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The Canticle of Mary (Magnificat)

The Canticle of Mary (Magnificat)  Acrylic on Canvas, © Jen Norton

The Canticle of Mary (Magnificat) Acrylic on Canvas, 24 x 30″

I never really pondered the “Canticle of Mary” (aka the “Magnificat”) before I was contacted by author Jerry Windley-Daoust about licensing an image for his soon-to-be released illuminated guide to the Joyful Mysteries of the rosary. It’s a good story to recall during Advent…the story of Mary’s waiting and anticipation before the birth of her Son. It is a uniquely feminine call by a new mother to join in the salvation of the world. But I also reflect that in some ways it is the song of each of us to willingly accept our place in God’s plan…to say “yes” to a bigger life than we might have imagined.

To understand the significance of the Magnificat, I looked back to the Annunciation. I imagined Mary, a young teenaged girl going about her everyday village life, slated to marry a nice carpenter and become a typical Nazarean wife. Then the Angel Gabriel shows up and throws a first-century wrench into her plans. Things aren’t going to go as expected. I’m going to make an assumption here: I’m pretty sure when an Angel of God appears, you KNOW it’s an Angel. It’s not an intuition or merely a breeze. One big clue is that when Angels appear, they always start off by saying “Be not afraid!” I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been particularly frightened by an intuitive feeling.

So let’s assume the angel is clearly and Angel. When he says,  “…the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” and you will have a son, she knows he’s not kidding. And not just any son, but THE Son of THE God! Even though she has had no relations with a man. Even though in her society she will be shunned and maybe even stoned for this inconvenience. But Mary, without sin and with unfathomable and unwavering belief responds, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”

Mary said “Yes.”

Would I have been so willing? I’m not sure. If I imagine myself in Mary’s place, I have to believe she didn’t run out to all her friends and enthusiastically announce her pregnancy. In spite of admonitions to “Be not afraid”, I bet she was afraid. Just a little. She would have had to inform her parents and Joseph, but then I bet they all kept this little secret to themselves.

So she goes to visit her kinswomen Elizabeth, traveling “in haste” to her home in the hills. She appears to go alone, a little stealthy. The quickness of her departure makes me think her parents might have wanted to protect her from the backlash of her community. Angel or no angel… a young unmarried girl who becomes pregnant is vilified in both modern and ancient times. So off goes Mary, torn between possibility and fear, to seek refuge and comfort with a fellow pregnant woman in the hills. I bet she wasn’t expecting the welcome she got!

Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah had been privy to some Godly insights of their own. Zechariah, a priest, also experienced an Angelic visit (complete with the greeting of “Do no be afraid”) telling him of a son he and his wife would bear in their advanced age. He was told of his son’s purpose, his name, and then struck silent until the birth as a sign of its truth.

So here comes Mary, up the hill to Elizabeth, who immediately recognizes the fulfillment of God’s promise in her young cousin. We are told her baby “leaped in her womb” and Elizabeth greets Mary with “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?… Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled!”

And while the bible doesn’t offer us any more in the way of emotional context, I can only imagine as a woman, that there was a great sense of relief in that recognition. All of Mary’s doubts and fears must have dissolved as she was fully validated in Elizabeth’s greeting. She is transported from tentative teen to a full realization of her destiny in the salvation of Israel as she says,

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 this day, all generations will call me blessed.
The Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is His Name.

His mercy is from age to age
to those who fear him.
He has shown might with is arm,
dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.
He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones
but lifted up the lowly.

The hungry he has filled with good things;
the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped Israel his servant,
remembering his mercy,
according to his promise to our fathers,
to Abraham, and to his descendants forever.

Mary said “Yes” to God’s plan and the world was forever changed. Who knows what would happen if we all said “Yes.”

Art prints of this piece are available in my Etsy store and my Fine Art America store. Original is sold.

The reflections for this painting are from Luke 1: 1-56. The Canticle of Mary is found in Luke 1:46-55. 

I chose to illustrate this painting with the feminine pink hues used in the liturgies of Gaudete Sunday, the 3rd Sunday of Advent. Gaudete means “rejoice” and the day is a celebration of joy knowing that Christmas is near.

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Peace be with You!

Today’s Advent Art Meditation is from Isaiah 2:1-5. (Scroll down to “Friday”.) This is my last post for the Advent 2011 theme, and I have truly enjoyed the journey with those of you who found me here!

JN801 Gift of Peace © Jen Norton

“Gift of Peace”

For my final Advent painting, I am sending you the Gift of Peace! I know it may seem trite. Every beauty pageant contestant wishes for it and it’s so common a sentiment, we make jokes like “Pray for Whirled Peas” out of it. But wouldn’t it be great if we could really have it? No more worrying about crazy people stealing our children, tyrants running our lives, or murderers and thieves profiled on the news. These verses illustrate what Isaiah saw for Jerusalem once they returned to the Lord and away from their wicked ways. God is in charge, with everyone in agreement about it. Nations look to Jerusalem for wisdom, people stop fighting and start working together, never training for war again. All this is still promised to those who walk in the light of the Lord.

The cynical side of me knows it might be a pipe dream. None of us can fully control the world and mandate peace. But we can bring God into our own hearts and our own homes. Way back on my first Advent post of Nov 28, 2011, I mentioned that the most important social structure in God’s eyes is family. The holidays can bring out both the best and the worst in us, especially where family is concerned. I pray that you can find Patience to gracefully endure any hardships, Wisdom to know when someone needs you and when to step back, Forgiveness for any misunderstandings, and practice unconditional Love like God showed to us on Christmas. We can build world peace from the bottom up. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, oh Israel!

And if it’s just not in you this year, serve up some “whirled peas” and smile to yourself.

You can purchase this small painting here.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T…That’s what the Shepherds longed to see!

Today’s Advent Art Meditation is from Luke 2:8-20. Scroll down a bit on the link to the right verse.

The Lord is My Shepherd © Jen Norton

“The Lord is My Shepherd”

The shepherds of Bethlehem knew something about respect…as in they probably didn’t get much of it!

Shepherding was a dirty job. It paid very little, was physically tough, and you probably didn’t smell too good spending all your days and nights with sheep. You lived outside the city walls, away from the “regular” citizens. Sheep are dirty, can’t defend themselves, and aren’t too smart. The shepherd must lead them to food and water. He must keep them away from predators, cliffs edges, snakes and poisonous plants. The sheep rely completely on their shepherd from dawn to the next dawn. God refers to us as his sheep a lot in the bible. Should we be insulted? Don’t we deserve more respect?

We often think we do. Lots of people sit in prisons or otherwise get themselves into bad scrapes over the issue of respect. Perhaps we look for respect in the wrong places. A good shepherd, knowing the dependance his sheep have on him, loves them in spite of their short-comings. He would risk his life to ward off a predator or search night and day for a lost one. Sheep with a good shepherd to lead them should have no fear, except for loss of the shepherd. God sees the messes we get ourselves in to and so he sent his son, the ultimate Good Shepherd, to lead us. Jesus showed even the lowest of us respect.

So the Angels appeared to the shepherds first. Right away the Angels tell them “Be Not Afraid”, even before they laid out the details. God knows how much fear we live with. Then they revealed their surprise: “A messiah has been born to them.” To the shepherds, first, before the kings. It was an exciting moment in the solitary life of a shepherd…of course they went to see.

After the shepherd’s visit, the verse then says, “Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.”  That just may be the moment she knew her son would turn the world upside down. You know all hell’s going to break loose when common shepherds find respect and solidarity with the newly-born Lamb of God.

This painting can be purchased here.

The Milagro of Love

Today’s Advent Art-Meditation is from Zephaniah 3: 14-17

Zephaniah is a short book in the bible in which the prophet is warning Jerusalem (yet again) that there will be destruction because of their return to pagan practices and away from God. But he promises there will be a remnant of humble believers who will rebuild after the razing. He tells them at that time there will be no more fear and that the Lord will be among them, “singing joyfully because of them.”

Milagro Heart Trinity

Milagro Heart Trinity

God’s relationship with the Jews is a lot like a long-term marriage. If you’re newly-married, you might not believe me. But if you’ve been in a relationship for 10 years or more, you’ll know what I mean. The Jewish people endlessly swing from loving God, to thinking He might be ignoring them, to turning away from Him and trying to solve all their own problems themselves, and finally rediscovering God was there all along with a Love that stands the test of time. In marriage terms, these four stages are called Romance, Disillusionment, Misery and Awakening.

It’s good to be aware of these natural stages of a relationship because we live in a world that preaches the first stage of Romance as all there is to love. When we hit the wall of stage 2 and 3, we sometimes believe the answer is to flee back to stage 1 and start all over with someone new. Don’t believe it…if you’ve committed your life to someone, try and navigate your way to stage 4: Awakening. It’s hard and you might get burned. You may both have to decide to wander through the desert to get there. You might need to ask for directions. But on the other side is where true love lives, the Promised Land.

Life is hard. Marriage is hard. The one thing you should know is that you’re not alone. If you find yourself in that desert of pain so vast and lonely that there are no words, the devil tries to make you believe no one could ever know how you feel. I know. I’ve been there. But Jesus says He is the vine and we are the branches. That means we are all connected and it’s in our best interest to reach out and support each other. A healthy vine produces the choice wine. No matter what you go through, whether it’s an addiction, a death of a loved one, abuse or a difficult marriage, there ARE others who have suffered like you have and who understand your pain. Don’t let people tell you there aren’t. Don’t tell yourself their aren’t. You just need to find them and that might mean stepping out of your shame and blame and trusting someone of good will. When you do, you will begin to heal…and God will “renew you in His love, singing joyfully because of you”.

Today’s art is a trinity of milagro hearts. “Milagro” is Spanish for miracle, and the heart with a burning flame is a popular Hispanic icon. It signifies undying love. In this case, I have created one to represent a man, one a woman, and the third with the crown of thorns is for Christ.

You can purchase this artwork here.

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If your marriage is troubled and you don’t know where to turn, consider attending the Retrouvaille program, available worldwide. You do not have to be Catholic, Christian or any faith to go. It’s cheaper than therapy, and Milagros, or Miracles, happen through this program all the time. Click here to find out more.

Perfection is Overrated

Today’s Advent Art Meditation is from John 9:1-7.

Multicolored Angels of Light

“Multicolored Angels of Light”

We live in the disillusion that we know what’s best for us. Unfortunately, God’s plans do not revolve around our convenience.

My brother was born with Down Syndrome, a mental disability caused by a genetic mutation. I’m sure he is viewed as “less than” by some. He’s someone many assume social services will just care for, unimportant and even in the way of the rest of us. If you walk anywhere public with him, you feel heads turn or see children whisper. He stands out. He doesn’t fit the mold of how things are supposed to be. He’s a passing curiosity.

He was born the same year my dad was diagnosed with a dangerous brain AVM. There were a few “disabilities” in our household in 1975. It would have been easy for my mom to be drowned by self-pity and sorrow and no one would have blamed her. Certainly not the doctor who suggested she just put her baby in an institution right away. Fortunately for all of us, my mother has always been gifted with the ability to trust in the bigger picture. She absolutely trusts that God’s plans are revealed over time and that angels are always watching over us. (My sisters and I have challenged the angels a few times and lived to tell, so it must be true!)

Through my brother’s life, my mom found her calling in teaching and helping other families with disabled children. Through her greatest challenge came her greatest strength. She gave families sight to see potential when they felt blind and hopeless. I have no doubt she has helped others walk farther in their own faith. In doing so, hers has been strengthened.

In today’s reading, Jesus didn’t just slap some mud on the blind guy and leave. That would be a great story on its own, but there’s more to tell. The newly-sighted man became stronger in his faith as he defended himself to the Pharisees. At the beginning of the story, he tells the questioning authorities he does not know where the man who cured him is. Then he says he must have been a prophet, then a man of God. In the end, Jesus returns to him and reveals that He indeed is the Son of God. That’s when the man truly sees. People wondered if the blindness was the result of sin, but Jesus’ response tells us what God thinks of disabilities: God doesn’t make junk and no life is unimportant. He replies, “It was no sin…it was to let God’s works show forth in him.”  In Jesus’ eyes, things look different. Through the blind man, Jesus teaches us to see.

Perfection is overrated and can grow boring. It’s the imperfections, the space between notes, the transition from dark to light, that moves us. Turns out my brother is exactly who he’s supposed to be.

beginning of angel paintingWhite light is made up of all possible colors blending together. In today’s painting, the “white” angels are created over vibrant underlying color. All the irregular blotches and lines of color are what give life to this illustration. Where the colors all run together, we get angels.

You can purchase this artwork here.

And for you music lovers, here’s a YouTube clip of Amy Grant singing “If I Could See What the Angels See”. Have a great weekend…

 

Calling all Lambs, and Bring Your Gifts!

Today’s Advent Art Meditation is from Isaiah 40:1-11  (You’ll have to scroll down a bit to find the right verse)

JN794_Flock in the Promised Land

“The Flock Gathered in the Promised Land”

My daughter has been so over-exposed to art, she just rolls her eyes at the idea of any impending artistic event. There is one exception…she is fascinated with the way impressionist paintings can look messy and abstract up close, but then turn into a whole scene when you step back. I imagine the gift of prophesy is a bit like looking at Impressionism. It’s a step back from the seemingly disjointed mess of everyday life to reveal a larger view of God’s “big picture”.

Isaiah was a prophet who lived about 750 years before Jesus during a time when Israel was faltering and under attack. He may have been born with a gift for observation, but a vision of God enthroned with Seraphim provided him with the passion to use his gifts. His calling was to speak out against the moral breakdown of Jerusalem and advise Israel’s kings to stay true to the promise of God. Not that he met with much success. Rulers often have other ideas of power and righteousness. The kings were better at making quick judgements based on what they saw in the here and now, not going against the political grain for some abstract prophesy. Not much has changed. We’re still prone to impulsive behavior.

God offers a bigger hope to Israel and to us. This verse is about the promise of salvation for Israel in spite of Jerusalem’s suffering. I’m sure it must have seemed a bit abstract at the time. It’s hard to believe in a bigger, better future when you’re embroiled in pain and fear. But that was Isaiah’s calling..to give hope during the scourge. We may wilt and die like the grass and flowers, but God’s Word is eternal. His promise is to gather the “remnant” of believers like a shepherd gathers his sheep, caring for them and holding them close. Out of the mess of life, God promises beauty.

“Grace makes beauty out of ugly things”   — Bono

You can purchase this painting here.

Consider the Lilies

Lillies and Birds © Jen Norton

Lilies and Birds

Today’s Advent Art Meditation is from John 3: 16-21

If you’ve ever been to a football game, you’ve probably seen people holding up signage with today’s verse which begins: “God so loved the world that he gave his only son…” (who started that tradition anyway?) Think about what it would be like to give your only child to a cause, knowing he’d be harmed and killed. Military parents take that chance all the time. Abraham was going to burn his only son upon God’s request. Personally, I wouldn’t be so willing so I’m glad I’m not a biblical character. The point is, God went all the way. He gave all he could so we would not be lost to darkness.

My dad was a neat freak and a bit of a perfectionist. When he died, the priest who was going to facilitate his funeral service asked us what one thing would sum up his philosophy. Almost without hesitation, my two sisters and I said, “Never do anything half-way.” He wasn’t an easy-going guy. He wasn’t easy on us. But I guarantee if you hire me or either of my sisters for a job, it will get done and it will get done well. We’re not half-way people either.

God isn’t a half-way God. He doesn’t want us to be half-way children. I’m not saying we have to do everything perfectly. But we do have to try our best and practice to get better. Just in case we have trouble believing the teacher He sent, He gave us clues in nature. In Matthew’s gospel Jesus says, “Look at the birds of the air” and “Observe how the lilies of the field grow.” God cares for them, so how much more will he care for you whom he loves? Seek Him first and all shall be added.

The lilies know how to trust in Creation. The birds do not worry. But somehow, way back when, we stepped out of that Garden of Eden and became ego-driven beings. So in spite of technically having all we need, we have forgotten how to share and have become riddled with anxiety and insecurity. In controlling our environment, we’ve forgotten how to be part of it. We need a teacher. God sent the only guy qualified for the job…His son.

The Christian model is what I know, but even if you’re a follower of another belief system, you can observe the flowers and the birds. See how the flowers grow in clumps, supporting each other? See how they burst forth with all their color just before they die? See how the birds fly along the currents in amazing formations? We may still need to attend class, but they don’t need a teacher…they just know.

This original has been sold, but you can still purchase a signed Art Card here.

My Guinness, a Pint-Sized savior!

Today’s Advent Art Meditation is from 1 John 1: 4-7. John is talking about not just saying you know Jesus, but really “knowing” him in a way that makes it hard to fake.

JN792_Guinness

A Pint of Guinness

The Holy Spirit is like a pint of Guinness. OK, I know that’s a bit of a leap, but I was talking with my Irish friends this morning via Facebook as they were about to eat dinner and I was about to eat breakfast, and my free-association logic kicked in.

It’s all a matter of perspective.

I could sneak a glass of stout at home, sit in a dark room and drink it alone. I could then claim “Yes, I’ve had that drink.” But there would be something missing. Other than a possible drunken stupor, there would be no lasting emotional connection. What’s the big deal? I probably should have had water. I missed the point of the libation. I would not have understood it is meant to be enjoyed with others.

Or…I could enjoy a pint in a pub with my friends and my friend’s friends, enjoying music by a local fiddler and swapping stories. Now the beer is a vehicle for communication. It loosens everyone up, makes the laughter flow. I will have a whole different experience. The drink facilitates community. It is meant to be shared in communion with fellow pub patrons.

The reign of Jesus is like that…A child, a pint-sized savior came to show us the way to God, to intoxicate us with His love. We are meant to drink Him in, make Him part of us. When Jesus rose from the dead and Mary Magdalene saw Him in the garden, she was tempted to run to Him. He said, “Do not cling to me for I have not returned to the Father.” This line was always a bit mysterious to me, but perhaps he did not want us to cling to the earthly, physical version of himself like an idol. He came to teach us to cling to the hope beyond this world. He left us with the Holy Spirit to inspire us to bring hope TO the world. Like the drink, it opens us up to communicate, love each other, and work towards “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Don’t worship the drink. Live in the fellowship it creates.

No wonder the Irish call their land “God’s Country”.

This 10 x 10″ painting is available here.

God’s Beloved Girls

Today’s Advent meditation is on Ephesians 5:6-14. In this reading, Paul is warning the Christians that the moral norms of Ephesian pop culture go against God’s wishes and not to be swayed. They are now awake in the light and need to act accordingly.

JN790 Beloved Girl © Jen Norton

“Beloved Girl”

 

It would be a easy to write something judgmental here, but I prefer to be inspirational. Upon brainstorming this one, my thoughts went to Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave”. If you’ve forgotten it from school, it is about a group of prisoners who have been chained their entire lives inside a cave. The only visual they have are the shadows cast by those outside, so they believe that to be reality. The question becomes, if they could emerge and see reality, would they believe it to be real? Would they rather return to what they know? Or would they grow to understand life in the light and pity those still in the cave.

Plato may have lived 400+ years before Christ, but his musings of ancient Greeks are no less relevant today. Even now, we can easily believe what is sold to us without question. One of my big issues is the damage done to girls and women through pop culture messaging. I grew up with (mostly) sisters, female cousins and have a daughter. I have seen first-hand what happens when a girl considers herself “not good enough” and it’s painful. Not only does she harm herself, but she can deny herself real connection to family and friends…the very people who could pull her from darkness.

In today’s art, I’ve shown the form of a woman filled with words. If you read all the words, including those in the dark areas, you get a sense of some of the insidious lies that girls and women face each and every day. We often blindly believe them to be truths, like the shadows on the cave wall. But if you block out the dark words and only read the light ones, you claim your true message from God…you are loved.

This image is available as a matted art print here or as a 2.5 x 3.5″ ACEO trading card in my Etsy shop. Good for pocket reminders for the girls in your life!

Here are a few other resources I like pertaining to girls and women:
Miss Representation
The Girl Effect
Women for Women International
When a Woman Meets Jesus by Dorothy Valcarcel

How can I keep from singing?

Today’s Advent meditation is from John 12: 35-36 (You’ll have to scroll down a bit. The link isn’t quite connected on that site)

Painted Bluebird Cole Porter Quote © Jen Norton

“Be Like the Bluebird” painted quote

In today’s reading Jesus hints to his followers that he will not always walk with them on earth. Dark days are ahead and they must know the light while they have the chance. A man in darkness cannot find it’s way.

I wasn’t sure what I was going to paint for this passage until I sat down last night to watch a DVD interview I did of my grandparents back in 1988. This taped dialogue by my 22-year-old self has been sitting in a box on VHS for years. My mom recently asked me if I still had it, so I had it copied to DVD and just picked it up a few days ago. Last night was the first time I’d watched it in over 20 years. Wow. If you’ve never taken the time to ask your elders about their lives, I suggest you do it! I have footage about life in the early 1900s with only gas lighting, impressions of San Francisco in the 1950s, and my grandmother’s opinion of the change in women’s roles over the years. Mostly I realized how much of the beliefs and philosophies I hold now were shaped by these people. They no longer walk with me, but I have their light to guide me.

My painting today is of bluebirds, with a quote by American composer Cole Porter. My Grandpa Mac’s favorite bird was the bluebird. He would sit on his porch every afternoon and watch them (Grandma wasn’t so big on their screeching, however). He also loved great musicals and especially after he lost his eyesight, you would often find him in his living room listening to recordings of  Broadway numbers. A self-made man, he always believed in me. Of all my family members, his words run through my head most often.

I tried to include a clip from the video here, but alas, I do not have the skills or technology today. For now, please enjoy the quote from Cole Porter. I know my grandfather would.

Be like the bluebird who never is blue,
For he knows from his upbringing what singing can do
– Cole Porter, Be Like the Bluebird, 1934

The original art is available here.

You can also purchase reproductions here or signed greeting cards here.