This a bas relief from Luca Della Robbia’s 15th century workshop. Mary and Jesus are seen here under the view of both God as Father and God as the Holy Spirit (dove). The Trinity is not often seen in art, in part due to the anxiety of the church around depicting God in physical form. The cherubim roll and swirl around the Father and Spirit. The mother of Jesus has a posture of adoration while Jesus is blessing the viewer without looking directly at us.
What I notice today is that they both have cinctures on their waists. The Bible refers to “girding your loins” and here, both Mary and Jesus have waist bands which represent that ancient tradition of the church.
It is not just the church either. When I moved to Denver, the movers who arrived at the farm to load my furniture all wore a heavy velcro or leather waist belt to strengthen their mid-drift and lower back. Wrestlers do the same. In our scriptures, girding loins represented a readiness to work. When I was a monk, I wore a rope cincture around my waist. We said a prayer as we tied the knot which prepared us for the spiritual readiness for action we would need for the day ahead. The rope can be traced back to the 7th century celtic tradition. But it was as practical as it was spiritual. The loose flowing robes needed, at times, to be tied up so that when one worked or ran, the flowing robe was confined and gathered, making movement easier and faster.
This image is a reminder that Jesus is at work and that Mary is assisting in that work. It also reminds me that I am at work. Hard work, especially for the poor and marginalized, is the calling of a Christian. Worship, adoration and study are meant only to facilitate that hard work on behalf of those who suffer.
The new year is a good time for self-examination. Are my robes flowing in lose luxury or are they bound with a rope so that my body is ready to serve the poor, my guts are held tight against the fight and my back is supported in heavy-lifting? Are my robes regal symbols of self absorption or are they symbolic of a collaboration with Jesus and Mary in the hard work of co-labor with Christ?