Life & Soul Life and Soul

Omnium Gatherum

A detail from The Nativity (c 1665), by Bartolomé Estebán Murillo

The image’s deceptive simplicity is of an order accomplished only by a master. Brown ink pen strokes. Brown wash. Traces of black lead. The economy is illusory, the effect alluring. Just so is Bartolomé Estebán Murillo’s drawing of the Nativity (c 1665) which I spotted in an otherwise disappointing corridor of frequently changed exhibits at New York’s Metropolitan Museum.

The composition isn’t groundbreaking. Baby Jesus lies in a small manger. On the right, at His head, Joseph kneels, leaning on a staff, bent to look into the Child’s face. He exudes protection. At Jesus’s little feet kneels Mary. Prayerful hands thrust forward, she leans in. She is the epitome of longing. Overhead, chubby putti unfurl a ribbon banner. Were it adorned, we would read, “Glory to God in the highest.” The Child lies back comfortably, rather in the manner of one who has just enjoyed a good meal, near left arm languid, head pillow-propped. You can just see the fingers of His far left hand resting by His belly-button. He gazes straight at His mother.

The image, so simple, so delicate, shouts, “I’m here at last. Love me!”

Love is here incarnate. Love is helpless. Love is wholly lovable.

As I looked at this drawing, I sensed a representation of a personal challenge. Perhaps I read it in that moment through the lens of a recent accident I had, the injuries I sustained which force me daily to rely on the kindness of others. In my independence, the self-sufficiency of routine, I don’t easily ask for help when it comes to personal needs, even when ailing. But now, I am constrained to be helpable. I must let people be good to me. In doing so, I am an opportunity for them to be good to someone.

The Incarnate Word, as we read in Gaudium et spes 22, took up our humanity to reveal us more fully to ourselves. In being so loveable, Jesus reveals that each of us are loveable. He asks us to allow ourselves to be loveable and freely to accept His love. As St Elizabeth of the Trinity wrote, “Let yourself be loved.”

Christmas presents us with the God who emptied Himself of glory and became loveableness incarnate. Allow God to love you. Adore and glorify Him in your ways. Love others in words and deeds, especially the love starved. Allow others to love you.

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