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Seeing from a distance

A year ago, I lost a dear friend. In a moment he was gone.

Alan was funny, kind, deeply generous, and unassuming - a really good man. He was quietly confident; but you could have missed him in a room. He wasn’t the big personality at the party but when you got to know him, you would notice when he wasn’t there. I miss him not being there.

There was a simple joy and peace, he would bring. Something in the tension of my body would relax when he was present. And he left a mark, for many. It was his friendship with Jesus that still inspires me. A few years before Alan died, he came to me and said in such a matter-of-fact way, “God told me to start drawing pictures for Him.” I asked discerningly, “have you ever drawn before.” “No”, he replied. I honestly wasn’t sure what to make of it, but I’d seen Alan’s simple obedience in other areas, so I thought, let’s watch and see.

So, that’s what he did. He bought some utensils and tried to draw what he saw God showing him in his imagination. And at first, they weren’t the most skilful pictures, and although he did work on his skill and craft, it didn’t matter – they had a profound effect on those he shared them with.

It became his gift. He would carry a Gola bag that I’d bought for his birthday around wherever he went, with an art pad, pastels, colouring pencils, and pens inside – to church, to a party, to a small group meeting and he would draw what he felt God was showing him. There is not the space in this short piece to share the stories of how deeply accurate and profound these were for those who received them, you’ll have to take my word for it – but they continue to breathe hope, faith, and courage for those received them.

In the Bible, there is a writer who records a list of heroes. They are a called the heroes of the faith. And the piece begins with this phrase, “Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancient heroes were commended for.” Later, the writer says, “These (heroes) all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.” - they were people ‘of whom the world was not worthy’.

I don’t understand why Alan died, it doesn’t at all make sense to me, even a year on. In the mystery and tragedy of this broken world I can’t make sense of it, but I do know that he saw something of what God promised clearer than most and greeted them from afar. He saw glimpses of a better future, like the prophets of old. He was aware of the very real and tangible kingdom, God’s Beautiful Way – seeing it in pictures and visions where many of us were oblivious. He saw in a way that was unhindered and clear, and then he drew it, and brought it into the present for people to see from afar.

I miss Alan, I miss him being here, I miss the foretaste of heaven that he carried. And I also honour his life and the legacy that he has left. And I look forward to the day when we will both see that future reality together, in full colour - the heavenly one where God’s beautiful way is not in the distance but clear and up close. Alan saw clearer than most and understood better than I the words of Jesus - that the heavenly kingdom of God is closer than we think.

Alan, I look forward to the day, where we have a whiskey on the beach (at least this is how I picture it) - and you remind me of all that God has done, and of the things that you saw in advance and you say, “I told you he would do it, Ben’.

God of mystery and love, I pray for the gift of faith for me and our community, that your son Alan so beautifully modelled. Let us see more clearly the reality of your future hope and have courage to bring it into this present moment for others to taste and see. Amen


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