Friday, December 19, 2014
Sometimes Love Sounds a Little Crazy
This painting by Tanner might be my favorite piece in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It shows a perfectly typical girl somewhere from the Middle East. This Mary is not at all the fair-haired, blue eyed damsel found in typical Renaissance paintings.
The whole painting is so realistic to me. Mary herself in particular looks utterly true. She's darker, for one.
And maybe even sarcastic. As in, "You're joking, right?"
After all, what sane, sensible girl wouldn't be shocked by the visit of some apparition telling her that she will soon be carrying a special child.
What sane, sensible girl wouldn't be horrified by how her family will feel when they find out? And don't even go there when it comes to telling her boyfriend. If they had slang in those days, which every language does, I'm sure she'd be thinking something akin to "WTF"?
I know I would.
The colors, textures, and shadows of the painting intensify the feelings that she seems to be having. This isn't the happy, glowing Mary we usually think about when we hear about the coming of Jesus. We are told that the story of the coming of unfettered love and compassion. Advent leads to Christmas and throughout this season we are eagerly waiting for this amazing love.
But maybe that's just as mistaken an impression as those Renaissance paintings. I look around and I'd say that most every active Christian in America, especially those who are involved in churches, are frantically busy trying to do what others are doing -- shopping, celebrating, gathering, traveling -- and be active in their churches at the same time. It's frantic and busy and often times less than that picture of perfect love.
Our world today is equally frightened. The political situation in American much less in other parts of our often-times dangerous world offers challenges even to the most wide-eyed optimist.
Yet, love is there waiting to be discovered. We have so much potential to welcome love and grace into our lives, if we move beyond the fear.
I view Mary and Joseph not as awed adults as is portrayed in paintings and media, but as incredibly brave teenagers. Maybe they're a bit like most young adults I meet today: fearless to the point that they behave as though they are immortal. They face the challenge put to them by their visions head-on.
Because love demands it. Love isn't meant to be seen from sideways glances. It's the full embrace, the bear hug, the never-gonna-let-you-go squeeze that comforts. You can't get that by being coy. And you can't see it or even notice that it's there if you're afraid.
I'm in a discerning mood right now. I feel and hear things that call out to me that have frightened me. It didn't dissipate upon my marriage. It didn't disappear upon walking the Camino de Santiago. No, in fact, it got stronger and reinforced. I see this painting and I'm wondering if that's me cowering in the corner.
I look and pray to Mary and Joseph to show me what fearless love looks like. And I invite you to pray for the love that knows no limits into your lives, regardless of your fears. You and I weren't meant to fear the invitation to love. If we know love is there waiting, we must get past our darkest nights and see the light that is to come.