Okay, close your eyes - now picture the Christmas story in your mind.... what do you see?
What do Jesus, Joseph and Mary look like? Where are they? Give yourself a minute and hold onto that image...
Recently, I listened to a powerful podcast called ‘White Jesus’, and read a particular reflection by Antonio M. Pernia SVD (1). These and other recent events have had a transformative effect on me. They opened me to see in a new way; revealing the lasting impact of imagery and encounter. It seems to me that imagery and theology can create a powerful sense of belonging and connection or it can do the opposite. We only have to remember the image of the drowned Syrian boy (Alan Kurdi); this shocking image broke and also united hearts around the world.
I can also understand that seeing and encounter had a dramatic effect on Jesus. There are many many scripture passages which communicate Jesus' transformation through seeing and encounter; for example, when he saw Mary crying he was changed. With this awareness (or as the kids would say 'woke-ness'), I have been reflecting - perhaps artists and creatives need to help reveal the Good News of neighbourly diversity in our global community today? Jesus also reminds me that my neighbour is me, and I am also my neighbour: "You shall love your neighbour as yourself" (Matt 22:39). So, surely our imagery (for Christmas and beyond) needs to represent all our neighbours? Antonio Pernia SVD explains (1): “And yet, I think what the world today needs to see is not the familiar and customary face of God, the image of God that is very often created according to our own image. I believe that what the world needs to see see today is the unfamiliar and mysterious face of God, the image of God that is beyond our ideas and imagination."
Archbishop Desmond Tutu also often talks about the African concept known as ‘Ubuntu’. This is more than a word, it calls us to love our neighbours as Jesus did. He explains: "You cannot be human on your own, you are human through relationship… A person is a person through other persons…” The Christmas story reminds me of Ubuntu - God gifts us all new life, loving us all, as one neighbourhood.
In Matthew chapter 2, we also understand that the holy family were essentially refugees, walking and escaping to Egypt. Being mindful of our family in Kiribati who may soon be climate change refugees. I see their uncertainly and the injustice (just as the holy family experienced). I also see their care for earth, faith and loving trust in our God. I see God in the faces of our pacific family just as much as any traditional pale skinned holy family image (and yes, I can also still picture those classic ‘white Jesus’ images hanging on the walls in the house of my dark skinned grandparents!).
With all this in mind I have created this new image for this Christmas. I hope this image connects persons, revealing our God is our neighbour and I am neighbour. The composition grew from having had an image of Joseph stuck in my head; walking with Mary, stopping, hobbling on one leg to get a stone out of his shoe, waiting, leaning on Mary and gazing at Jesus. Steeped in the ordinary - they walked as we walk. Can you remember the last time you stopped to get a stone out of your shoe?
We now journey through advent with hope, peace, joy, love and eventually light. I am mindful to wait and take the stones out of my shoes, contemplate in creation as I walk towards the light. I pray this image may connect us as neighbours. Thank you all for your encouragement and prayer this year. I am also deeply grateful to our congregation for their courageous support and encouragement. I hope we can all transform through what has been in 2020, and celebrate our diversity more in the future. We are after all, in this together - turtles, dogs, cats, fish and all...
(1) Maria Cimperman and Roger Schroeder, SVD, Eds. Engaging Our Diversity: Interculturality and Consecrated Life Today. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2020). See Chapter 4 for Antonio M. Pernia SVD.
Note: Full video also found at: https://learn.ctu.edu/antonio-pernia-monday/
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Jane Maisey rsj