In the light of the recent public TV slayings of two US journalists and two Aid workers by the infamous terrorist group know as ISIS, I was moved to respond. The fear-mongering, cowardly terrorists know their game of terror and horror well. Their remix of medieval brutality and modern technology combines to make the drama of their mission and methods all the more potent and utterly shocking.
As a person of faith and an artist, I wrestled with my feelings, my sickness of heart, and anger at their cold and calculated barbaric inhumanity. How powerless it can leave us, when they get to say and do what they want, as it is thrust into our lives through the media and we just stand there staring. I knew I must say something in response, especially when moved to tears by the public murder of their most recent victim, Mr. Alan Henning.
Mr. Henning was a genuinely kind and humble man. He was a down to earth husband and father of two teenage children. Alan made his living driving a taxi in a town called Eccles in the United Kingdom. He seemed so out of place in all this ‘global chaos’. It seems surreal how he was caught up in the path of this carnage spewing juggernaut, the Islamic State. He was kidnapped by ISIS on his fourth trip to Syria whilst delivering ambulances, diapers and toys to refugees of the Syrian Civil War. One would have thought that ISIS would have given him a pass. Even a multitude of Islamic religious and political leaders pleaded for his freedom to no avail. Mr. Henning was slaughtered!
Could I attempt to restore Alan’s dignity and his honor? I believe art has the power to say the last word. Since Alan’s manner of death was decapitation, his final moments were being defined by the monsters in the desert. I took the subject of the manner of his death and redeemed it through the filter of my faith and my art.
‘Perfect love drives out fear’ 1 John 4:18. Yes, light overcomes the darkness, no matter how dark. Alan’s sincere love for his fellow man, his kindness led him to his untimely death. His kindness though, the thumbprint of the divine on his soul, lives on and triumphs over the cruelty and evil of his murderers and their sordid deeds. The photo, which I used to base my painting from is a portrait of Alan’s kindness. His face tells his story and says everything about Alan. It is this spirit and power of kindness that I have tried to proclaim as the final yet eternal memory of Alan in this world even after his brutal slaying.
Death in this world is not the end, it is the door, the beginning. Through the eyes of my Christian faith, death has been swallowed up. Death has been defeated by Jesus’s empty tomb and Alan’s life is not over. His example of kindness and love lives on in this world and he in the next. When we are confronted with the fear of death Jesus said “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul…’ Matt 10:28.
Through my painting I hope to paint an image in your mind of the power of kindness triumphing over cruelty, the power of light triumphing over darkness. I hope you will meditate on where Alan is now, remembering his bright, kind and jolly countenance and that place from whence light radiates. My prayer is that you will know the power of forgiveness, faith, hope, love and the power of good to overcome evil, no matter how dark the darkness, the light will always prevail.
For Alan’s family, that they would find the strength from above to forgive the evildoers, for in forgiveness, Alan’s family will find their freedom from their anguish, pain and heartache.
‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’ John 1:5
By Julian Raven