Archive for the ‘Jesus’ 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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A Happy Easter

Attending my church’s Good Friday service last night, my first one ever, challenged me. The leadership clearly expected us all to be mournful and somber; everything about the service encouraged it. Feeling very heathenish, indeed, I sat and stood and prayed and sang and was, of all things . . . happy. I feel this Easter intensely, but not from a place of sorrow.  I think that tomorrow morning I will sing from the earnest gladness of my heart because Jesus is risen, and so am I. As I wrote the other day, I live! I live in Christ, and this year I feel it intensely. How can I not be overjoyed by such a gift?

Like a good Christian, though, I tried to feel what I ought in that service. As I began to conjure up the desired emotions, as I’ve done so many times before in church (and, to be fair, in countless other situations), I suddenly stopped. I realized I was slipping away from what was real, my joy, and into what was idealized, pious grief. Forget the pastor and the people next to me, what does God desire? Surely not pretense! I recently read a selection from Watchman Nee and was struck by his emphasizing “honesty of heart toward God.” And David doesn’t write, “See how I demonstrate the right feelings toward You, O God?” Instead, he cries, “Search me, O God, and know my heart.”

It’s not that I think sadness isn’t appropriate at Easter. I do. But is that the only emotion allowed? Must I feel sad on Good Friday — Good Friday — if I am a sincere believer?

Maybe next year I’ll be in a different place. Maybe I’ll mourn deeply and pray through waves of grief leading up to Resurrection Sunday. Perhaps that would be more mature. After all, it is because of my sin that Jesus had to suffer and die. But this year, I am where I am — a place where the hope and glory of Jesus’ resurrection and what it means for me eclipses all else — and I’d rather be honest about it. God does not despise me in my immaturity, not when I’m offering my heart to Him, as best I can. I am an infant, yes, and cannot yet walk, but God will hold my hand when it’s time. I need only to turn to Him and stretch out my little fingers. What else is an honest heart but such a gesture? It says, “Here I am Lord; here is what I know of myself and of You right now. What do You see? What do You want to show me? And where are we going next?”

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From Death to Life

One of the discussion questions at our community group tonight was, “How has Jesus’ touch healed you in the past?” Alas, to put an answer in words. I can’t point to a single incident; I see the past few years as one enormous, continuous healing. Jesus is bringing me to life. I look back a year, three years, seven years: where I was then looks like death to me. But today I live!  And ahead of me is life yet more abundant. How very strange that we should have these physical bodies that die a little every day, but in Christ we can live a little more fully each day. We approach death and true life concurrently, and how wildly the latter outweighs the former! When we try to know God, when we desire to love Him, when we seek to walk with Him in the everlasting way, Jesus is right there to meet us. We move toward the most complete and real and glorious Life possible, the Life God created us for — and what does that look like?  I want to find out.

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