The massive white marble statue of Mary, with the lifeless body of Christ draped over her lap, came immediately to mind in response to Susan Forshey’s Advent chart invitation to
“Spend time with a favorite piece of art”.
Michelangelo Buonarotti’s famous sculpture, Pieta, (pee-ay-tah) intrigued me the moment I stumbled on it in my college years. As a student of African-American Literature, I had found it useful as a metaphor for the burden of motherhood and the pain of fatherlessness. My reflections then, had inspired a triad of poems titled ‘Pieta in Black’ which captures these themes.*
Revisiting Pieta this Advent, however, has me appreciating the promise ‘of the Father’ coming ‘through the Son’, ‘by the Spirit’ – Trinity. In considering the Incarnation, my focus had always only been on the second person of the Godhead, Jesus. But it was the Father whose power overshadowed the Virgin Mary, and it was the Holy Spirit who came upon her in order for Jesus, our Hero, to arrive. Lk 1:35
So rightly, Advent should also be a time to celebrate the Father’s initiative in our redemption story. He authored the whole thing, bringing and delivering His greatest Gift to us through the Virgin’s womb – let’s make room in the Nativity for the Father!
The ‘coming of father’, in any language, can evoke diametrically opposed emotions : dread, guilt and fear, on one hand, and joy, exultation and expectation of blessings – gifts! – on the other. Many a child has been brought up short, from inappropriate behavior, by the threat “When your father comes …”. Yet I find myself wondering if the longing for Father-presence ( no disrespect to Joseph) in the Christmas story, is not what birthed and feeds the spirit of Santa – a longing to please father and be rewarded for it, motivated to be nice by the threat of the twice-checked list – a striving to earn grace.
Several years ago, FourSquare pastor and founder of The King’s College & Seminary, in Los Angeles, Jack Hayford, cautioned church leaders in a Christmas message, to not be exceedingly disparaging of the idea of Santa, as it speaks to the longing for pleasant associations with fatherhood at a time of year when fatherlessness can be most painful – a longing that just might lead many a wounded ‘child’ home. My meditations this season compel me to agree.
So palpable was the pain of fatherlessness, as I experienced it in the Literature of my college days, I was tempted to put it aside – to reject its pain for more romantic (idyllic) and beautifully themed material, but somehow the martyr in me won. I felt an odd responsibility, having seen the wound, to do something about it, even if only to make others aware. My conscience, shaped no doubt by memories of the persona in Christina Rossetti’s children’s poem ‘The Snare’, dictates that if I can hear that ‘there is a rabbit in a snare’ then I must ‘search everywhere’ or else communicate the dreadful fact to as many as I can, who may be able to help search and rescue. In Pieta, Mary, by her fixed gaze, bids everyone make eye contact with the pain born of sinfulness, if we would also behold the Innocent One sacrificed for us.
Her slightly upturned left hand was also a new focus for me this season of Advent meditation: was she intended to be gesturing accusingly to the world whose sins had slain him? Or was she offering Him, surrendering Him a substitute for our propitiation?- fulfillment of that same gesture when, as her younger self, freshly delivered of her Holy Burden, she had offered him to shepherds and Kings alike. Only, then, it was for their adoration of Him in His infancy. Or maybe, just maybe, the gesture is intended as a re-presentation of Jesus back to the Omnipresent Father, who, having so prodigally given, waited in readiness, for the appointed time, to turn again, and raise Him back to life.
In this, Pieta is the picture of Ultimate Hope! Let every faithful mother-heart, surrendered, like Mary’s, wait expectantly this Advent for the coming of the Father who alone can raise up sons, however badly wounded, to life again. 🙏🏿