“Seething and Soothing — The Madonna Between Hope and Havoc”
Marianist Gallery, University of Dayton
“Mary ‘intercedes’ for mankind.... (She) places herself between her Son and mankind in the reality of their wants, needs and sufferings. She puts herself ‘in the middle,’ that is to say she acts as a mediatrix not as an outsider, but in her position as mother.” --Pope John Paul II
It was precisely Mary’s position between the human and the divine that I turned to in 2005 when the Associated Press reported that eleven foster children in Wakeman, Ohio, were forced to sleep in cages at night. They had no blankets or pillows. The cages were rigged with alarms and some had heavy furniture propped against them. All the children had various levels of handicap, from autism to fetal alcohol syndrome. They were the epitome of helpless and a perfect example of the human need for nurture and love. And nothing about that story made me want to look the other way. Those children — like all God’s children — needed and deserved love and care. If anyone could have used an intercessor, it was those eleven children.
As a visual artist and human-rights advocate, I felt compelled to call attention to this appalling local story and to use my artwork to bring the subject to a wide audience. If nothing else, I sought to make a plea for the souls of these innocent children, victims of circumstance. As I grappled with how to visually represent this horrific story, it occurred to me: What better image to describe what was lacking here — nurture and compassion and the need for, if you believe in it, prayer — than the immediately recognizable global icon of the Mother and Child? So began my journey — and fascination — with the image of Mary.
Who better than a mother to understand compassion and the trials of keeping a child safe through turmoil and uncertainty? What better image than the beneficent face that so many have looked to for love, peace, and intercession at the most profound and difficult moments of their lives. She is the image so many mothers have looked to for calm and grace, while knowing that they, like all mortal mothers, would fall short simply because of their humanity, because of anger or fatigue or battles with their own internal demons. Mary herself wrestled with her own demon: the knowledge that her son would face a violent death. She felt the pain of walking beside the cross, yet refused to leave her son in His suffering and desperation — a symbol to all about compassion and love, even in the times when it’s hard, when you want to turn your face away from the pain.
Mary is always there, always calm, always present. She gives us hope — for a good night’s sleep, for another day, for a time of respite and calm when things seem impossible. Regardless of the language you speak, the image of the Virgin elicits an immediate response of comfort. She is the archetype of a mother’s gentle care and nurturing, yet she is more: she is a sort of mortal ambassador, interposing on your behalf in God’s court. Mary’s image has been strengthened by the many who have represented her and who have looked to her in times of turmoil; each person’s pain and love adding layer upon layer of richness, dimensions of love and comfort to that image.
Mary’s strength and compassion took on a very personal significance when I faced a health crisis in January 2010. The image reminded me that grace and God’s presence is always in our midst, despite pain, despite fear, despite fatigue or battles with our inner demons, or the inherent demons of a less-than-perfect world. Painting her image has brought me comfort, and I hope it brings equal comfort to the viewer.
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