Five AMAZING lessons we can learn from Raphael’s Alba Madonna that will help us be better mothers, fathers and citizens of a very busy, hurry up and get’er done world (with a little help from my friend National Gallery of Art docent, Brooke Fink).
1. Raphael’s Alba Madonna (named for a former owner) is a “tondo”- a circular painting. The never ending, perfect ring, refers to the wholeness that God can bring into each of our lives. We see by the subject matter that the “Wholeness Maker” has at last come to earth.
2. The largest figure is the peaceful, humble Madonna seated on the ground in a field of green grass, beside blue water, book in hand, with children in her lap. This image runs so counter to what we value in our present day world. Creating quiet “down time” is almost scandalous because there is always more to do or the next goal to accomplish. We need to create moments that lead us to still waters and green pastures if we want to be good shepherds to our own little flock. Here we are given permission to “waste time” with our kids. It’s the best investment of our time we will ever make. All efforts big and small-are great! Just today I saw two inspiring “green scenes” —that's what I call them-- a dad, hand in hand with his son, allowing him to SLOWLY walk a “tightrope”(the edge of a tree box) as they made their way to school. Good job Dad! And a mom park, get out of her car and chase her kids down to kiss them goodbye at drop off! Good job Mom!
3. The triangular composition within the round frame and Mary’s very solid, classical, sculptural form creates a timeless stability in the painting – the figures are both in the middle of an action and frozen in time. Mary is seated on the ground in a position that seems natural, but this pose would be difficult if not impossible to hold (try it!) -especially with a toddler resting on your thigh. Her very solid, robust form (probably inspired by Michelangelo) and the position of her arms makes her become the throne on which Jesus rests. Do our lives, made up of infinitesimal moments that added together make up our every action, create a throne for Christ? Or are we on the throne of our lives, running the show?
4. We notice Jesus looking at John the Baptist and John handing Jesus His cross and Jesus embracing it. Do we “share” in the sufferings of Christ? Do we offer up our pain and even our shame and unite it to His on the cross, making us One with Him and our suffering beneficial? We see Mary looking at the cross contemplating the pain to come. Mary will not run from it or even shield Jesus from it, but we must believe, will teach Jesus how to endure to the end and suffer well. Life is full of joy but it is also full of suffering. Do we suffer well? Do we teach our kids how to? We must learn to “offer it up” and become One with Him in all ways.
5. We see that Mary has her finger in a book. While we do not know which book it is, we can only imagine it is the Scriptures. Do we personally read the Scriptures? Do we teach our kids to? We can see here, that it may not be “convenient” or “easy” (ever tried to read or study with two toddlers?). But the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. She is embracing The Word, and so should we-- Jesus in Word (the Scriptures) and in Sacrament (Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Eucharist). These enable us to be made “whole” and just like the painting, we circle back up to the top.
“Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband, too, praises her:’Many are the women of proven worth, but you have excelled them all.’ Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting; the woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.” Proverbs 31:28-30.
I want to be a great parent, child and friend! Help me to learn from You and the Blessed Mother how to live the abundant life that You came to give. Please bless all of the mothers in this world, those struggling to provide, those who help to provide for others and all those in between. Please give me the grace this week to try “slow” and see what green pastures are created for me and for those I love in my life. Happy Mother’s Day Blessed Mother. Help me to be more like you!
I ask this in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Want to do something beautiful and meaningful this Mother’s Day? Try going to the National Gallery of Art where The Alba Madonna is located- West Bldg, Main Floor, Gallery 20 (or try your local museum) and seek out portraits of Mary and see what you can draw from the Mother of all Mothers.