Ash Wednesday – 1 March; Christ in the Wilderness (Stanley Spencer)
Stanley Spencer (1891 – 1959) was an English painter especially known for his paintings of biblical scenes set in the Berkshire village of Cookham, where he lived. The Wikipedia entry for him describes his Christian faith, as illustrated by his art, as “fervent if unconventional”, which some might consider an understatement. Here are two of his paintings of Christ in the Wilderness. Spencer originally planned forty images, one for each day of Lent, but in the end he painted only eight.
This first painting refers to Mark 1:12 – “And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness”. Are you shocked by the depiction of Christ, so different from the iconography with which we might usually pray? Is he too fat, too coarse-looking, too ordinary, too human? But as the writer to the Hebrews says, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.” If we are unwilling to contemplate the sheer earthiness of the Word made flesh, Christ’s forty days in the wilderness will have little meaning for us, and offer us little comfort.