We didn’t go to church this morning. I have the beginning of a cold, was tired from over-doing yesterday, and just wanted to sleep in. Excuses, I know. Some of you know exactly how I felt and some of you may be aghast to hear such a thing. Any way, we didn’t go to church this morning; and I am just wondering how I feel about that.
This is the first Sunday of Advent and it really does mean something to me. So I sat down to write…staring at the white screen…blank screen…fingers not moving…oh, just start typing….
This is where the Spirit led me.
Raphael’s Cherubs are so much a part of our popular culture that sometimes the significance that they should have is overlooked in the zeal to mass market their image.
The story goes that in 1513-1514 when Raphael was painting the Sistine Madonna that the model’s children would come and watch. The great Raphael was so struck by their innocence, patience, and anticipation that he added them to the paining exactly as he saw them.
Hmm…well, we’re not ones to get in the way of a good story, so we’ll let this one be true in spirit if not in fact. Since this is the first day of the Christmas Season of Advent, it is a great time to ponder along with these two pensive and patient cherubs on this time of preparation and hope and celebration: the Coming Christ Child and what that means to us.
I vividly remember when I came face-to-face with the painting that captures these two. We were with one of our group tours traveling from Berlin to Prague and just finished a walking tour of Dresden before going to the Art Museum, the “Old Masters Picture Gallery”. As I rounded a corner and walked down some stairs, I was struck with the the most beautiful Madonna and Child I have ever seen. Honestly, I stopped and stood motionlessly; and cried. Something about the way she looked out on us – on me, walking down to meet us, holding the baby Jesus in such a protective, yet presenting way, her youth face serious, comforting and beckoning…. I have seen many paintings of the Madonna all over the world, but this one is burned into my mind’s eye.
I was in complete awe, this was indeed an (dare I say the word that Richard so deplores unless used in an appropriate context) awesome moment standing in front of not just great Art, but to be so totally captured by the essence of the artist’s intention of brining one in closer relationship with God.
So mesmerized was I by the Madonna and Child, it was then that I looked down and saw them — Raphael’s Cherubs. Stunned, I could barely believe that they were here. What were they doing here?! How dare they show up here! In this “the most beautiful Madonna and Child painting I’ve ever seen.” These two little snippets of art lore; overly promoted, overly mechanized, overly done, overly out there…overly, overly, overly…. It almost made me mad to see them here ruining this beautiful Madonna and Child moment. How could this happen?
How can this happen? How can we get so overly overly ___________ (you fill in the blank) that we miss what is coming down right towards us. Even now as I spend time putting myself at the foot of this art moment, I wonder “Mary, what does this mean? Jesus, what does this mean?” I divert my eyes…and, again I cry.
I cry because there is beauty all around and I miss it. I cry because there is need, and I miss it. I cry because I could — should — ought to be so much more in the presence of God, if only…. (I hate it when I do that to myself, all those ‘coulds, shoulds, oughts and if onlys’ they are such a waste. Take a deep breathe, let it go — or do something about it.)
Today, the First Sunday of Advent.
Lord, please let me not get caught up in the ‘overly’ of this time of life, but allow me to be still and in awe at your feet. May I be ever closer to you so that others are also joyfully captured in moments of meaning and blessedness.
Sistine Madonna, also called La Madonna di San Sisto, is an oil painting by the Italian artist Raphael. Finished a few years before his death, ca. 1513–1514, as a commissioned altarpiece, it was the last of the painter’s Madonnas and the last painting he completed with his own hands. It is located in the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister in Dresden, Germany.