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Reciprocity: Angels Among Us

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?

Enter Reciprocity.

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

22 thoughts on “Reciprocity: Angels Among Us”

  1. I love this painting. It is hanging in the BYU MOA again for the Christmas season. It is a stunner to see in person. The docents at the Museum can tell you alot about the painting and the meanings portrayed.

    I love the angels, all crowding in to see the baby. I expecially love the baby angels.

  2. I've never seen this painting before. I'd love to see it in the original size so the textures of fabric you describe are visible. I love the motion of it–how you can almost feel the breeze as the angels gather around the Holy Family.

    This reminds me of the scripture where Elisha says, "Fear not, for they that be with us are more than they that be with them." I love the idea of being surrounded by angels, and this is a beautiful rendition of that concept.

  3. If for anything else, I am so happy to share one of my favorite artists with you. Although the comments are quiet today, it thrills me to know that some of you have never seen this painting, and now you know it. It is small in this post and not as grand as standing in front of it, but hopefully it gives you a little Christmas spirit in the middle of a commercialized season. It is a great painting to talk about for Family Home Evening–even our little ones have their favorite angels.

    Yes, there is an abundance of information which a docent can offer you at the museum, but even more valuable to me are the personal interpretations. Wendy, thank you for the update that it is still hanging at BYU. A must-do road-trip. I love docents, but it feels good to trust my own interpretations and observations. I was just happy to get a comment or two.

    I love that you shared the Elisha quote, Melissa. Thank you. It adds even more meaning to the painting. When you talk about the breeze I can almost hear the rustling of angels. Isn't it amazing how Kershisnik creates this windswept feeling in the most peaceful moment our world has ever known?

  4. Ooh, I adore that painting. I'm so glad to know it's hanging again at BYU. My children loved it last time we visited.

    I love your thoughts and your writing Leslie. Reciprocity is one of the great hallmarks of female relationships.

  5. A beautiful message! I consider the promise and comfort of knowing that angels are "round about" us, to "bear us up". How this painting brings that to mind. In this season, I am heart-glad to have a reminder of our one great Anchor in a crazy world. Thank you, Leslie.

  6. I ADORE this painting. Kershisnik painted it while teaching a semester at BYU (I was studying art there at the time)–he hung up a canvas as large as his studio space would allow, and went to work. The frame was completed the day it went up for exhibit, and the paint was more or less still wet.

    The elderly guides at the MOA loved to watch peoples' reactions to the painting. One of them mused to me as to whether one of the angels on the right side of the canvas is a self-portrait of the painter. It could have been, I wasn't sure. Someone needs to ask him 🙂

    I'm glad to hear that someone has it hanging in their home–when it was first on exhibit, there were no reproductions available.

  7. Leslie, sitting with you on that rainy Thanksgiving afternoon here in Las Vegas is something that I will always cherish. Who cared that the turkey was almost done or that the potatoes still needed to be peeled–those moments we shared as we scanned and talked about this incredible picture will live with me forever. I moved the picture from the dining room into the family room. I needed it closer to me–I needed to see it more. These are also the feelings that I have been feeling about you. I need to be closer to you, I need to see you more. I think that the readers of this site have seen a glimpse of who you are from your writing, but how blessed I am to know the greatness of my sister (in-law) and friend. love you!

  8. This is a beautiful painting. I am a firm believer that Angels (especially of the human variety) are all around us… I even have a whole blog dedicated to just this (realangelsreallife.blogspot.com)

    If we just open our eyes, we will see the Angels among us.

  9. I am another who never knew about this painting although I am very familiar with the artist (shows how long I've been away from Utah). Wish I could be there to see it. Thank you for the post, it shows the greatness of art to enrich, inspire and continue to give long after the piece is completed.

    How I yearn to feel closer to or just be more aware of the angels among us.

  10. Thanks for the information and update, Tom. Here is the link if anyone wants the UMFA (Utah Museum of Fine Arts) info.


    Or you can just Google search UMFA

    Le Ann, thanks for the question about the women in the painting. Kershisnik's paintings depict women in the most gentle of forms. Isn't it fascinating how the painting feels so circular and feminine? I loved that this is how he imagined the scene of the holy birth.
    Either way, angels were present then and they are present today.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment everyone. I love the spiritual slices of your thoughts in the mix of my days.

  11. sorry to be a few days late on commenting, but i wanted to say thanks for this post. i love this painting so much. it touches me more than other depictions of the nativity…maybe because the focus isn't on exactly how they looked or where they were. instead it makes me think about what the birth meant to all of us and how involved me must have been in the event and how excited we must have been for what his life would give to us.

    (as for the docents, who i'm sure are wonderful, my grandma overheard one giving a tour to high school students and talking all about how the baby wasn't getting milk…he was getting colostrum, which is very important. but the puppies…they were getting milk. yikes….do high schoolers even know what colostrum is???)

  12. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I have never seen this in person, would love to. I am drawn to the baby that is looking straight at the viewer of this painting, I see my little girl in her. She seems to say, "Are you seeing this? Do you understand what has happened? Do you remember? She draws me in. Am I noticing this? Am I aware of this miracle and blessing of a Savior everyday? Questions I am now pondering as my list of "necessary" items on my list before Christmas grows. I appreciate this opportunity to learn, think, ponder and grow.

  13. I also hadn't seen this painting and am a big fan. My sisterwas an art student at BYU when he was also an undergraduate. He was always nice to me. He is also good friends with my sil's sister. One of his paintings is of her husband holding/swinging their son who died (it makes me cry just thinking about it). He is such a powerful painter. Can't wait to get a better look at this painting.


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