When I was asked to help at the UBS Publishing Convention in the Netherlands earlier this year I knew that I would spend the week rushing around, juggling various tasks. And that did happen. But something else totally unexpected happened that week that I will never forget. I experienced the beauty and agony of God’s story so powerfully that I wept. And I wasn’t the only one.
One evening I and the other 140 Bible Society participants from 75 countries had the privilege of watching a performance by Dutch sand artist Gert van der Vijver. Many of us were tired – some had jet lag, others were just weary from a day’s plenaries and workshops – and while we were intrigued to see what sand artistry was about, I don’t think any of us expected to be swept up in an emotional journey through the Bible that night.
Smiled as he created
With the lights dimmed and gentle music playing, the sandman began creating the world and the beautiful creatures in it. We gasped as a gorilla appeared, an elephant, a swan, a snail, a fish, a lion. We laughed as he played with his creations, opening and shutting the mouth of a horse with a flick of his hand, adding stripes with his fingers to turn it into a zebra. And the sandman smiled as he created, because it was good.
We saw the beauty of the Garden of Eden, and the temptation of Eve as the serpent wove itself around her will. We watched, entranced, as this picture turned into an image of a baby in a manger, overlooked by a bright star. There, in a few sweeps of the hand, was the story of our downfall and our salvation.
Cup of suffering
We smiled with Mary as she held her baby. We saw Jesus as a grown man, bearded and praying…we felt a pang of fear as the serpent appeared behind him. We saw a crown of thorns atop a cup…and the hands of Jesus around this cup of suffering. We fell silent as we saw part of the cross appear, and a hand being nailed to it, blood dripping down.
The torn curtain in the temple, the empty tomb…the sand was showing us the miracle that God worked through Jesus. We saw the salvation of humanity and felt the joy of this victory.
But then the image of Mary holding her infant son appeared again. As the sandman added tears to the proud mother’s face, and changed the face of the sleeping child into that of the dead Christ, I wept. Here was a reminder of all that God did for us. Here was sacrificial, unconditional love, bought with the blood of Jesus.
As the sandman drew a heart around this final image and the lights went up, there was a stunned silence as we took in all that we had seen and felt. In the audience were Bible scholars, Bible publishing professionals, digital experts, all very familiar with the Bible story. But that evening, we experienced it afresh. We felt like we had witnessed it all.
There, in the midst of a conference focused on harnessing technology to share God’s Word more effectively, it was a wonderful reminder of what can happen when we get back to basics, put aside our gadgets and apps and our awe of technology and focus on the sheer wonder of God’s story.
Watch a few moments from the performance in this short video: