About a week ago, a good friend of mine sent me the following message:
When you have a moment, can you... translate this beautiful icon for me? You may or may not know we are in the Ignatian Year commemorating the 500th year of Saint Ignatius’ conversion.
So, fun fact... I did NOT know that the Ignatians were celebrating such a big anniversary! Now I do, so thanks, Rod! Happy anniversary to any Ignatians who stumble through this blog.
As for the icon- WOW. There is so much about this icon that I love that I hardly know where to begin. The name of this icon (as seen on the reverse of the prayer leaflet) is the Missioning of Xavier. It was written by iconographer Kathy Sievers who clearly knows a thing or two about traditional iconography.
To give you some context, this icon depicts the moment St. Ignatius sends his good friend, St. Francis Xavier, on an evangelization mission that would take him to India, China, Japan, Malaysia, and even Sri Lanka! As my friend, Rod, would later point out, he was second only to St. Paul in his missionary endeavors!
As this icon is about St. Francis, we'll begin with him as our focal point:
He is seated in a boat and is focused intently on the directive being offered to him by Ignatius. The directive, familiar to any Ignatian (or old school Catholic who had to write "AMDG" atop their homework), is "Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam," meaning "For the Greater Glory of God." Being so focused on this directive while grasping it in his left hand indicates that Francis accepted this mission both in thought and action.
Rather than coloring his robes strictly black (which, in iconography, indicates death/evil), she chose a very specific blend of colors. However, before I can discuss the colors of his robe, I must explain the boat dear Francis finds himself in.
Early in Christian art, the Church was symbolized by a boat (the Barque of St. Peter). That tradition is happily kept alive in this icon. The mast is a Latin Cross and its white sail (indicating purity) is tied at seven distinct points (5 visible and 2 hidden by Ignatius). These seven points are, in fact, the Seven Sacraments that the Church inevitably brings with Her wherever She goes. The gold band encircling the edge of the sail (like a wedding ring!) is reminscent of white chasubles edged in gold for special feasts. The boat, itself, is painted with notes of deep red and gold. Red is the color of the Holy Spirit (fire) and blood (sacrifice). Gold indicates divinity (or sanctity which is why halos are gold). The red and gold from the boat seep into Francis' cassock which is highlighted in blue, the color of Our Lady.
[Fun fact: Ignatians were known to tie blue sashes around their waists for special missions or Marian Feasts ala knights who tied the kerchief of a lover to their armor as they rode into battle. Ignatians were deeply devoted to Our Lady, so seeing hints of blue in Francis' cassock is an homage to being under her protection (similar to how those who wear the Scapular are considered under Mary's special protection).]
Thus, we see in Francis' cassock all these colors combined and it's almost as if Francis and the boat (Church) are one. Gah - I just love it!
Moving on to Ignatius, you'll see that he, too, doesn't have a strictly black cassock because in iconography, black is the color of evil/death. To skirt this, a very deep blue is used with white highlights, hinting at Ignatius' purity. He is standing above Francis, indicating the clear hierarchy between them. His hand is raised in blessing while he entrusts the mission to his dear friend. All around them is a dazzling gold that almost shines through the computer screen (I can only imagine how gorgeous it must be in person). The gold symbolizes God's Divine blessing over the men, the mission, and the Church.
Finally, there's a little stack of rocks in the bottom righthand corner, just behind Ignatius. Believe it or not, this little rocky structure is my favorite part of the entire icon!
In order to get to the boat, both men had to come "down the mountain" so to speak.
Both are brilliant, lofty saints who could have easily continued to strive for God "in the clouds" (meaning all philosophy). Ignatians, though, aren't known for being strictly philosophers, though, are they?
No. They're known for coming "down the mountain" to be among those most in need of help. While spirituality is very much central to the Ignatian order, recognizing God's Presence in all things necessitates going out to meet Him where He is. The hint of rocks to the right is a subtle reminder of that.
What a brilliant, inspired touch! I love it so very much!
So Happy 500th Anniversary, St. Ignatius! I'm sure all the Jesuits who have followed after you these last few centuries appreciate your change of heart!
And to Rod, as always, thanks for sharing these bits of Sacred Art with me!
The Vatican released the official icon for World Meeting of Families 2022, and it was created by artist (and Jesuit) Fr. Marko Rupnik:
I genuinely hope the Vatican (nor Fr. Rupnik) minds me resharing this icon for this blog!
When I opened the article to see the image firsthand, I was stunned.
I don't know what I was expecting, but it wasn't this. The longer I look at it, the more I love it.
The first thing I noticed was the Blessed Mother clinging to Christ. Something jarred me, and it took me a moment to realize it was the fact that Our Lady and Jesus shared an eye. I then drifted over to note that His hands were outstretched- He was Christ Crucified. Our Lady held a chalice under His Heart as if having caught the blood and water that would, eventually, gush forth from His side.
My eye fell down upon a figure that I immediately recognized as St. Paul. I was confused, then, because why was St. Paul in an icon depicting family with Jesus and Mary? Doubling my confusion, I realized that St. Paul was hunched over, pouring wine into another chalice. But what was that other hand doing? Oh yes- he was pushing back a gauzy veil. Wait a second! Who are those shadowy figures behind the veil? It was then that I realized I was looking at an image of the Wedding Feast of Cana. I was STILL super confused as to why St. Paul was there, but at least the image made more sense for why it was chosen for World Meeting of Families 2022.
So I read the article and found out Fr. Rupnik chose to portray the servant from the story as St. Paul due to his revelation in his letter to the Ephesians about the Sacrament of Marriage being a reflection of Christ and His Church.
With that foundation in mind, onward to the analysis!
The icon is made of primarily red and yellow paint, creating a sepia-like effect. In iconography, yellow is often indicative of joy and blessing. As the most visible color on the spectrum, yellow tends to be attention-catching (think of a yellow highlighter or common road signs). Red, on the other hand, is indicative of sacrifice, specifically of blood/life. The fact that both of these colors are intertwined to create the image underscore the immutable Truth of the Sanctity of Marriage in that it is both an all-encompassing sacrifice (red) and all-encompassing blessing (yellow).
Here we have the Blessed Mother holding her Son close. Presumably, this is the moment she tells Him that the newlyweds are out of wine. As I wrote in a previous entry, Our Lady is our best intercessor ("Mediatrix of All Graces" is one of her titles) and her actions at the wedding are proof of this. She recognized the shame that would come upon the family should the guests realize they ran out of wine, so she asked Jesus to step in before He planned to start public ministry.
And of course, because Jesus can't deny the heart that never denies His Will, Jesus begins His public ministry early by miraculously transforming water into wine.
The striking choice of the Blessed Mother sharing an eye with Jesus in the icon is indicative of their unity in thought and will (AKA, the Divine Will). She holds a chalice of wine under Jesus' breast, and since Christ is presented Crucified, the image is meant to harken to the Eucharistic Sacrifice. Our Lady, with her left hand, embraces Jesus Crucified, and with her right, holds Him in the Eucharist. The Blessed Mother thus represents the Church.
At first glance, it seems Jesus' garments are painted sloppily, with the red spilling over Mary's fingers. I believe this was intentional and again highlights the transformative power embedded in the story of the Wedding at Cana: Jesus' stole-like garment is, in fact, the blood-water that spilled out after His Crucifixion.
Again, it is interesting to note that stoles (pre-Vatican II) were associated with the Passion of Christ. Priests wore (and still wear) them hanging open in the front while deacons tie them off to the side (helpful during early liturgies in which they were doing more manual labor). The stole was supposed to remind priests of their vocation to sacrifice themselves for the Church as Christ had done, and so they "yoked" themselves at each Sacrifice of the Mass in which they emulate Jesus, in fact acting in persona Christi.
Jesus is dressed here as a priest, and His stole has transformed into the Eucharistic Sacrifice that is imperceptible to human eyes.
The only reason we are able to see this is due to St. Paul's right hand pushing back the veil, a common theological symbol denoting a separation between Heaven and Earth, sacred and profane. Speaking of St. Paul...
We see him doubled over not only in an act of service, but humility and reverent awe. In the foreground, we see the six stone jars filled with water (that has yet to be transformed to wine). In St. Paul's hands (St. Paul who was an ordained priest!), the water is turned to wine not by his own power, but by the Power of Christ who is with him (just as He is with all priests at Consecration). This theological truth is hit home by the color of Christ's stole flowing out and covering St. Paul. *Swoon*
In fact, St. Paul's hand and the jug, together, look like a tongue of fire, right? And any Catholic school child can tell you that a tongue of fire is a symbol of the Holy Spirit! St. Paul is afire with the Spirit which is why he's able to "push back the veil" between Heaven and Earth to see with spiritual eyes that which human eyes cannot comprehend- the ineffable mystery of Christ's union with the Church that is hidden within the Sacrament of Marriage.
St. Paul could not have come to that realization alone; the Holy Spirit inspired him to recognize the transformative power of Matrimony. The husband and wife vow their lives to one another and become "one flesh" just as Christ and His Church are One Body.
Back to the water for a second, because the water is just as much a "character" in this icon as any other. Water was also important for Jewish weddings due to the practice of mikvah immersion. Women were expected to immerse themselves three times as a means to cleanse themselves and ask for God's blessing on their marriages. Sound familiar? It should, because mikvah prefigured Baptism.
Just as Jesus transformed the water into wine, He also transformed water for ritual cleansing into Baptismal waters that ushered in the New Covenant, sealed by the Eucharistic Sacrifice inherent within the newly blessed wine.
This is all symbolism at this point. Obviously at the Wedding Feast of Cana, Jesus had not yet endured His Passion nor offered the First Mass on Holy Thursday. For the purposes of this icon, however, all these themes are tied together so beautifully that it's impossible not to note them.
Finally, we have the newlyweds, still hiding behind the veil, barely perceptible. The husband has his head bowed while his wife looks lovingly at Jesus who has His Hand raised in blessing over them.
I love this choice because it is a complete inversion of what we experience with our human eyes. When we attend weddings, we witness the bride and groom share their love and we celebrate their union. What we don't see is the mystical union of Christ and His Church that is inherent within Sacramental marriages. In this image, it is the reverse: we see clearly the union of Christ and Church while the married couple is obscured.
(Seriously, people, I'm so giddy over this image I don't know what to do with myself.)
The table (or altar!) St. Paul is working on is huge, round and almost planet-like. I can't help but feel as though St. Paul is indicative of priests, bringing Christ and His Church to the whole world.
I love EVERYTHING about this icon. EVERYTHING. And the longer I stare at it, the more things I find to love. I genuinely believe this was divinely inspired, and given the very real battles raging in the Church, specifically regarding the Sanctity of Marriage (I'm looking at YOU, Germany), this icon is prophetic. It affirms marriage as being between a man and a woman because that bond is indicative of Christ's bond with His Church. Marriage also reflects the Trinity- God Himself . Just as the Father and Son are one and Their love brings for the Spirit, so too does the love between husband and wife bring forth children.
This Divine mystery seems to have been forgotten by many, so it is remarkably beautiful to see this truth (and the beauty of the priesthood) highlighted so perfectly. Mary's importance as Mediatrix and Mother of the Church is also a welcome spotlight. Finally, just as the Wedding Feast of Cana was a story of transformation and blessing, I hope this icon serves to be just as transformative to all who see it.
Should Fr. Rupnik ever stumble upon my lowly little blog: Thank you for your vocation and thank you for using your incredible talent to edify us on such deep theological truths.
I belong to two groups for mothers on Facebook, both of them Catholic. I appreciate them both for vastly different things, and as such, I end up interacting with the two groups differently as well.
Anyway, in the larger group, I noticed that posts were taking a rather dark turn. Many moms were experiencing so many challenges and were voicing very valid concerns within the group over everything from work to child-rearing to general mental and physical health. My heart ached for many of them, because I could feel the frustration/depression/worry bubbling through the posts.
I felt the Holy Spirit nudging me to drop a reminder of God's Faithfulness into the feed. I posted:
Praise post, 'cause my heart is singing.
As you can see from the snippet below, the response was overwhelming:
I am 100% in support of utilizing social media to vent among trusted friends, solicit the "hive mind" to problem solve an issue, or ask for prayers when things seem "too much."
However, I ALSO believe it is important to recognize the many ways God is good to us as a means to bolster others who are struggling. We need these reminders of God's goodness, so please, don't be afraid to share that joy with others. Many women on that thread responded that they "needed to hear this" or that they were "glad to be reminded" of God's Faithfulness. Praising God openly and without shame is salve to the weary soul.
As always, God is good. Drop your own Praise Posts in the comments or link back to your blogs so I can multiply the joy!
Being only a few weeks PP, I wanted to catalog what I've found helpful while it's all still fresh in my mind. Most of these items are likely things you already have!
I'll break the list down into 3 categories: Hospital/Recovery, Breastfeeding, Basics
These items are those things you'll want both in your hospital bag as well as stocked for use at home. While most hospitals provide some of these items, the quality is frustratingly low and you don't want to be struggling with ripped mesh panties while you're juggling utter exhaustion, blinding pain, and ah yes... an hours-old newborn.
I have personally used these items and have frequently put together postpartum baskets for new parents that include them. This is not an exhaustive list, nor does it include things like Tucks Wipes, a belly band or peri-bottles (because the hospitals provide those for you).
We're often so preoccupied with making sure we have everything for the new baby that we neglect to make sure we've got things for ourselves. Take a little time to focus on you so that you can better focus on baby.
That's why this list focuses on things that the postpartum MOTHER needs most, and are often overlooked. I hope it helps new moms (and dads looking for things to support moms). Speaking of dads, I'll be dedicating my next entry to you, because you are frankly the most important part of her postpartum survival kit! <3 But more on that soon.
Anyhow, if there are things YOU have found personally helpful, please drop a link in the comments. Would love to learn from other moms what worked for them!
Less than 24 hours after writing that last blog post, I welcomed our newest son to the world.
This beautiful boy is named Dominic, and we're calling him "Nico" for short.
I'd been having contractions for weeks leading up to his delivery, but Tuesday morning, I could tell the real ones had finally arrived. Since I hadn't slept much the night before, I figured I'd try to lay down for a bit as they ramped up, catching at least a little rest before the marathon I knew laid before me.
I texted Chris my plans and got into bed. Our cat, Piper, immediately climbed under the covers and nestled against me as a new contraction hit. I realized then that it was go-time. I texted Chris again and let him know to start making his way home. I got plans for Vince and Nate in motion and also messaged my friend, Sam, who generously agreed to come and photograph the festivities.
I hopped into the shower one last time when I noticed bright red blood. I hadn't had that experience with Vince or Nate, but knowing that every pregnancy is different, I called the OB to give them a heads up that I'd be arriving to the hospital with this symptom as well. No one could tell me if it was normal or not, so I crossed my fingers and hoped OB triage would have some answers for me.
Chris arrived home in record time. I was out front talking to our neighbor, Jake, when he came peeling around the corner. Clearly he was excited to get us to the hospital!
On the way there, my contractions continued to ramp up. From about 8A-9A, I only had maybe three that whole hour. From 9-10, they moved to every 10 minutes. By the time we got to the hospital at 11ish, I was only about 5-6 minutes apart. It wasn't long before they were coming in waves and I was calling for an epidural.
Funny thing, though, is that I had originally toyed with the idea of not having an epidural at all. I'd had a failed one with Nate and I'd somehow survived. Having been warned there could be some problems with Nico, I thought foregoing the epidural would ensure he got here faster. However, once the contractions really kicked into gear, I worried my heart rate and breathing would cause problems as well, so called for the epidural to calm things down a bit.
Alas, the triage nurse didn't think I was progressing as quickly as I was (mostly because she hadn't set up the monitor properly to check me for contractions). However, when the second nurse came in and confirmed that I'd doubled my cervical opening within an hour, that should've clued her in to the fact that yes, my body was doing exactly what it was meant to do.
Alas again, I don't think she much cared. She didn't get me sent up to labor and delivery until I was already ready to pop. I felt the urge to push while I was sitting in the wheelchair on the elevator, and again when I used the bathroom before getting on the delivery bed. I think I was in the delivery room for all of 15 minutes before I started shouting that I HAD to push. Again, the nurse was telling me I'd need to wait for another hour before they'd be able to give me an epidural, but there was absolutely no way that was going to happen. Having gotten her notes from the triage nurse who clearly didn't know what the heck she was doing, she thought I had way more time than I did.
Chris confronted her as I started shouting that I needed to push. The man has the patience of a saint, but a line was crossed and I knew he was doing what he could to protect me. I can't overstate how much I appreciated his advocacy in that moment, because it felt like no one was taking me seriously. After he confronted her, she immediately called for the anesthesiologist. I knew it was too late, but it was still nice to know that Chris had forced her to listen. She dropped the bed, did a quick check on where I was, and from the look on her face, I knew I was right. I said, "He's crowning, isn't he?" She didn't bother to answer.
Suddenly there were five people in the room talking to me at once. I couldn't focus on any of them- I could only feel the overarching need to push. Chris was to the left of me, and I think Sam was somewhere to the right but had gotten shuffled away by the sudden barrage of nurses. One of them (I later learned she was the midwife) said, "On the next contraction, you're gonna push!" and I said, "He's coming!" So I pushed. She counted to ten and told me to stop pushing, but I couldn't... the next contraction was already starting, so she said, "Okay, push again!" and I did. His head came out and with one more push, the rest of him followed. They laid him on my chest and oh... my heart.
Chris and Sam were somehow on either side of me, bending down close to say I'd done it. He was here. He was safe. God is so good...
My doctor walked in a few minutes later and threw her hands up saying, "So you had a baby, huh?" LoL. Yes, I guess I did.
She got gloves on and went to work helping finish the postpartum work with the midwife. I honestly don't know where everyone else went. I'll spare you the postpartum details, but suffice to say that it wasn't fun and I don't recommend it to anyone, especially not without an epidural. Ha ha!
So yes, at 1:41PM, Dominic Angelo arrived earth-side with 10 fingers, 10 toes, and a nursing reflex that would put Dyson and Hoover to shame.
God is good. In all things, God is so very, very good.
I'm currently awaiting (rather impatiently) the birth of my third son, Nico. My due date is May 12th, one day away.
My due date wasn't always May 12th, and that's the story I'm going to tell you fine folks today, because according to every pregnancy calculator known to man, I never should've gotten a positive pregnancy test when I did.
The longer Nico clings to my rib cage, the more sure I am that my impossible pregnancy test was, in fact, a gift of compassion for my husband and his dying father.
You see, after our wedding in May, Peter's health took a marked turn. He spent some time in a local hospital that didn't take necessary steps to help properly diagnose him. After pushing to have him placed in a better hospital, we finally got a diagnosis of cancer which had spread too far to effectively treat. It was a crushing blow to Peter, his wife, and my husband. I prayed- hard- for a miracle that Peter might regain some semblance of himself despite the prognosis. Chris had only just moved home and begun enjoying a closer bond with his dad, and I know he had so many hopes for what to do with the time they now got to share. Alas, it was not meant to be. However, God is good and had plans for them.
In early August, I began noticing the tell-tale symptoms of pregnancy. Sure enough, on August 11th, I saw two pink lines staring up at me from the bathroom sink. I shared the news with Chris, and we agreed to tell his mother that night. I also shared the news in my CathSo group (which is why I know the date!). The next morning, Diana told Peter via a scheduled phone call (due to COVID restrictions, she wasn't allowed in to see him and had to schedule calls with the nurses' station). About a day or so later, Chris was able to go in-person to see his dad as well.
Unfortunately, on August 22nd, Peter passed away. Peter was such a darling, generous man; quiet and humble, but so very warm and funny. I am genuinely sad that he was called home so soon as I know he, too, was happy to finally have his son back home.
A few weeks later, I went in for my first ultrasound. By my calculations (that included pertinent info like menstrual cycle and possible dates for conception), I should've been 8 weeks along. However, upon completion of the ultrasound, I was measuring less than 6 weeks, pushing my due date to May 12th. By that calculation, it wouldn't have been possible for me to test positive on August 11th. In fact, I wouldn't have even conceived until more than a week later! Even a super sensitive pregnancy test wouldn't have picked up anything until well after Peter had passed away.
So either the ultrasound was wrong, or God had given us a glimpse into our happily ever after so that Chris could share this joy with his father before he passed away. The longer that Nico remains nestled within my womb, the more I believe that impossible test was a very special grace granted by God, especially knowing how much that conversation meant to Chris.
God is good. In all things, God is good.
Please say a prayer for the repose of Peter's soul and a quick and healthy delivery of his grandson, Nico. C'mon, buddy... we can't wait to finally meet you!
Meet Chris, everyone!
If you've seen some of my catch up entries, you already know we've been friends for more than 15 years. You know he's handsome, you know he's brilliant, and you know he's great with the boys.
He's also a car enthusiast, knows more about various aircraft than the whole of Boeing, and could probably beat MacGyver at MacGyvering. *Grin*
He's always been ridiculously intelligent. His childhood was spent tinkering with everything thanks to his parents who not only encouraged it, but took him to workshops and programs that would actively teach him how! He's a natural sponge for information and somehow keeps it all pristinely locked away for recall at a moment's notice.
Long before we ever made googly eyes at one another, we engaged in the most entertaining, thought-provoking conversations. While the rest of the group would drift into debates about comic characters or video games, we'd be off into the weeds discussing politics, social constructs and philosophy. We've always enjoyed deep conversations with one another, and somehow there's always new fodder for us to attack.
Since pairing ourselves up, we routinely watch programming that grapples with complex problems or interesting historical quandaries. We'll share current events, play devil's advocate, or listen to interviews with prominent philosophical contemporaries. I'll ask an outlandish question that forces him to pull the brakes and really yank at the underpinnings of his belief set, and then he'll drop an atom bomb into my lap that has me spiraling off into tangents for DAYS. Through it all, we learn, we laugh, and we grow in our understanding of the world, each other, and ourselves.
I cannot overstate how much I appreciate that intellectual stimulation.
Then there's his natural propensity to fix everything... he's an engineer by trade, so he is a professional (and highly skilled) problem solver. Whether the problem is mechanical in nature (fixing a broken appliance) or situational (the kids aren't doing what they're supposed to be doing), he's able to effectively diagnose it and figure out efficient steps that rectify whatever is amiss.
He also relishes his role as step-father. Since signing on, he's put so much time, thought and energy into parenting them properly. Just last night, we had a talk about Vincent's unique challenges, specifically stemming from a marked increase in verbal/auditory stimming. He's invested in helping them both succeed as men, and that manifests in a million different ways.
Last weekend, he let Nate help him build a shed in the backyard which made Nate swear he was a professional architect. Ha ha! He's so patient with them, but isn't afraid to come down hard if necessary to keep them on the straight and narrow. I take so much comfort in him as their role model for masculinity. I worried so much for their prospects as adult men before Chris arrived, but now that he's taken on the task of showing them what a true man looks like, I feel genuine relief for their futures.
He is a true partner. I swear he's more supportive of me than I am 90% of the time! Whether it's getting off the couch to help me up while I'm a pregnant turtle, offering to pick up groceries to knock something off my to-do list, or sneaking out in the morning (and thus, forgoing the morning coffee and lunch I'd make for him) so I can catch up on sleep, he is outlandishly thoughtful. Just as I recognize all that he does for our family, he recognizes all I do by not waiting for me to ask for help but offering it when he sees the opportunity present itself.
My favorite is him not complaining when I order out these days because I can't stand to be near an oven. Uuuuugh, I'm really looking forward to having Nico OUTSIDE of me...
Anyway, I could wax on forever about how wonderful he is. It still amazes me that we ended up together. A couple days ago, I was smiling up at him like an idiot and he laughed asking, "What?"
I answered, "If you'd have told me that you and I would end up together, I would've laughed you off a cliff. I sometimes still can't believe it. It's insane." He agreed. It really is insane when you think about it. But when has God ever made a lick of sense to us mere mortals?
That said, I'm genuinely glad God's the One in control, because there's no better husband, father, or friend that I could have chosen for myself and my children. I always go back to that photo I shared in this entry about God banishing fear:
It still rings 1,000% true. I was holding a tattered, germ-ridden teddy bear and God was holding Chris behind His back. Ha ha! Luckily, I was blessed with the gift of Faith and an unshakable trust in God's desire to care for each of us individually, so I had no real problem handing over the trash bear. I just had no idea that the prize bear was someone I already loved and respected so much.
So that's Chris in a large nutshell. At 6'4" and a delicious amount of muscle, a large nutshell is the only one I can fit him in. *Grin*
Trust God, friends. I cannot emphasize that enough. If you learn nothing else from my story, learn this: the same God who cares for the birds in the sky and the flowers of the field cares infinitely more about you than those birds and flowers (Matt 6:26-30). He cares so much that He came to dwell among us, taking on our humanity to elevate it to the Divine. He wants your joy and happiness and cannot be outdone in love. So love Him, trust Him, and recognize that short-term pain falls away and becomes background noise as the life He created you for unfurls into eternity.
He's got you, friend. He's got you.
Since yesterday was the Feast of the Annunciation, folks were posting some of their favorite images of Our Lady's "Fiat." One of the first ones I came across was this gorgeous piece, posted by Gloria Purvis:
As if on cue, a triggered white woman jumped at the chance to "remind" me of Our Lady's cultural and religious heritage...
I imagine she looked something like this whilst typing that...
Annnyway, I immediately called her out, and her racism merely intensified as if, through her paltry and uneducated attempts at justification, she'd suddenly NOT be racist anymore.
Alas, that's not how it works. Even when YOU don't think you're being racist, getting triggered by an African interpretation of Our Lady is, in fact, quite racist.
Forget the fact that the Blessed Mother, herself, took the form of an Aztec woman at Guadalupe, a Vietnamese woman as OLO La Vang, an African woman as OLO Kibeho (Rawanda), a Japanese woman as OLO Akita, and pretty much every other ethnic variety. None of that matters. Obviously the Blessed Mother defiled her own Jewish heritage by daring to appear to her children as anything other than the lily white Jewish woman popularized by the Renaissance! Oh, the horror!!!
Clearly that's sarcasm on my part, but let's be real: this is exactly what this commenter was saying by getting snippy over the fact that an artist chose to render Our Lady as a black woman. In trying to squash the art (and artist), she ended up inadvertently attacking the Blessed Mother, herself, who is mother to all and thus happily appears to her children in a comforting, recognizable form.
That all said, I decided to delve deeper into this piece to learn more about it and have come to share my findings with all of you!
It turns out that this gorgeous image of the Annunciation was actually part of a larger, 63-piece project commissioned by French missionaries to Cameroon, Africa, for the educational use of the Mafa Christians who lived there. The French missionary, François Vidil, put together a group of locals, specialized artists, and photographers who would gather to pray, read the Bible, re-enact scenes from the Bible, and then create unique, African-inspired art to help the greater community learn about and connect with the Gospel. Much like stained glass and sacred art before the birth of the printing press, these paintings served to bring Jesus to those with no other means of knowing Him.
How amazing is that? This project (and the art it inspired) became known as Vie de Jesus Mafa. You can learn more about it here!
All that being said, let's get on with the nuances of this beautiful piece, shall we?
Here we see Our Lady sitting by a fire. She wears her typical "Blessed Mother Blue" and seems to be caught midday as she was cooking. Interestingly, her pot and ladle look an awful lot like the spindle and distaff which are typical Marian symbols of the Annunciation (found in many other pieces of sacred art), and I can't help but think the missionary who painted this intentionally painted her pot to reflect that.
Surrounding that pot are three stones - two in the foreground, and one hidden behind the pot to support the back end. A fire connects them all and engulfs the pot and ladle. This careful choice of 2 visible and 1 invisible rock is indicative of the Trinity. Jesus was about to become incarnate within Our Lady and would be obscured, just as that third rock is obscured. Present, of course- and connected by Divine Light to the Father and Spirit- but hidden in the womb of Our Lady.
Our Lady's dress, itself, is replete with symbols. Her dress is "off-the-shoulder" to indicate her youthfulness. Her hair is tightly wrapped as it would be for any African woman as she went about her chores in the sweltering heat of Cameroon. The pattern of her dress is almost cosmic, as if the entire universe was present. Finally, an eye (specifically, the African "eye of Horus") can be seen on her left leg, indicative of God's presence and protection.
I'd like to note that this does *NOT* mean the artist is trying to say that God is like Horus. The artist simply chose a well-known and easily identifiable symbol (like St. Patrick and the shamrock) and used it as a means to highlight a Biblical concept on their terms.
A circular seat is before Mary, as if she was awaiting someone. Ever the gracious hostess, Our Lady always has a seat open at her table. The circle, of course, is also a symbol of God (Who has no beginning, and no end).
Finally, a water pitcher is at the far right of the painting and another, much larger vessel, is behind her. Given water's scarcity in the region during the dry season (which is indicated by the barren mountains and dry straw on the ground), I imagine the artist is highlighting Mary's access to the life-giving waters of Christ.
Her demeanor is one of surprise. I feel as though the artist chose to depict the moment of Gabriel's bombshell: God has chosen YOU, Mary, to be the Mother of the Savior! Her hands are in movement, almost seeming startled, yet her face is wise and accepting, as if she knows the gravity of her mission and understands the ramifications of accepting that mission.
Notice that she is FULLY bathed in light. There are shadows cast from the roof, but those shadows do not touch her. No... Our Lady is bathed in light, because she is about to become the bearer of Light.
Next we move on to Gabriel...
Gabriel doesn't show up as a winged creature, or in a fiery cloud of divinity. Instead, he comes to Mary as a simple man dressed in a feathery, crisp white robe- conveying purity. At his feet is a broken coconut, a symbol of God's Divinity and Lifegiving powers being poured out.
He has his arms open and upturned, a gesture of peace and offering. Almost as if blooming from his shoulder, a gorgeous tree (I can't be sure, but I believe it's either a date palm or a coconut tree) indicates he brings with him hope. The chicken, just ahead of him, is a well-known symbol in African culture that encapsulates an adage that describes a perfect mother: The hen treads on her chicks, but she does not kill them. This chicken is wandering the area between a smooth, polished rock and a jagged stone. In other words, Our Lady is the ideal mother who can properly lead a child (in this case, the Holy Child) with equal parts nurturing and direction.
Finally, while we can see the town in the distance, Our Lady's hut is clearly set apart. She is connected to the town, but she is not part of the town. This once more highlights that Mary is set apart from the rest of humanity. As the Mother of God, she was granted special grace from conception to be Immaculate and free from original sin.
Oooo, and can I point out the tiny little tree in the middle of the piece? It's as if it's leaning in towards Mary, breathlessly awaiting her "Fiat." All of creation awaits that "Fiat" with the same bated breath, knowing that the salvation of the universe hinges on her consent.
I don't think I will ever tire of meditating on the mystery of the Annunciation/Incarnation. The enormity of those events always mystify, overwhelm, and humble me. It's no mistake that I named this blog after Our Lady's "Fiat." It was the "yes" that set in motion Salvation.
That all said, while we all know that Our Lady (and Jesus, and Joseph, and the apostles, and the early Christians, etc, etc, etc) were Jewish, there is absolutely NOTHING wrong with depictions of the Blessed Mother as a black woman (or a Vietnamese woman, or an Aztec woman, or an Irish woman, etc). The Blessed Mother is mother to us all, and she leaves that seat open for us to sit beside her always.
I came across a piece of sacred art that I'd never seen before today! This is the Annunciation as depicted by a contemporary Benedictine nun named D. Werburg Welch. I found it while scrolling through Twitter and immediately stopped in my tracks. It's not often I get to see an Annunciation image that includes an homage to the Incarnation (which happened the same day, everyone!).
I *love* images of the Annunciation that depict Angel Gabriel worshipping the Hidden Incarnate Christ within the womb of Our Lady. It captures the moment immediately after Our Lady's "Fiat," and highlights the Divine reality of the Eternal God entering time and space.
Swoon with me, everyone. Swoon with me.
Our Lady is in white, symbolizing her purity. Gabriel is in yellow, denoting the fertility and Divine Light which he bears. In his hand, he holds a flowering lily, but note that only the bottom two (for the Father and Holy Spirit) are fully bloomed. Jesus' flower, at the top, is only just budding, symbolizing His hidden Divinity now ensconced within Our Lady's womb.
Behind Our Lady is a red curtain which hints at the veil hanging in the Temple - the same veil that would eventually rip after the Death of Christ on the Cross. The Temple veil was the physical barrier between Heaven & Earth, and in the image, is pulled back to one side to denote that there is no longer a barrier between Heaven and Earth now that the Divine, Himself, took refuge here.
It is clearly night outside, with all the Earth swallowed in darkness and desolation. But Gabriel brings light, & through Our Lady, the Light of Christ emanates, shining out into the World.
Even the square framing of Our Lady's home is important. Her foot stands visible inside the home, but a tiny cutout enables her other foot to traverse the outside realm- Heaven. She connects both with her Fiat. She bows not as Queen of the Angels, but in a gesture of humility and acceptance of God's Divine Plan for salvation.
Mary, now the Blessed Mother, is kneeling with her head bowed. Gabriel is almost groveling in worship not of Mary, but of the Eternal Now incarnate within her. His orange wings, a mark of God's Divine fire, also straddle the two domains. God's Divinity is seen as both protective (the wing behind her) and guiding (the other almost moving her forward toward what is to come).
Thus, Our Lady's humanity and God's Divinity are brought together here, hidden in the Person of Christ who is, Himself, hidden within the womb of Our Lady. We only know that He is there by the visible response of Our Lady and Angel Gabriel.
Gabriel's right hand is raised, almost as if to say "I am unworthy, come no closer." Only the light of his halo touches the robe of Our Lady. In other words, only God (from which all Light comes) is worthy to approach the living Tabernacle of His Son.
Gah... I just love everything about this.
Happy Annunciation Day, everyone!
This picture holds all sorts of warm fuzzies for me.
It was taken back in 2018 at the tail end of a birthday party for my friends' daughter. At the time, no one present had any idea I'd just been through the wringer. Meg, the birthday girl's mom, had sensed something was amiss, but it wasn't until more than a month later that I divulged details that put the pieces into place.
Anyway, I was feeling all sorts of ways the morning of this party. I had to physically drag myself out of bed and get dressed. I wanted so much to celebrate this birthday, because her little life is such a blessing and I love her to bits, but I was struggling so hard against a tsunami of emotions that I wasn't sure how I could manage it all. I didn't want to be a Debbie Downer at the party, but I also didn't know that I had the capacity to plaster a smile on my face and pretend I wasn't eviscerated.
I mustered up the strength to get in the car and head to their house. I sat in my parked car for a while, building myself up to walk inside. In that time, I got an e-mail from Chris. We were in the middle of a knock-out war (not with each other, but with ourselves) and basically just trying to find our way through the dark. Several e-mails had been passed back and forth, and I felt as though our relationship was about to tank directly into hell. So when I saw an e-mail from him come through, I felt my heart drop.
Luckily, when I read it, it was the opposite of what I was expecting (I swear... that man never ceases to surprise me). While I was still a kaleidoscope of confusion, I finally found him in the dark, and even if we were still in the dark, at least we were together. Together, we'd figure a way out.
So after reading that, I was able to head into the party with a sense of comfort I hadn't had. That made everything so much easier. However, I was still emotionally precarious, and all I really wanted was to hug and be hugged. As Chris once noted, hugs really are my "soothing protocol." LoL.
Anyway, my friends all know I'm a hugger. But at a kid's bday party, it'd be weird, even for me, to just go hugging everyone. So I sat on a chair in the living room. Almost immediately, God sent Frank's mom, Deb, to squeeze next to me on the couch. Nick (Frank's nephew) had climbed up to check out my phone, and she wanted to get in on the love. I happily acquiesced (because I love Deb to pieces), and basically felt like I was getting hugged by her and Tyler. Then one of the other children noticed that there was a phone being played with, and she, also, wanted to see. I was beginning to feel like the Pied Piper. Ha ha ha!
Meg, Frank's wife, noted later that I was so stinkin' happy because I was basically in my natural habitat. I was surrounded by kids who were the cuddliest of cuddlers. It was AWESOME and exactly what I needed. And it was so nice to see her and her family. I've known them all since I was in HS (Meg came later, but she's stuck with me now - lol) and there is just no explaining how much I love them all.
So that's how God ensured I got hugs when I needed them without outing me for seeming like a giant creeper. Ha ha. This is what I mean by trusting God to take care of things. When He knows you need something, He's got a plan in place to ensure you get it. I needed hugs, so he sent the cavalry in the form of Frank's mom and some kids.
After this photo was taken, I sent it to Chris. I was so proud because for the first time in what seemed like forever, I was genuinely smiling. As usual, I've got the best friends in the world and the Best Dad Ever to thank for that.
God is good, guys. In all things, God is good.
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