Someone rang my doorbell the other day. If there’s one thing I’ve noticed during these recessional times (besides my much lighter purse and bank account) it is the number of businesses and charities that are calling door-to-door. Anyhow, this time it happened to be a representative from a charity who asked me if I’d be interested in supporting the charity by signing up to a monthly direct debit. I explained that I sponsor a number of charities that are particularly relevant to me and my family and that I couldn’t really afford to sponsor any further charities at the moment. I told her I was happy to give them a one-off donation and that I certainly would not pass them on the street if they were collecting outside a store or a Church. It was the next part of the conversation that has stayed with me and prompted me to write this post. The woman said “I believe you because you’re very religious. Thanks for your time and thanks for listening.” I asked “how do you know that I’m religious?” “Because of the cross that you’re wearing, the picture behind you, and the cross on the wall” she replied. Our conversation continued for a little while longer and then she moved on to ring my neighbour’s doorbell. I closed the door and smiled at how observant she had been when I first opened it to her.
This encounter got me thinking about how much religious imagery was, in fact, in my home. It also got me thinking about how trusting some people are when they see religious symbols but that’s for a different post. I walked through my home and, to my astonishment, discovered over forty religious symbols, icons, and images. To be fair, some of these were very small such as miraculous medals that my grandmother had given me when I was younger or a set of rosary beads that my late father brought back from Lourdes for me. I have bibles, crosses, door icons, candles, a holy water font, a mezuzah and many other pieces that I will most probably write about at a later date but the piece I want to share for now is the picture behind me on the wall that caught my caller’s attention.
The picture is a tapestry of the Mother and Child that I bought a number of years ago when I was in Rome. I bought it in the shop on the roof of St Peter’s Basilica along with some other things to bring back home to family members and friends. I loved this picture the moment I saw it. I am not quite certain how I should say this but I am not the type of Catholic who has a devotion to Our Lady in the same way as those who travel to her shrines around the world. My devotion to Mary is a devotion to “Mary as Mother” and this is one of the few images I have discovered which has not divinised her to the point that I can no longer find any tangible connection to her as a mother myself. The babe in her arms looks so comfortable and content in his sleep. Security, restfulness and tranquillity are all present in the figure of the sleeping child. He reminds me of my own son who would fall asleep in my arms, cushioning himself on my breasts. I would watch him sleep soundly there. I would watch his tiny head rising and falling with each breath that I was taking and I would wonder if it was the sound of my heart beat that had rhythmically sent him off to his sleep.
The child in this picture sleeps safely but the child in this picture would later be gruesomely bludgeoned, whipped, and beaten then stripped naked, mocked and paraded through the streets carrying a one hundred pound weight patibulum. Nearing death, the child in this picture was then nailed to the cross with the aim of making his death as long and as agonising as possible. The nails would have been driven through his bones so they would not rip through the flesh of his hands and free him from the cross. They would have been carefully placed, avoiding all his major blood vessels so he could not bleed to death and avoiding nerves so he would feel every single agonising moment of his crucifixion. The child in this picture would have found it more and more exhausting to support his own body weight. He would have struggled to breathe with the crushing pains in his chest and his heart would have increasingly begun to fail him as death slowly approached him.
The mother in this picture is a young Jewish brunette. She is nothing like the statues and images that are more familiar to us as Our Lady. I love the rusty brown and straw-like headscarf she is wearing and the richness of the Persian blue shawl. The Virgin Mary is more often represented in clothing of sky-blue and pure white. There is a far-away look in this young woman’s face. Each day, when I pass her in my hall, I am reminded of the passage in the Gospel of Luke when the heavenly host of angels announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds: “So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart (Luke 2: 16-19).” Is it pondering that I see in this young woman’s face? Perhaps I am merely projecting onto her the thoughts and fears that I had as a young mother. I cannot count the times I panicked and wondered how on earth I was going to raise my child in a world that’s far from perfect. Is Mary holding her child safely and wondering how she’s going to raise her child in a world that’s far from perfect too? I think so. I think this picture shows a mother who is concerned for her son’s future. I think it shows a woman who pondered and accepted the Word and Will of God but now ponders what this might mean for her son, her own flesh and blood. I’m not saying that Mary could have known what suffering awaited her son in Jerusalem but she did know that the child she accepted in her womb was to be named “Emmanuel” and that he would be “the Son of the Most High.” I see a worried mother when I look at this picture each day. I see an anxious and apprehensive look in her face and I see the same anxious and apprehensive looks on the faces of mothers everywhere. I see a mother who will, one day, cradle the lifeless body of her son and envelop him safely in her arms once more.