Happy Advent, everyone!
A warm welcome to this year’s Advent in Art series, where we join thousands of others in contemplating artistic works while we wait, wait, wait for Christmas.
Advent in Art 2014: Featuring artist He Qi
He Qi is one of my favourite artists, so I’m particularly excited that this year’s Advent in Art series features his work.
Mark Pierson, who curates Advent in Art each year, writes, ‘He Qi (ho chee) was born in China, and discovered art during the Cultural Revolution. He works in Chinese ink and Japanese gouache on a rice-paper like material and lives in the USA.’ You can find more of his art at www.heqiart.com.
What’s Advent? What’s Advent in Art?
Here’s what Advent in Art is all about:
Advent is the four-Sunday period before Christmas Day. It marks the start of a new Christian year and is traditionally used by the Western Church worldwide to reflect on the coming of Christ. Advent – ‘to reach for’, ‘to come’ – has to do with waiting and hopeful expectation. Advent is the time Christians look forward: to celebrating the birth of Christ and also, ultimately, to the return of Christ.
Waiting through Advent is far from passive. It is also far more than the frenetic activity of preparing presents and food for Christmas Day. Our waiting is a discipline. An active preparation of our hearts and desires to celebrate the coming of God among people on earth. God moving into our neighbourhood in the person of Jesus.
Through Advent we discipline ourselves to take time to remember the incredible story of God coming to earth as a human, and reflect on our own response to that event. Advent keeps Christmas on Christmas Day and holds back the efforts of our culture to have Christmas rolled out weeks early.
We need Advent to keep us from having Christmas too soon.
[Mark Pierson, introduction inside the 2014 Advent in Art card set]
Week 1: Annunciation
The first week of Advent in Art 2014 focuses on the story of an angel coming to Mary with a special message:
26-28 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to the Galilean village of Nazareth to a virgin engaged to be married to a man descended from David. His name was Joseph, and the virgin’s name, Mary. Upon entering, Gabriel greeted her:
You’re beautiful with God’s beauty,
Beautiful inside and out!
God be with you.
29-33 She was thoroughly shaken, wondering what was behind a greeting like that. But the angel assured her, “Mary, you have nothing to fear. God has a surprise for you: You will become pregnant and give birth to a son and call his name Jesus.
He will be great,
be called ‘Son of the Highest.’
The Lord God will give him
the throne of his father David;
He will rule Jacob’s house forever—
no end, ever, to his kingdom.”
34 Mary said to the angel, “But how? I’ve never slept with a man.”
35 The angel answered,
The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
the power of the Highest hover over you;
Therefore, the child you bring to birth
will be called Holy, Son of God.
36-38 “And did you know that your cousin Elizabeth conceived a son, old as she is? Everyone called her barren, and here she is six months pregnant! Nothing, you see, is impossible with God.”
Luke 1: 26-38 (The Message translation)
He Qi’s painting of this scene, Annunciation, is one of his simpler compositions, but it contains some imagery that is mysterious to me.
The angel is looking in a window, with Mary kneeling inside. In front of her are three white lilies, a traditional symbol of Mary, and of virginity. Behind the angel, a white bird flies: presumably representing the Holy Spirit, who Gabriel says will come upon Mary to create this unique pregnancy.
Mary is holding a long stick or tube. Is she playing a bamboo recorder? I haven’t been able to find out what it is. Any guesses?
I am struck by the similarities and reflections between Gabriel and Mary. Their faces and hair are very similar, and they face each other, heads inclined towards each other. Gabriel has a halo (and wings), and Mary has no halo but a long, lit candle behind her. Gabriel holds up one finger, and Mary’s right arm is twisted around the tube, with her little finger also extended. What might all this mean?
What strikes you (or any children you know) about this painting? What does it say about Mary? Or about the world, God, the Christmas story, or you?
Called to a destiny more momentous
than any in all of Time,
she did not quail,
a simple, ‘How can this be?’
and gravely, courteously,
took to heart the angel’s reply,
the astounding ministry she was offered:
to bear in her womb
Infinite weight and lightness; to carry
in hidden, finite inwardness,
nine months of Eternity; to contain
in slender vase of being,
the sum of power – in narrow flesh,
the sum of light.
Then bring to birth,
push out into air, a Man-child
needing, like any other,
milk and love –
but who was God.
Denise Levertov (1923-1997)
Here are Mark’s questions and prompts for further reflection (you can have these emailed to you each week by signing up at adventinart.org.)
Advent: a waiting place
Mary was waiting to get married.
Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin, had been waiting to get pregnant, but she was well past child-bearing age. She had waited a long time.
Advent is the discipline of waiting.
Like Mary and Elizabeth we also are waiting for something… a circumstance to change; a relationship to heal; a situation to end, or begin.
What are you waiting for at the moment?
How have you been waiting?
Talk with God about this.
Each time you light your first candle repeat Mary’s phrase, ‘But how…?’ as your prayer.
Wait and listen for God’s response.
Speaking of candles: in our house we set up a traditional-ish set of five Advent candles, and light them in a pattern each night at dinner time. You can read all about how we do it here (about the sixth heading down the post). I highly recommend candles at Advent!
Advent in Art is an annual production from Mark Pierson, a worship curator of international influence (see his recent book, The Art of Curating Worship) and currently Christian Commitments Manager for World Vision New Zealand.
You can follow along each week here or at the Advent in Art site where you can sign up for weekly email reflections.
Mark would love to hear if the series is helpful to you. You can contact him at mark.pierson [at] worldvision.org.nz.
You can find previous years’ Advent in Art posts at Sacraparental by following these links:
Please feel free to keep in touch with Sacraparental throughout Advent by following Sacraparental on Facebook (for daily extras), signing up for email updates (the box at the top right) and/or following me on Pinterest (the Advent board will be particularly relevant just now, and I also have one called Art for the Church).