Walking into the crypt of St-Martin-in-the-Fields on Monday night to see The Stations installation, I didn’t really know what to expect.
After being confronted with a steady stream of footage of the refugee crisis, I’m ashamed to say that my compassion sometimes needs new ways of being sparked. My eyes become hardened to what I see on my TV screen or online, and the personal stories, the things that really drive connection, become easier to miss.
But on Monday night, I was confronted once again with these stories. The faces in the photographs, incredibly captured by Marksteen Adamson, had eyes that seemed to search mine as I walked past. Many of the photos captured elements from everyday life – ordinary things we all recognise: worn-out stairs, slogan-emblazoned sweatshirts – which oddly, I found jarring.
I don’t know what my mental picture had been: perhaps something more like the powerfully dramatic portrait of Station 6 (Humiliation); but I find even more moving the simple, evocative pictures of people just trying to gain a sense of normality and order in the midst of transience and chaos. People sitting in living rooms and standing in stairwells. People passing the time of day in what must seem like a remorseless stream of identical days. Waiting.
It struck me too, reflecting on the fact that we’re constantly remembering the story of a refugee and His suffering, that as Christians, we may allow our familiarity with the gospel narrative to be a refuge for us from the hard facts of what is going on, here and now.
What I mean is this: we can become overly familiar with suffering. We fail to see it as the gaping wound, the terrible blight on the world that it is. We accept the verdict that to be human is to suffer and die, failing to remember that this brokenness was not the Plan A. Forgetting hat we should fight brokenness and injustice with a passion that comes from knowing that this is not what the world was designed to be.
I’ve often suspected, as many of us do, the easy, trite theology of: “God has a plan for this/moves in mysterious ways,” et al. I do believe that this is true ultimately, of course – but it’s the sort of “Job’s comforter” vibe that this advice gives off, when presented in the face of need, that puts me on edge; not to mention the fact that it can get used as a sort of get-out-of-jail-free card by lazy Christians, keen to keep their hands clean of our world’s problems. God’s going to sort it, He’s waaaaay better at this than me, kthanksbye.
It’s just not good enough.
And that’s where the beauty of this exhibition lies. In retelling the refugees’ stories through the familiar lense of the stations of the cross, the plight of the refugees and the journey of Jesus to the cross are both brought back, sharply, into focus.
One picture, at Station 5 (Outlaw), depicts a young man with his arms outstretched, standing in the makeshift chapel of the Calais camp. As I gazed at the scene before me, full of iconography and crucifixes, I wondered why the prayers in that tent weren’t being answered fast enough. I wondered what God was thinking. And then I remembered that the journey of faith is not filled with easy answers to the question of: “Why have you abandoned me?”, even for the Son of God.
We can either throw our faith away in response to this hard fact, or we can choose to stay, even in the doubt and the unknown.
Just like in matters of faith, no one has easy answers to the refugee crisis. If they did, we’d probably (rightly) distrust them anyway. But we are called to a response, even in the doubt and unknowing.
The Stations invite us to ‘journey together’, to explore what others are doing in response – including partner organisation Home for Good, who are speaking up on behalf of refugee children – and to respond to the crisis in whatever way we can.
The Stations is at the crypt in St-Martin-In-The-Fields from 15 March to 10 April and Spring Harvest Minehead from 28 March to 10 April. Response packs and further information can be found at http://thestations.org.uk/