Another lovely guest post from Leslie at Heaven’s Overlook.
Here at the Segullah Blog, quite a bit of reciprocity emerges on a daily basis. It goes like this. You have a good quote, poem, or idea and you share it with someone and they love it so they share it with a neighbor or a sister. Or, you use the quote from a Segullah post for a Sunday Relief Society lesson, or go to the library and check out the recommended book that someone made in the comments. Then, next week a different person shares and another person relishes and benefits from the sharing. In one click we offer a gift of sorts. Will this post speak to anyone? Do the words generate ideas or enlighten? What words do they need today? All of these thoughts and worries calm when reciprocity enters. A little give-and-take is the golden thread that keeps everything moving in a forum like this. Reciprocity. Happy Wednesday Segullah friends!
Do you ever have those weeks when you go through the motions of believing? You do everything you are “supposed” to do, but the week passes without any real spiritual feelings to it. But, do you have those weeks when you feel like everything is heightened because you’ve added faith to the motions and you realize the reasons why you continue to believe week after week? Lucky for all of us that the week Jesus Christ was born Mary and Joseph’s faith was right on. Truly, when you look at these two human beings and ask—How did they make it through that harrowing experience? What makes a holy family? We could go on all day.
Perhaps you have stood in front of Brian Kershisnik’s “The Nativity” which stretches across a 17 by 7 foot canvas, ceiling to floor. (Kershisnik is a favorite Utah artist who lives and paints in rural Kanosh. The BYU Museum of Fine Arts housed the painting for several years.)
With wall-to-wall angels in textured white fabric, it reminds me of Milosz’s words, “I never believed in the presence of angels, but my dreams have changed.” And poet Jacqueline Osherow also speaks of angels with the words, “Winged and white and haloed/ and in many paintings very beautiful/All you know is how impossible it is/without them.” Notice the myriad of white fabrics that Kershisnik uses to dress his angels. It reminds me of going to the temple and noticing the white fabrics, layer upon layer.
Which angels are you noticing?
I remember standing in front of the actual painting several years ago and not being able to breathe. My greed took over, as I was too anxious to notice everything before I walked away and drove home to my everyday life. I dissected it aesthetically piece by piece, angel by angel, but with the absence of breathing spiritually, I missed the meaning behind the art.
Last weekend I was reacquainted with the painting as I sat shoulder to shoulder with my sister-in-law. We experienced the angels together just before Thanksgiving dinner where the painting hangs in her dining-room. It is much smaller in proportion, but hangs with just as much reverence. We whispered back and forth below the angels, Mary, and Joseph as if they were present. We wept in wonder and awe.
“‘Nativity’ is the most worshipful paintings I’ve ever sat in front of,” Kershisnik says. “You’re observing Mary and Joseph, and you’re immediately led to the angels, who all seem familiar to you, and it doesn’t take long before you’re one of them—-worshipping right along with the figures in the painting.”
My sister-in-law noticed that not all of the windswept angels are rejoicing, and some even look a bit concerned. Her conclusions are that perhaps they are filled with worry because Jesus Christ has left their presence, now born into His earthly mission. “Those angels are us,” my sister-in-law said in hushed tones. We could have been one of those angels hovering above the dark triangular birth scene that belonged to Mary, Joseph, and the baby we call our Savior and Redeemer. Don’t you think it is mesmerizing how Kershisnik uses the contrast between the angels and the holy family? Painted in human earth-tones, Mary and Joseph have fulfilled their potential to become a Holy Family, just as each of us does in our own families. Again, that question-What makes a Holy family?
And what about the women with blood on their hands? I’ll leave that one to all of you.
One of my favorite images is the angel who has his hand on the back of Joseph’s head. In keeping with Orthodox Judaism, Kershisnik paints Joseph kneeling behind Mary. That angel must have known that this new father needed a little comforting, as do most fathers after they have watched a woman give birth to a child. Small passages between heaven and earth are scattered throughout the painting. Which ones are you noticing?
What else are your eyes drawn to?
Here is one last charmer quote for your fridges or exchanges with loved ones that goes hand in hand with Kershisnik’s piece of art.
“A strange reversal happens at Christmas time when we who have worshipped and centered our whole lives in a glorious person-adult suddenly find ourselves standing, as it were, as adults looking at an infant.” –Truman Madsen