The Beauty of a Promise

Charles Blakeman’s portrayal of Isaiah and King Ahaz

 

In one of the oldest churches in London, St. Etheldreda’s, we find a series of evocative stained glass windows by Charles Blakeman, modern but medieval in style. The window shown above depicts the prophet Isaiah’s encounter with King Ahaz (Isaiah, Chapter 7), which contains a quote from Isaiah’s prediction of a promised child, a prediction fulfilled in Matthew’s Gospel (Chapter 1.)

This window portrays persons from very different times and places, side by side in the same scene. The prophet Isaiah, in gold, stands alongside King Ahaz, robed in royal purple. Both look ahead – literally and figuratively – to a later realization of Isaiah’s promise. That moment of realization occurred about seven hundred years later when an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream. And standing with, but behind, Isaiah and Ahaz, we see the boy David, who lived three hundred years before Ahaz. For David was a common ancestor both to the wicked King Ahaz, and to the later righteous King Jesus.

Freed from the constraints of geographical space and linear time, Charles Blakeman has portrayed the content of a vision. It is a spiritual perception not bound by our usual orientation toward objective data and factual information. The prophet and the king, if they are open to it, can apprehend the vision pictured in black and white, a revealed sign of something real, but not yet seen by human eyes.

There are fewer visionaries and seers in our world today, and this is no accident. We are overwhelmed by competing and high-quality visual images on electronic screens everywhere around us. And I value some of them like many others do. But they can lead us to be blind, blind to the important connection between what we see and what is yet unseen. By not appreciating the power of signs and dreams, we are not likely to look beyond what is literally ‘at hand.’

The Collect or focussing prayer for this past 4th Sunday of Advent mentions “God’s daily visitation.” This refers to a pattern we can see in Scripture. Through love, God is always revealing signs ~ signs of truth, signs of goodness, and signs of beauty. But, whether by reading Scripture and or through prayer, we can open ourselves to perceiving these signs. So that (as the same prayer says), at his coming, Jesus “may find in us a mansion prepared for himself.” In the final week of this season of anticipation and hope, this can be our Advent prayer.

The above window by Charles Blakeman, portraying the prophecy of Jeremiah (Chapter 23) regarding a promised righteous king. Below, Blakeman’s depiction of the visionary prophecy of Ezekiel (Chapter 47.)

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