This carving from the MET in New York is of a Madonna and child with a book on Mary’s lap alongside Jesus. Jesus comes to us as the LOGOS or the Word-made-flesh and so the artist has the two “words” side by side in this image. Jesus has one hand on the book and is, at the same time, gazing at Mary.
This is a way to live our lives. We keep our eyes on God and our hands one on the Bible and one on the financially poor. That trinity of living resources is the great secret to a well-lived life. We spend time gazing at God and drawing down the love and support which God can down-load to us in the blink of an eye. We study scriptures (the Bible, the writings of great souls, the smaller “book of life”) and from these three resources, we live and move and have our being.
We anglicans make fun of ourselves for not really knowing the Bible very well. We pretend that doing so is a protestant” thing (forgetting that Episcopalians are, in fast, protestants.) And we, I think, secretly, do not want to face the things that scripture says about our lives. We do not like rules and we Americans are too easily given over to shame (which is so damaging) when a bit of guilt would do us a world of good as a slight corrective. It is a tricky thing to have balance in a spiritual life such that the worship we do is an act of praise and not simply another form of self-anesthetizing. Scripture can offer words of challenge but also words of comfort and encouragement so that we live good lives. There is nothing more creepy than a mean worshipper – nothing more disjointed – nothing more sad. It means that the worship is less about living a good life and more about the show.
But here, in this image, Jesus combines the gaze of connection to the divine with the touch of scripture; which is a powerful life-combination. And so we too are being invited, in these twelve days of Christmas, to consider balance in our spiritual lives. If we have worship but are weak on study or if we have adoration but are weak on amendment of life then this is a good week in which to make adjustments. Perhaps we add five minutes of meditation to our week-days or perhaps we add yoga or spiritual direction to our spiritual wellness program. Or perhaps we need to just lighten up, skip a church service, eat some buttered noodles or a cookie and take a nap or connect with a good friend.
How do we know if we are living this balance Jesus seems to be physically modeling in this sculpture? Here is the test:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, beloved,whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.