God to me is both a father and a mother. His feminine side shows through Mary, the Mother of God. Our Lady is my protectress and most revered heavenly mother. Lately, she delivered her new year blessing to me via Virginia, a loving mother of a seven-year-old. She sent me a mesmerizing picture of The Virgin painted by Joseph Stella (American, born Italy, 1877-1946).
I am not an art collector, nor an art critic. Yet, Stella’s painting infuses me with a phenomenal creative drive joined with the Virgin’s love of creation.
Mary – a name so familiar – made her first debut ever since she was chosen to be the Mother of Jesus. Now her name speaks to me as I gaze at the painting. Her gaze returns as she whispers to me who she is, what she believes and whom she loves.
Beneath a navy blue veil and a light blue gown embroidered in floral patterns, the Virgin is disposed in a mystical garden, with her hands close to her chest, pondering and praying. The plump and succulent fruits above her head symbolize the fruits of her devoted prayers. The halo of light surrounding her head, adorned by the white flowers on both sides, reveals her pure simplicity in God.
If St. Francis of Assisi is hailed as the best friend of nature, the Virgin, with her absolute faith towards the Creator, could be extolled as the feminine adorer of God’s masterpiece of the first magnitude. She is in love with God’s creation – the trees, the birds, the flowers, the sun, the fruits – and cannot take her eyes off them, just as she cannot bear a moment turning her gaze from Jesus.
The Virgin’s inner gaze begins from her closing the eyes – a step necessary to shut herself from the hustle of life and to enter into the intimacy of God. A woman full of grace, she is completely filled with the Holy Spirit in a way so overwhelming that her body flourishes with the imprint of nature. With her deep affinity with nature, she could very well be the mystical protectress of Mother Nature given her intense love for God and for human race.
The reciprocal relation of the Virgin and nature leads me further to the mystery of prayer. Though the Virgin is always regarded as a symbol of contemplation, she herself has turned to Mother Nature to pray. She knows very well that in God all things are possible, and so in God every praying icon is available. Nature nurtures her spirit, cleanses her mind and imbues her body with love. When the Virgin prays, she is always in union with nature, as seen in the floral patterns marked on her veil and gown, and even on her hands. In the same way, she so loves God that everything God loves she loves.
Mother Nature is praying to the Virgin too. Afflicted with the pain of destruction from the human race, Mother Nature pleads to her protectress for help. The Virgin becomes the mediator between God’s creation — nature and men, whose fight has long begun since the beginning of time.
Adam and Eve broke off their relationship with God because of the forbidden fruit. On the other hand, the Virgin is healing the human race with her fruits of prayer. She is inviting us to embrace Mother Nature and to love this body of hers just as the way we love the body of Christ.
Stella’s painting is not only a piece of art, but a mystical portrait of Mary’s Magnificat glorifying God’s mercy for the human race: “The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him” (Luke 1:50). We the lowly are not worthy of anything from God, yet, the abundant grace of God is upon us, adorning the world with His masterpiece.
Mother Nature is God’s most wonderful gift for humanity. How could we survive without her? How could we unite with Mother Nature without a conversion of heart?
In the season of Lent, the humble and praying Virgin invites us to listen to the Words of God again: “My hand made all these things when all of them came to be – oracle of the Lord. This is the one whom I approve: the afflicted one, crushed in spirit, who trembles in my word” (Isaiah 66:2).”
Blessedness comes from a change of heart.