My friend, Gill Henwood visited the major exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum recently, featuring the work by sculptor, Donatello. It is entitled, Donatello, Sculpting the Renaissance. It’s the first major UK Exhibition to explore the exceptional talents of this great artist, his vision and his influence.
The Exhibition in at the V & A until Sunday June 11th. (Entry £20)
Gill has sent me some of her photographs including the one above, of Mother & Child, (Madonna Pazzi). Fitting illustration I thought, for Mothering Sunday. There is a beauty and a bond which translates into the closest intimacy.
Motherhood was not easy for Mary. She was young and inexperienced. Her pregnancy was viewed with suspicion. Her baby was born far from home in difficult and dangerous surroundings. When she took her son to the temple, only days old, Simeon’s prophecy for his future was ominous. Jesus’ childhood gave her cause for concern and in adulthood, it was clear that his life would become increasingly dangerous and he would be marginalised. Mary had to learn to put her own feelings to one side to support him in his mission. Finally, she suffered the worst thing that can happen to a mother. She had to watch her Son die a tortured death.
God the Father’s part in that suffering was to suffer too. Like Mary he beheld Jesus as a mother her child and to understand that a bit better, we might find help in the writings of the mystic, Julian of Norwich.
In the fourteenth century Julian of Norwich experienced and understood the motherhood of God in her visions. Mothering Sunday is a good day to share this vision and recognise that although we are distinguished by our gender, God is not. Instead God is both mother and father to us . ‘As truly as God is Father, so just as truly is he our mother.’ Said Julian of Norwich. In both his motherhood and fatherhood, God faces up to his pain
The Theologian, Matthew Fox, muses on what Julian is saying. He says, “God is the true Father and Mother of Nature, and all natures that are made to flow out of God to work the divine will shall be restored and brought again into God.
Julian assures us that “The motherhood of God is a welcome thing on God’s part. Divinity does not consider motherhood a burden to bear for “God feels great delight to be our Mother.”
To recover the motherhood of God is to recover compassion:
Compassion is a kind and gentle property that belongs to a Motherhood in tender love. Compassion protects, increases our sensitivity, gives life, and heals.
Thus we see that the recovery of the theme of the motherhood of God flows naturally from other themes of cosmos, earthiness, blessing or goodness…A motherhood-of-God theology confronts the basic issue of letting go of the one-sided God of patriarchy and learning more about the God whose image we are.
Therefore it is also about learning more about ourselves and about our power for birthing and creativity. Today it is especially urgent that men learn deeply how all persons, men included, are motherly as well as fatherly.” (Matthew Fox)
In the Donatello sculpture is, as I mentioned, an intimacy which is held by the bond of love, the love which creates a sense of mother and child relating as one. Increasingly, today, that same bond is being celebrated between fathers and their children, and hopefully this is leading to a broadening of the love which is reflective of God’s Trinitarian Love.
In her Revelations, Julian of Norwich said a most powerful thing:
I understood three manners of beholding of Motherhood in God: the first is grounded in our Nature’s making; the second is taking of our nature,—and there beginneth the Motherhood of Grace; the third is Motherhood of working,—and therein is a forthspreading by the same Grace, of length and breadth and height and of deepness without end. And all is one Love.
(Julian of Norwich)
Donatello’s statue opens the door to much thought. Julian of Norwich gently takes our hand and invites us to step through it.
[Mr G and others]
**The Madonna Pazzi, housed today in Berlin’s Staatliche Museen, is rectangular marble relief that dates from c. 1425. It was carved for private devotion during the beginning of the productive collaboration that Donatello formed with Michelozzo (1396-1472), an Italian architect and sculptor.