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Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

What is a Protestant to do about Mary? It’s a question that naturally arises at Christmas, and while I have yet to find a satisfactory resting place on the subject, I lean toward the view that the Protestant church as a whole has thrown the baby out with the bath water. Though I first engaged with this question about seven years ago when I went off to a largely Catholic college, it reappeared on my radar this year through two events: first, my trip to Italy in the spring and, second, my attending an academic conference at Notre Dame this November.

You simply cannot escape Ma Donna in Italy. She’s everywhere and usually more prominently placed than Jesus. I don’t have peace about embracing the full Catholic doctrine of Mary, but an email I received during this time opened my eyes to a new way of appreciating the Marian art I was experiencing daily. This person wrote about Jesus’ mother as

the representative of all believers in all ages.  She ascends to be with Jesus and is a joint-heir with Him.  She even births the physical expression of God in the world as all believers do when they live out their lives gloriously communicating salvation to all.  She was able to say to the angel, “Behold, the handmaiden of the Lord” and let God do through her what she could never have imagined for herself.  She simply agreed to whatever God had in mind for her.  She is content in her sorrow and grief, through plenty of suffering and difficulties, because she trusts God.  She is not the author of her own sorrows, but suffers in order to be part of God’s purpose in ending all suffering.  I am inspired by her quiet submission.  She doesn’t insist that God fulfill her plans.  She accepts her role in fulfilling His.  She isn’t judging the value of her role as better/worse or more/less.  She simply fulfills her part.

Isn’t that beautiful and profound? A few days later, I visited the Frari Church in Venice and beheld this masterpiece of Titian’s:

Image from Wikipedia. Click photo for link.

While I had studied Assumption of the Virgin in an art history course before leaving the States, what struck me as I gawked in its physical presence was the JOY and WONDER and GLORY of it all! That idea of “Mary as the representative of all believers in all ages” rushed back to me. Here she is, a woman whom we know to be a faithful, humble, courageous believer, portrayed as a magnificent creature ascending in glory to her (and our!) intended position as child of God and co-heir with Christ. How amazing and inspiring it is! Why must I hold on to my own flat, fear-driven ideas of my glory and who I think should and must be when God has something MAGNIFICENT in mind? That’s what I saw in this painting: the magnificence of God’s intentions for me and the paleness of my own dead substitutes. In short, I walked away inspired and deeply thankful that we have been creating art about the believer for the past two thousand years, whether or not her name is Mary.

Later, when I stopped alone in Reims, France, to visit the great Cathedral there, a second piece of Marian art touched me deeply.

Can you see how Jesus is crowning Mary? You cannot see their expressions clearly in my iPhone photo, but the beauty and, again, wonder of the scene overwhelmed me on that gray morning. This is another scene that I think can apply to all believers. Yet how can it be? How is it that I too — I, Alison —  am intended to be honored as a co-heir with my Saviour? How is this possible? It is beyond my comprehension, and so is the kind of God who would hold such a thing in His heart for me. What strange beauty. What great love.

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I’m in a lot of pain today, and I’m feeling discouraged and blue. The mild physical therapy I just started has badly inflamed my back, and there are few things more pity-party inducing than yet another failed solution for chronic pain. So, I thought it would be a good time to write about two pictures I have in my home that always make me smile — even on days like today.

Picture A:

What a face! It works like instant Prozac every time.

My heart is melting. His squinty right eye. His wrinkled nose. His funny little puckered mouth. His hairy double chin! What a delight.

I picked up this print for $2 at a local church’s semi-annual rummage sale, and now it hangs in my sunroom/studio.

Picture B:

Another rummage-sale find. $4, maybe? This little friend hangs out above my kitchen sink.

Even though it’s almost 100 degrees outside, I can’t bear to put him away.

There now, I may be feeling better already. Perhaps I’ll tackle the last bit of my life coaching inventory now. . .

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