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.)