A Meditative Look at Michelangelo's Pieta`

"The Lord speaks in diverse ways: his deeds are words, as in the creation account we read, "He spoke and so it came to be."  He speaks in the splendors of the universe and through all within it.  He teaches in human language, and especially in the words of his incarnate Word...But in all these manners the Lord is communicating through the beautiful, the true, and the good....Thus God addresses us constantly through a snowflake, a tulip, a Mozart concerto, the Pieta`." 
Thomas Dubay, The Evidential Power of Beauty

In his book, Shaped by the Cross, Meditations on the sufferings of Jesus, Ken Gire quotes Charles Rich saying about the sculpture by Michelangelo, "There is so much in the Pieta` that if you lived a thousand years and wrote a thousand books you can never express it.  In other word, there is a divine quality in it.  It must have been inspired, because how could a boy, twenty-four years old, create a work like that?  You can't imagine how.  It was a special grace from God.  It is true, he had to be an artist, but art alone could have not made the Pieta`."

Ken Gire explores with photographs of this great work by photographer Robert Hupka, the different parts of the sculpture and reflections on each.  In his chapter, The Mother of Christ, Gire explores Mary's facial expression, body position and hand gesture with possible meaning and reflections.
He writes, "The word pieta` is Italian, meaning pity or sorrow.  Over the years, however, it has come to mean the surrender of the soul to the sovereign will of God.  Look again at Mary's face.  Sorrow is there, that's true.  But serenity is also there.  It veils her sorrow, sheerly but unmistakable....Her lap, it seems an altar, doesn't it?  And her son, the sacrificial lamb.  Her head is bowed over both.  And her hand?  Her hand seems a gestured prayer.  Henri Nouwen once wrote, "To pray means to open your hands before God."  I believe Mary's hand is doing just that.  In opening her hand to God, she is opening herself, surrendering herself, submitting herself to the sovereign will of God, however difficult it was to understand, however painful it was to endure."

"Losing a child is a parent's greatest fear.  Mary lived with that fear all her life......Regardless of whether you are a mother or a father, the desire to protect your children from pain is instinctive, especially from the pain of loss.  The children's writer Katherine Paterson wrote a book based on her son David's loss of a childhood friend.  It was his best friend.  Her name was Lisa.  The book was Bridge to Terabithia which won the Newbery Medal for the best children's book in the year it was published.  In her acceptance speech, she described her son: 
                   "He is not fully healed.  Perhaps he never will be...
                    Selfishly I want his pain to ease....I want the joy of
                    knowing Lisa and the sorrow of losing her to be a
                    part of him and to shape him into growing levels of
                    caring and understanding, perhaps as an artist, but certainly as a person."
Ken Gire continues:  "Like Katherine Paterson, I want my children's pain to ease.  But also like her, I know that their joys and their sorrows will shape them into growing levels of understanding.  Perhaps as artists, but certainly as human beings."
"Michelangelo's insight into the heart of a parent was profound.  Look at the fingers on Mary' hand and the way he has positioned them.  One hand is holding on. The other has let go."
"Suffering is part of the process God uses in shaping us.  I have come to the understanding that if I spare my children from the suffering, I will also be sparing them from the shaping.  In doing so, I will be sparing them from the fellowship of Christ's suffering, from the deeper understanding that awaits them there, the deeper love that awaits them there, the deeper gratitude.  And, as incongruous as it seems, the deeper joy.  This I have come to know is true.  My children are not the work of my hands. My hands are not the hands that hold them, not the hands that mold them, not the hands that work all things together in their lives for good.  They are the work of God's hands.  I am merely a tool in those hands, a tool he has used in some way, for a short time, to shape them."

"There has been joy in having my children at home, and sorrow in letting go of them.  Those feelings, I have come to understand, are also tools, tools that God has used in some way, in shaping me.
Perhaps as an artist.  But certainly as a human being."  Ken Gire, Shaped by the Cross


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