Saturday, November 13, 2010

Full of Grace

It occurred to me the other day, as I stood in line at a convenience store that had already put out its Christmas decorations on November 1st, that we spend upwards of 17% of our retail year in the Christmas Season. I mention this simply as a random fact although, in mentioning it, it does remind me of a book I would like to recommend to my readers.

I recently acquired a copy of Full of Grace: Encountering Mary in Faith, Art, and Life written by Judith Dupré. The consists of fifty-nine meditations on Mary, different perspectives drawn from the author's own life and experience, that help to introduce the reader to the one confessed to be "blessed among women."

What we have in this text is an accessible book of art and theology, woven with narrative, that sheds light on a figure who plays such an important role in the devotional lives of countless Christians. Especially arresting is the variety of beautiful photographs contained in the work: classic works of art, modern interpretations of Mary, and various pictures of architecture abound.

There are sections of the book that touch me rather deeply. One meditation, "A New Understanding," meditates on the chilling prophecy of Simeon who proclaims at the presentation of Jesus in the Temple that "a sword will pierce your own soul." Dupré uses this experience, and the unfolding awarness on Mary's part that Jesus must walk a singular path, to meditate on the experience of children with special needs. While all parents know something of endurance, the parents of autistic children know acutely what it means to wait patiently, to endure patiently, through long periods of struggle and anxiety. The dream a parent has for a child at birth must be released, let go, as the child's reality dawns. This entails a period of mourning as the what-was-hoped-for is set aside and what-is-now is embraced and, sometimes, endured.

The experiences of parenting an autistic child, Dupré suggests, mirrors the experiences of the Blessed Mother who was "called to trust the way of the child who was hers but not hers. She had to grapple with her own lack of comprehension and, later, that of the crowds who did not grasp what her son was trying to say." The silent witness of a parent who must endure side-long glances and muttered comments by strangers is subsumed into Mary's own experience. The silent endurance of a parent, Dupré encourages, is not undergone alone...for we have Mary at our side.

This book would make a terrific gift this holiday season. While its beauty will entice people to buy it for the coffee table, I should think it is better read than looked at. The art and narrative intertwine to draw the reader more deeply into an understanding of who Mary is for us today and how she can accompany us on our spiritual pilgrimage.
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