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After Mary Engelbreit by Laura Lee Donoho

“So they hurried away and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. When they saw the child they repeated what they had been told about him, and everyone who heard it was astonished at what the shepherds had to say. As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart.”

(Luke 2:1-20)

Being raised Baptist we were taught that Mary the Mother of Jesus was highly favored by God and humbly accepted an amazing story by an angel who visited her.

‘I am the handmaid of the Lord,’ said Mary. ‘Let what you have said be done to me.’

Mary was present at Jesus’ first miracle at a wedding feast in Cana of Galilee when He turned water into wine. “Do whatever he tells you,” she said to the stewards at the banquet.

I was fascinated by the person who pondered in her heart all the miraculous events that happened to her. One day my parents, knowing my love for art, presented me with an oil paint set with a paint-by-number picture of a sailing ship. I examined it and found nothing creative I could do with it. It seemed constricting and anti-creative.

I turned the canvas over and created a painting of Mary and Joseph on their way to Bethlehem in shades of blue with some brown. Paint by number was never the medium for me and I expressed my interest in the mystery of the nativity by painting my understanding of the event.

Visiting art museums when I got older gave me an opportunity to study the majestic Renaissance Madonnas close up. I collected postcards of the Madonnas and compared them in order to discover which one of them captured the essence of Mary. Many of the renderings were caught in the culture in which the artists lived but, still, were the artists’ own conceptions of Mary and her baby, Jesus.

My perception of Mary changed after I had children of my own. The prophesy that a sword would pierce her heart must have been a shadow at the back of Mary’s mind as she watched her child grow up.

Watching my children play when they were little would often bring that “sword” of fear as I imagined what their futures would bring. I worried about how I could protect them when I was not with them.

When Jesus began His ministry the prophesy must have wrenched Mary’s heart with fear and yet, she said at His first miracle, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Then miracle after miracle occurred, the people were with Jesus, praising Him, but just days later were against Him, calling for his crucifixion. He was betrayed by one of His own disciples. How that must have broken Mary’s heart. Mary was present at the foot of the cross, watching her son hang upon it. But on the cross Jesus commended His mother to the disciple “whom he loved.” Mary’s ponderings entered into scripture and she became the blessed Mother of all ages.

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant,
from now on will all ages call me blessed.” (Lk. 1:16-18)

At some point every artist will confront the mystery of the nativity and their creation will reveal what is in their own heart.