This painting is by the 17th-century, Italian artist Guido Reni. Although I have been a pretty serious Italian art nut since my early teens, I had never heard of Reni before I moved to Raleigh. The North Carolina Museum of Art has a remarkable collection for a city of this size---including a sizable collection of Renaissance religious art. I was completely blown away the first time I saw this work.
If you have ever nursed a child (or watched someone who was comfortable nursing in front of you), you will recognize the beauty and naturalness of Reni's depiction. I swam against the cultural tide by nursing both of my children until they were well past the age of two. Until I saw this painting, I had never seen an artist accurately portray the intimacy and tenderness of a mother and a nursing infant. So even though I usually rebel against Anglo Marys and Blond Jesuses, I fell instantly in love with this one.
A copy of it sits on my personal altar. It has often been the focus of my personal devotions because it connects me to Jesus in a way that brings comfort and joy--a reminder of a deeply meaningful time in my life. A time before life got so complicated and painful...a time when I could "do good" as naturally as breathing.
And that brings me to my favorite Christmas song...
God rest ye merry, gentlemen, let nothing you dismay,Both the painting and the song speak to me of the deep joy and contentment that faith and love can bring...if only we would let them.
Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day;
To save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray.
O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy;
O tidings of comfort and joy.
Look at the peace on the face of the Madonna and Child in that painting. They are bathed in the love of God and each other.
That is what I want my faith to be like. I want to love God in the uncomplicated way that a nursing baby loves her mother. I want to feel God's presence enfolding me in the same way as I once held my sleeping infants.
Unfortunately, I seem to allow too many things to get in the way of that kind of faith. Lately, the Church has been a big stumbling block for me---and the blogosphere hasn't helped that. As I mentioned, I have found outrage to be more addictive than caffeine (if less salutary to my work...).
But, here in the darkest part of winter, there are things happening in my life that are bringing comfort and joy. God is making Herself known in ways big and small. My faith may be tenuous at times---but I have discovered that it is also tenacious.
I am like Jacob...wrestling with the angel and refusing to let go until I receive God's blessing.
After a long, dark Advent, Christmas has come at last. No matter what happens in the Church or in the world, God is present---and the "good tidings of great joy" are ringing out to those who have ears to hear them.
May God grant me the grace to listen.