Let’s “come into the Word” today by doing a little visio divina — reflecting on a painting of the Word-made-flesh. It’s getting close to Christmas, and I don’t know about you, but my brain is too full to read another thing. There is something about a quiet gaze that speaks to my heart right now. I’d like to share a picture with you, which means you’ll have to read a little first: but I hope you’ll end up being touched as I have.
This week I’ve been mesmerized by Pasquale Sarullo’s painting of Jesus with his mother. You’ve probably seen it before. Many copies have been made, and some are as famous as the first. But have you ever really looked?
Mary has the baby Jesus on her lap. Her hands loosely cradle him but they’re not yet at rest. Her left hand seems to be caressing him, rubbing his little soft back while her right hand is coming to place beneath his arm. Is she about to lift him? Hug him? She’s pensive. Thinking. Her eyes look down beyond him but her head tilts in his direction. She may not have her eyes on him, but inside, the whole of her attention leans his way. As though she’s soaking in his presence, pondering the wonder of this God-child in her arms.
We have a saying in our family, when you’re holding an infant who is snuggling warm in your neck, drowsy or even asleep — pressed heavy to your chest while your arms are wrapped around and you feel like you’re at one with that child and filled with love — that you are “gathering nectar.” I think these two are close to that.
What really grabs my attention, though, is the Child. Especially his eyes. All else in the painting is soft. His eyes are bright. Every grace line in the painting ends up wrapped around or pointing to those dark, piercing lights and the expression on his face.
Jesus is all love and he’s all about his mom.
One arm is wrapped around her neck, the other resting on her chest. He’s either going into a hug or coming out of one, and maybe his little hand is patting her. He wants to get her attention. Just look at his eyes, trained on her face and willing her to look. He’s too young to talk but you can almost hear him speak, and Mary looks as though she’s trying to hear. What is he saying, without saying it?
Here’s what he says to me, as I look and ponder:
Put yourself in the picture, as though you’re Mary. Receive me in your arms. I’m coming to you, I want to born in you, in your particular life. Look at me. Gaze in my eyes. Feel my arms around your neck. See how I love you! Sometimes, it’s true, I’ll be walking before you, carrying my cross and you’ll be carrying yours and the way will be hard. But underneath it all: this is how it is. Me. You. Love. Concern. Comfort. Nectar.
May the Christ Child come to you in a new way this Christmas, filling you with the knowledge of his love.
© 2019 Sarah Christmyer
There’s a lovely version of this painted by Kitty Cleveland that she makes available as prints and on greeting cards and other things here in her etsy shop.