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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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No matter how small, God’s Love is big!

patti_dog

I have a nervous Boxer named Patti. She came to us after years of neglect and abuse and I love her to death. She reminds me of myself at a young age: overly concerned about small stuff, shy and scared in new situations, but joyful once she feels safe. After a few years with us she has settled in to our family just fine. Lately, though, she’s been shivering with anxiety just before feeding or walking times. It’s December as I write this, and boxers don’t have a lot of hair, but I don’t think it’s the cold. We live in CA and have a heater…even a hairless mammal like myself can survive it! But she has to rely on us to open the door to go out, and with the colder weather making her hungrier, her mealtimes can’t come soon enough.

Tonight as she was shivering right before her dinner time, I said, “Patti…you know I always take care of you on time! What are you shaking for?” I mean, really…in almost 4 years and even on my busiest days, I’ve remembered to feed the dog!  But isn’t it that way it is sometimes between us and God? We’re so desperate to get what we need (or want) that we worry and fret and shake. We can’t focus, we annoy our family. We make ourselves sick. What we don’t do is trust in God: that he has our ultimate best interests at heart and will not forget us. Sure, He’s busy…tons of people in the world have way-bigger needs than me, a white American suburban girl. But my needs are still big to me, and God knows that. He’ll give me what I need, fill my food bowl, all in good time. I should let go of my worry.

What do you need this Christmas? What do you desire deep down in your soul? On Christmas we remember that God came to us in human form to show us the way back to Him (have you noticed He always comes to US… ). He was born a small, helpless, poor child in a world where the powerful were out to eliminate Him from day one. You can’t get any more needy than that. Yet, even from that lowly position, He offers hope and promise. I think there is a message here: even in this big scary, seemingly hopeless world, a infant-God is still bigger. Whatever lack-of-faith crisis consumes us, His love is still greater.

I will always take care of my dog, and she’s not even human. How much more does our Father love us? Do not shake and shiver in the cold, wondering if you are loved. You are. Let the One who Created you give you strength to face your doubts. Let His Love fill your heart and give you Joy.

Merry Christmas.

Something Small has Great Value to God

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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.

Away in a Manger, with Father and Son

Today’s Advent Art Meditation is from Matthew 1:18-25. Since I spent a while at the dentist today and went to a Christmas event tonight, I’ve done a pen and ink sketch this time!

JN797_Joseph's Moment © Jen Norton

“Joseph’s Moment”

Poor Mary…God asked a lot of her. Here she was living a good Jewish teenage life, doing her chores, obeying her parents, laughing with friends. She’s engaged to a hardworking carpenter and her future is set. Then along comes God to rock her world. In his defense, he did send the Angel Gabriel to make sure she was cool with it, and she said “Yes” (Luke 1:26-38). You know the rest.

But what about Joseph? He had to say “yes” as well for this all to come together, and those times as well as ours, men had a lot more outs in situations like this. He could have dragged her in front of authorities when he found out she was pregnant, publicly humiliating her and ruining any chance she had at a good life. It would have been within his rights. Instead, he decided to divorce her quietly to spare her the embarrassment. Then the angels stepped in and told him not to be afraid that he was meant to be her husband and father to her child. So he stepped up to his calling. He put family first.

Soon after their marriage they had to travel by foot and donkey to another land for a government census. I’m sure he wasn’t thrilled about that inconvenience, but he kept his wife safe along unprotected Roman roads. He was a forthright, responsible guy. So they finally get to Bethlehem, they’re tired, they can’t find a place to stay and is wife is about to pop! They hide out in a stable where she gives birth.

Here’s where we come in as modern observers…cherishing the beautifully bucolic creche scene we’ve all come to know and love. Introduced by St. Francis to inspire his 13th century congregation, we see Mary and Joseph kneeling serenely by their new baby, laid in a manger. Very quaint. Not very realistic.

No offense to St. Francis, who is one of my favorite saints, but if I had just traveled for weeks and given birth in a barn, kneeling before my baby in an animal trough wouldn’t be my first inclination. Now sleep and food, those are true gifts! So in my version, Joseph, being the upright, caring man he was, let his wife sleep. I bet he also took the time to breathe a little and give thanks that his wife was safe. Then I imagine he looked at this child and, feeling a big awkward, decided to pick him up and comfort him while his mother lay sleeping. Maybe he even changed the first swaddling diaper. Joseph was a doer. He did what needed to be done. Maybe they even had a dad-baby moment where Jesus looked up at him with those wise baby eyes. Any father experiencing that moment might indeed believe “God is with Us”, Emmanuel. In caring for baby Jesus, he fell in love with him and became his father.

It is said that God doesn’t call the qualified. He qualifies the called. Joseph learned the angels were right: He was not to be afraid. He had a family to care for now. Poor Mary? Blessed Mary!

This artwork is available 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…

 

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.

The Season of Family

In the flood of Cyber-Monday media, it’s easy to overlook that we are also in the season of Advent, the beginning of the Western Christian liturgical calendar, and the four weeks leading up to Christmas. In an attempt to be more present in this season, I got my shopping done early and thought I’d try something different this year. Maybe you’d like to follow along? No need to be any version of Christian. Everyone is welcome.

Working from the “Painting a Day” idea, I am going to do a small painting each day from now until Christmas based on my reflections on a daily scriptural reading. This is not a bible study…I’m not a scholar. This is just about what the reading makes me think of on that day. If I read the same scripture on a different day, I might have a different take on it. I am following the readings listed on Catholic.org, and I am reading them from my old and well-worn copy of “The New American Bible,” Catholic translation. I will post the scriptural reference, my personal reflection, and the painting it inspired. In addition, the art will be listed for sale in my Etsy store at a discounted rate during this 2011 holiday season.

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And so…on to today, which is Day 2 of Advent. The reading is from Corinthians, chapter 1, verses 3-9.

Garden Party © Jen Norton

Garden Party

Paul is writing to the Christian community in Corinth to address the problem of the community splitting into various factions. The verses for today are merely the opening of the letter as Paul expresses thankfulness for the believing community, assuring them that they have all they need through Christ, that they will be strengthened through Him, and it is by God alone who that they are called to a fellowship with Jesus.

This reading made me think of family, especially after the two Thanksgiving celebrations I attended last weekend. The painting for today is from a photo of my sisters, mom and a few cousins at a family gathering. I think it might have been my Grandfather’s birthday somewhere in the ’80s, but I can’t be sure. We were all sitting around a table in the garden just talking about “stuff”. Probably didn’t seem important at the time, but 20+ years later, I find inspiration in it.

The most important social structure in God’s eyes is family, because it is through family that we learn the lessons of love and forgiveness. Sounds easy enough, but there sure are days I fail the class. If you’ve ever gotten annoyed with a spouse, frustrated with your children, fought with a sibling or whined about family obligations, you know what I mean. It’s so easy to think things would be SO MUCH EASIER if only everyone would just think like me! (can you relate?). But that’s a selfish lie. It’s a lie that breaks down relationships and community. In God’s world, we’re meant to give. We’re meant to put another’s needs first. We’re meant to live with charitable hearts. That’s a tough calling for a mere human to uphold. The Corinthians struggled with it. I stumble over it. But when I can surrender my own mindset for the good of another, I see what is meant by being “called by God to a fellowship with Jesus Christ.” Those same family situations that challenge me also give me opportunities to see that I am capable of more and loved by many.

The season of Advent is all about family. It’s about a 13-year-old Hebrew girl who becomes pregnant, threatening to dishonor the man she is intended to marry and ostracize her family. They’re poor, they have to flee to another land, sleep in barns and Joseph had to raise a child that wasn’t even his. Talk about family challenges! Yet, through the strength of God and His helpful angels, a child is born who is immediately recognized by poor shepherds and rich kings as the savior of us all. The family endured and we should all be thankful.

I hope everyone who reads this has someone they can call family, whether they are blood-related or not. What are your biggest family challenges during Christmas?

Would you like to purchase “Garden Party”? Click here.