Puffy-Eyed Perfection and the Nativity

Somewhere tangled in the tinsel and light of several Christmas Pasts, I saw a small picture of Brian Kershisnik’s ‘Nativity’ online. The screen colours were tired, but the exuberance and hinted detail of the painting shone through regardless. One day, I promised myself, that is going to be a present to myself. Fast forward years to 2013 where I not only had the opportunity to visit the USA, but I had funds to splurge a little. The first thing I did after getting the emailed confirmation of my flight was to order a print – months in advance – and have it delivered to a friend’s home in Florida. The thought of the scene, carefully scrolled and waiting, warmed my winter as I counted down to soaring over the Pacific.

A few days after landing in Utah, Tay took me to the BYU campus for a look around. The first building we entered, I turned right and nearly fell to my knees. Spread across the entire wall, in heart thrumming, enormous, awe inspiring detail, was the original ‘Nativity’. Mary, Joseph and the bundled Jesus were a heartbeat away. I stood awed at the detail shown, the life inferred, and was flooded with a more rugged, fervent appreciation for that night. I was undone by Mary’ and Joseph’s hands touching – the giving and receiving of comfort, support, relief. The blood on the midwives hands, the puppy clustered dog in the corner, all of it understated, every day, exultant.

What has affected me longest is Mary’s puffy, exhausted eyes. A tiny, simple detail but one I identified with wholeheartedly. I’ve always wondered about Mary’s experience, especially around the birth of Christ, and those hooded, sagged eyelids reflect and amplify my empathy and respect for her. I know there are a thousand other details in the painting, but Mary’s eyes are what speak to me the most.

There are thousands of details about the time of Jesus’ birth, and everyone I know has their own favourite, special part. It’s in making the story our own, the flourishes and details in one part, the boring bit skipped over, that soak it deeper into our own stories, our own hearts, our own empathetic imaginings. It can be the simple details that bring the greatest joy, in paint, in a BYU building, or in our own lives this Christmas.

As this is scheduled to publish just after midnight on Tuesday morning USA time, I’ll be in the thick of Christmas Eve. There’ll be laughter and lights, my boys and banter, food and friends, craziness and crushed wrapping paper. But before bed, or on Christmas, my sons and I will be jumbled together watching this retelling of the Christmas story by kids in their own words, by their own actions. And at Christmas, especially, telling our stories of Jesus in our own words and ways is a tiny, simple spark ready to light up our lives and those around us.

What details do you love about the Christmas story? Has any art or media deepened your empathy and/or understanding for those at the Nativity? What simple beauty and perfection do you see this Christmas?

(The same kids have done another scene, about what might have happened before the first Christmas, too.)

(Here is a link to Brian Kershisnik answering kids’ questions about his ‘Nativity’, right in front of the painting. And I have to admit, I love that the first question was about the dog.)

About Kellie

(Blog Team) lives way on the other side of the planet in her native Australia and gives thanks for the internet regularly. She loves books, her boys, panna cotta, collecting words, being a redhead and not putting things in order of importance when listing items. She credits writing at selwynssanity.blogspot.com as a major contributing factor to surviving her life with sanity mostly intact, though her (in)sanity level is subject to change without warning.

12 thoughts on “Puffy-Eyed Perfection and the Nativity

  1. This year “Silent Night” has really affected me. I cannot even think through this song without tearing up, let alone sing it. I am in awe of Mary. What an amazing woman. I cannot imagine knowing that you were the mother of the Son of God. What a burden and a blessing.

    This year I have also paid more attention to the life Jesus Christ led. For me. He died for me. For each one of us. How do I acknowledge that sacrifice?

    If you are still in Utah go to the “Sacred Gifts” show at the BYUMOA now. It is absolutely incredible.

    My favorite part of Kershisnik’s Nativity is the angels, the multitude of angels. I never really thought about all the angels, but of course they would be there. Lovely.

  2. “Bless all the dear children in thy tender care” is hitting me especially hard this year. Thank you for a lovely post and for the gift of a duplicate print. I absolutely love it and you.

  3. I just got that print framed for my house too. Sadly, my husband is bothered by the stark reality of Mary breast feeding the baby Jesus causing him to hesitate about displaying the painting. Yet, it is that detail and so many other ones like it (Mary’s eyes and Joseph’s exhausted awe, etc) that make me connect with the piece so suddenly and profoundly.

    This year I chose to make my Christmas reading in John rather than the traditional account in The other gospels. So I’ve been mulling over the idea of Christ as “the Word.” The word of all words, an eneffable, unutterable word: so good, so great, so powerful, so kind, so merciful that all attempts at description come up short. Truly the Word is the root of all and the reason not just for our Christmas season but the source of all joy and hope and love.

    Happy Christmas to you down south, Kel.

  4. Andrea R–I bawled through that very line as we sang it this past Sunday in church. My sweet 7-year-old daughter is having some serious problems, and we are feeling we need to find a therapist for her. On top of it all, she isn’t sure Jesus is even real. I had my arm around her as we sang; it is my greatest prayer right now that Jesus will enfold her in His love.

  5. In the months leading up to this Christmas season, I’ve struggled to find peace and acceptance with my current life situation. Then, at the beginning of this month it struck me that Christ was born in a loud and messy stable, yet it was perfect and acceptable for him. I’ve pondered how Mary must of felt. She was surely alone and afraid with no family but Joseph, yet she also found peace and love in the chaos of the stable. Recognizing that a messy stable was acceptable and perfect for Christ’s birth has helped me find peace with my life this Christmastime.

    J. Kirk Richard’s painting, “In the Stable” has helped me create a better image of the night in my mind. Mary and Joseph had just entered the stable and Joseph was helping Mary get off of the donkey. That simple gesture of helping Mary down has helped me develop greater respect for Joseph who loved and cared for his wife. Here is a link to the painting: http://art.jkirkrichards.com/viewer/?item=InTheStable333765358

    Happy Christmas!

  6. I’m not familiar with Brian Kershisnik’s work, so thank you, Kel, for talking about it and pointing out some of the detail. I watched the entire video of his Q&A with the kids. I enjoyed both their their earnest questions and his respectful answers.

  7. I’m so glad I could take you to see it. It is a beautiful painting, wholly beautiful. We’ll see it again, and with no small children yanking us around the room, and soak it in fully. :)

  8. I saw this painting and imagined how many angels are ministering around each of us.

    I wrote a bit about the painting that has been on my mind this past week: Rose Datoc Dall’s Flight.

    Also, like Andrea R., that line from Away in a Manger is a big one for me. It’s written on my mirror and has been since last Christmas…when I realized in singing that song that *I* am one of the “dear children in [His] tender care.” When I see myself as God’s little girl, it helps me in so many ways to face my fears and to feel His love.

  9. Magpie – I wish I was still in Utah, I’m looking to see what I can see online. Mary’s motherhood, as you said, such “a burden and a blessing” – I ponder on it every Christmas.

    Andrea R – ALL the children, in such tender care, you and I included. Love to you and your kiddos.

    Sandra – art has such power, even within the same household to different ends. Thank you for “the Word” experience, I did it and was deeply touched. Thank you!

    Eljee – you and your daughter are both in my prayers, for what you prayed.

    Anne – Richard’s painting is wonderful! Thank you for the thoughts on mess and the Lord’s work still rolling forward.

    Karen – the Q&A was fabulous, right? It wouldn’t be Christmas without kids.

    Tay – from your mouth to God’s ear!

    Michelle – your post was wonderful, thank you for sharing. I also like the idea of writing on a mirror for the year (I’ll be using that one, thank you!)

    Sage – thank you for the heads up!

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