Over the years I have seen works of art that have touched me to my core. They have taught me about God and His grace, the plight of humanity, the unending search of the soul for meaning in this world. It is my wish to take you on a journey into your heart, to give you pause to look deeply into your soul to find the answers you may not have ever thought you’d find, to be confronted with such beauty and pain that serve as a reflection of your own life journey. You will see how great geniuses throughout history are simply human beings like you and me.
It is meant for anyone of any faith, as well as those who don’t subscribe to a supreme being.
This is where my journey began…June, 1970
Have you ever been stopped midstride by a work of art and felt its transformative power made your knees buckle? Have you lost yourself in the intricate nuances of a work of art that has brought you to your knees? Do you know that feeling when a work touches you at your very core?
I do. Art captured my heart when I was a teenager. I was sixteen years old in 1970 when eight of us teenage girls, including my dearest friend Susie, went on a journey of a lifetime. We embarked on a tour of eight countries in Europe, beginning with a voyage on the SS France cruise ship. Little did I know how this momentous six-week expedition would impact my life for decades to come.
We were in Rome, surrounded by centuries of masterpieces. Standing outside of Saint Peter’s Basilica, marveling at its enormity and knowing that people had gathered and worshiped there for centuries, was more than a sixteen-year-old could comprehend. Upon entering I headed right towards a chapel, and was welcomed by a most beautiful vision that brought me to tears: Michelangelo’s “Pieta”. Knees buckling, my body filled with undefinable joy and pain.
I had no idea I was looking at a work of art created by a young Michelangelo, one of the greatest masters in Western art history. But that didn’t matter. All that mattered was the immediate, profound impact the “Pieta” had on my soul. Christ lies lifeless, surrendered and peaceful, across His young mother’s lap. Mary, young and beautiful, holds her son. At that moment I knew my Lord’s undying love for me. The “Pieta” conveyed in a fraction of a second what years of Sunday school lessons had tried. Michelangelo, merely twenty-three years old in the year 1498, had brought to life from one solid piece of marble a work that has lasted for centuries and has touched the lives of millions by its pure pathos, its pure beauty.
The body of Christ lies lifeless in the lap of His mother, Mary, immediately following His crucifixion. Michelangelo created the “Pieta” approximately 1,500 years after the event took place. As a young Christian, I felt deeply moved seeing before me what it really meant for Christ to give up His life for my sins. While this ultimate sacrifice as an expression of love touched me deeply, I was moved also by the thought that not only was Mary the Mother of God, but a young mom who had just lost her child. As a mom and a “nana,” the thought of losing my child or grandchild is unfathomable. I am certain there are those of you reading this who know the pain of losing a child all too well. Mary’s pain is evident as she gazes downward at her lifeless son, and yet she embodies peace.
Michelangelo balances the Renaissance ideals of classical beauty with a naturalism accentuating the humanity of Mary and Christ. The piece is pyramidal in shape, the vertex at the head of Mary, the shape symbolic of the Trinity. This pyramid widens down Mary’s robes to the rock of Golgotha, symbol of Man’s original sin. The figures are out of proportion due to the challenges of depicting the fully-grown Jesus cradled by His mother on her lap. Mary is young and beautiful to reflect her purity, and larger than life, for she is Mother of God. The signs of Christ’s Crucifixion are limited to small nail marks and a wound to His side. His face reveals complete abandonment.
How often I ask myself why I cannot completely surrender to the Lord. Through the decades of my life I have had moments of surrender, giving me such freedom, such peace. Like Christ I lie completely surrendered on Mary’s lap. But it seems most moments I struggle with total abandonment. I guess this is the condition of my humanity.