visit, when things got really difficult, a nurse sat on our bed and spoke reassuringly to us, saying, ‘God is with you in this.’ We had no idea who she was, and she didn’t know us, but because of her kindness I knew that her words were true.
A few days ago, in Ilfracombe, Verity was unveiled.
She is 66 feet tall, made of bronze, fibre-glass and stainless steel and has already attracted criticism. But then art does that. This pregnant woman holds a sword high, and clutches the scales of justice behind her in her other hand. Her creator, Damien Hurst, has described her as being a symbol of truth and justice. Her right side is open and revealing her unborn child. It reminds me of the Biblical book of Jeremiah chapter 1 verse 5 – “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” This unnamed child within its mother’s womb may well turn out to be some kind of prophetic figure, stopping people, causing them to think again, to ponder life and its source and meaning.
We are of course approaching the season when babies feature highly, or at least, one particular child. Churchads [http://www.churchads.net/2012/index.html] have produced a poster intended to provoke discussion, thought and reaction and, like Damien Hurst’s baby, it is controversial. A couple of millennia ago this baby attracted the attention of a bunch of wayward jokers, a.k.a. The Shepherds. The butt of the joke, the blonds of their day. Jesus began as he intended to continue, bringing hope to the struggling, despised and rejected, the heartbroken and grieving. Whilst we spend our days in this strange corridor between pain and pleasure, gain and loss, heartache and wonder, one thing seems certain to me. Whether it’s through a poster, a startling bronze statue, or a compassionate person taking a risk, the Godbaby continues to draw people towards truth and justice.