Thursday, 5 March 2015

Lent day 14

A copy of this sketch by Pablo Picasso has accompanied us throughout our married life, usually hung on the wall above the bed. It's not an icon portraying Mary with the infant Jesus, although the mood evoked in this sketch is one of tenderness. The 'Panagia Eleousia' icon - known in the West as the Virgin of Tenderness - depicts quiet and profound intimacy, with mother and child cheek to cheek. 

There is another iconic form, however, the 'Pelagonitissa', known as 'The Virgin with Playing Child', in which Jesus reaches for his mother. The movement is more stylised. The gentle playful movement of the child reaching out to touch its mother's face in this sketch, is far more natural and human.
Icons have spoken to me about the mysteries of Christian faith and the communication of biblical stories since discovering them in student days. Yet, Picasso's essential drawing speaks profoundly of spiritual things in a natural way. It reminds me of a verse from the Psalm so strongly associated with Christ's Cross and Passion, which begins "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" After eight verses of pained lament comes an almost unexpected reaching out towards the Almighty.

Yet You are He who brought me forth from the womb; You made me trust when upon my mother's breasts. (Psalm 22:9)

Picasso practices, experiments with form in this sketch. The mother's body is rehearsed behind the main figure, three practice hands are drawn before the mother's enfolding arms and hands are added, elegant, gentle. It is reminiscent of a phrase from the final blessing of Moses over the children of Israel, made familiar from its use as an introductory verse in the funeral service. The original Hebrew may be more obscure and ambiguous, but with the passage of time, this translation has commended itself more than the alternatives.

The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms. (Deut 33:27)

God's love is made known in our lives and relationships, regardless of age, gender, status. It conveys a sense of being sustained, upheld, cherished, secure, which Picasso's sketch captures, and it resonates with the Word expressed in scripture. 

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:1-2)

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