The Angel of the Tram

alex safran

Icons are written, not painted – this indicates to me that they should tell a religious story. 

My icon, which I completed as a student of the Uniting Church Icon Schools and features on this month’s Crosslight cover and in full in the image above, is based on the old story of the prince who meets a beggar. 

Does the prince help the beggar (who is an angel in disguise) and is thus rewarded by God or does he ignore him and suffer a miserable life?

There is a Jewish tradition that while God is everywhere, he is most accessible in Jerusalem, and in particular at the site of the biblical Temple.

About 25 years ago I was retrenched, and took the opportunity to make a pilgrimage to the last remnant of the Temple in Jerusalem – the Western Wall. 

At the Wall I made a simple request, “Dear God, please help me to find another job.”

A few weeks later, I arrive home on a Friday and collapse on the bed when the phone rings. 

Could I teach accounting for a term at a TAFE college – starting Monday morning?

I begin to teach and during term get invited to another job interview.  On the last day of term I’m told that I have that job – starting the following Monday morning. 

At the end of the first day of my new job I wander down to the tram stop to catch the northbound tram. I am stopped from boarding by the passenger in front who is jabbering at the driver. 

The passenger looks like a homeless person, with a rough beard and unkempt hair.  The driver does not understand what he is saying, and when I ask if I can help it becomes apparent that he wants the southbound tram. 

I point him to the tram stop on the other side of the road. 

He turns to me, eyes blazing, raises his arm and says loudly: “Thank you. God will reward you.”

On the next day the general manager calls me to his office and tells me I am getting a raise. 

Was I rewarded like Abraham and Sarah in the Old Testament who were hospitable to their visitors, who were in fact angels? 

The figure of the angel in my icon is based on traditional images of John the Baptist who, like today’s people experiencing homelessness, slept rough. 

Helping those in need is a large part of the UCA’s mission and in this issue of Crosslight you can read on page 6 about the extraordinary free lunch program Nobucks.

The story of my icon revolves around work and the future of employment is the subject of a feature in this month’s Crosslight on pages 22 to 23. 

John Bottomley also calls on us not to exclude God from the world of work on page 21.

Mental Health Week is from the 7 to 13 October and Crosslight investigates the state of mental health services in regional areas on pages 14-15.

Moderator Sharon Hollis also shares a very personal and powerful reflection on page 19 on the death of her partner who suffered depression.

My icon and the work of other Icon Schools participants are on display as part of the ‘Visions of the Invisible’ exhibition Centre for Theology and Mission in Parkville until 26 October.

Alex Safran is a member of the ecumenical Wellspring Centre.

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