It's been a while and today I explored the beautiful city of Portland, Maine, on the southeast coast.
The Portland Art Museum was the top priority of the morning, and after a sumptuous feast of brioche french toast, wild blueberries and blackberries as big as ping pong balls, covered with mascarpone, I set out on a trek which was (mostly) uphill and which stayed with me long after I entered the cool brick building.
I've been spoiled by sites like the Met in Manhattan. I know every nuance of that place, the best benches to nap on, when the rooftop exhibits are open, and how to get to the art I love while not lingering overlong in seventeenth century furniture.
Two works today surprised me. One was by a contemporary Maine sculptor. At first glance, the white marble looked like a familiar Madonna and child. The maternal protectiveness of the rounded shoulders bent over a plump baby reaching for the comfort of his mother's breasts. But as I got closer and saw Egyptian garments, I read the plaque. Here was baby Moses and his mother Jochebed. With a start I looked into her sad, cold face. I felt my heart tug when it enfleshed her pain. She was about to give up this soft little boy to save his life. (Little might she know, the life of her people as well).
I will write about the other piece later. For now, I want to compare this monumental sculpture to the motherhood I experience around me today, living and breathing. While I studied the piece close up, I saw the sad mouth, the strong feet and hands. But later, I approached the statue from afar, from the tall, relatively narrow series of doorways, and what I saw was her protective frame caressing the boy she would have to release into other hands.
All of us mothers, physical and spiritual, know that stance. Our bodies naturally curve towards the life in our arms, we instinctively fondle children to our hearts, surrounded in our shoulders, arms, neck, hair. And many, so many of us know the ache, the pain, and the suffering of letting go. We can run to that stone pale Jochebed and taste the tears behind marble eyes, feel the pounding heart in the chiseled chest, and know the rush of pain that comes just before the leaving. The original curse is perhaps not only in childbearing, but in childgiving.
Women know this pain. That is why Mary could stand at the cross and share her son's pain as she surrendered. By her surrender, we all learn what it is to be woman. By our shared surrender, we as women become sisters, and come once more to embrace the pain of flesh over the dispassionate heart of stone.
I write this today to all my sisters who know loss. From those who have suffered terribly by losing children to accident or illness, miscarriage or tragedy to those spiritual mothers who have been forced to move on, leave the ones they serve, resign a post or find new ministry that takes them away from those grasping hands... you are beautiful, strong, sisters. Peace be with you all this day and always.