Sunday, 25 December 2011

At the manger with Sister Wendy Beckett

Here is the Baby Christ, newborn, eyes not yet open and questioning. They are shut in slumber and in the security that only a baby experiences. Mary looks at him in wonder, her long, slender hands laid tentatively on either side of His sleeping face. She has the strong, majestic profile of a woman able to bear the weight of her exceptional vocation. If she holds the little Jesus with a hesitant tenderness, so does her husband hold her. Joseph’s arms reach out, shyly and lovingly to his enraptured young wife. He is enraptured too. The couple are fully sharing in the overwhelming emotion of wonder known to all new parents.

Every baby is a miracle: what can one say of this child who is ‘the image of the invisible God’? Tricker has caught an indescribable look in Joseph’s face, one of pride, joy, amazement, awe. The parents’ heads touch, expressing a closeness and commitment to the Child and He is supported by them both. Joseph’s head touches gently on Mary’s, and the ass’s head nudges gently on Joseph’s shoulder. The ass, like the ox, is not found in the Gospels, but Christian tradition has always afforded them a welcome space in the stable of Christ’s birth. The animals represent the physical reality of the Nativity, and also its poverty.

Jesus was born under the humblest of circumstances and His cradle was the manger from which the animals fed. One day Jesus would tell His friends that the bread that He was giving them was His body: ‘they were to take and eat’. The manger of His birth prefigures the Eucharist. This is one of the most mystical paintings in the Christ Journey. Some years ago Tricker took as his theme the Catacombs, with all their secrecy and mystery. He recalls those hidden places of prayer in the curve of the stone arch above Mary’s head and in the indefinable atmosphere of holiness. There is hardly any colour here. All is mysterious and translucent.

Tricker is profoundly aware that the birth of Jesus, and Jesus Himself, are mysteries too great for us to comprehend. We are that ass, there at the side, roped and muzzled, ah! but present. We look on wide-eyed, aware of a Reality beyond our scope, but believing. In the lovely delicacy of this work, its gentle blues, its luminous whites, Tricker indicates that the mystery is beyond the scope of Joseph and Mary also. Yet they are prepared as we must be, we donkey-folk, to accept that mystery and live by its wonder. This is the fulfillment of all possible human hopes, and it happens in a hidden place amidst genuine poverty. Tricker’s work here is so ethereal that it hardly seems there, yet its ‘there-ness’ is the only thing that really matters.

Text © ST PAULS from The Christ Journey
Picture © Nigel Noyes