Thursday, December 06, 2007

Jesus once was a little child

When I was young, we used to sing a song in church that went like this:

Jesus once was a little child
A little child like me


So far so good. It’s a sweet song. But then come the next lines:

And he was pure and meek and mild
As a little child should be.
So little children, let’s you and I
Try to be like him. Try. Try. Try.


It’s a lovely song, but let’s face it, it is also adult propaganda at its finest. Are little children always meek and mild? I don’t think so. Would we like them to be meek and mild (especially when sitting in church, thus the true motive behind the singing of this song)? Sure. But is it fair to give the little kiddies a guilt complex because they just can’t be like Jesus in this regard no matter how hard they try try try?

I love paintings that show Jesus as a real child, one with slightly impish tendencies. Yes, he was still perfect but he was also human. This painting by Rogier van der Weyden (Madonna in Red c1440) is a great example.

I love the way Jesus is pawing through the book like a real baby. He’s just plain curious, and not too concerned about bending the corners of the pages or getting in trouble with the grouchy librarian. The look on Mary’s face is priceless. She’s perfectly content to let him play with the book. Or maybe she’s just plain tired. I wonder if she’d be labeled as an overly permissive mother if she lived in my neighborhood. My word! That Mary. She lets her kid do whatever he wants. He’s always wandering off and “going about his father’s business,” whatever that means. Once she even lost him on a trip to Jerusalem and didn’t even realize he was missing until they were half-way home!

If you look at the top and bottom of this painting, you can see that Mary and Jesus are set into an architectural niche—the kind of space where you would usually see a sculpture. It’s as if van der Weyden has replaced the stone figures with ones made of real flesh and blood. He has warmed them up and given them a bit of humanity. I think that if we want to be like Jesus, it’s nice to have images of him that remind us he was once a little child, a real child.

11 comments:

LoRFLoR said...

i just had to tell you that i completely adore your blog. i am a sister of 'bells on their toes' - which is how i was introduced to your thoughts and ideas. i especially appreciated your december 4th entry.
i grew up around art - practicing it myself for a number of years and was at one time (for one semester - ha!) a humanities major. anyway - cheers to you! i am glad you share your life so willingly.

Geo said...

How delightful! A very lovely image, and a validating post for those of us big kids who can't seem to properly process the propaganda no matter how hard we trytrytry.

Goslyn said...

You wrote - -

My word! That Mary. She lets her kid do whatever he wants. He’s always wandering off and “going about his father’s business,” whatever that means. Once she even lost him on a trip to Jerusalem and didn’t even realize he was missing until they were half-way home!

-- End quote

Oh, that made me laugh out loud. Hilarious. I often think about Mary in this way - what did the other women in town say about her? I have a feeling she was practically an outcast in such a close-knit and traditional ceremony. Pregnant, unwed, says God is the father of her baby? Then goes all the way to Bethlehem to drop her kid, then moves to Egypt for two years? The things the women must have said about her.

Great post. Sorry for the long comment!

Goslyn said...

*community*, not ceremony. Heh.

Tangent Woman said...

I have to admit that as a high-school teacher - I actually like the rowdy kids better. They aren't afraid to try new things and speak a language even if they make a fool of themselves.
Perfect people are kind of boring :)

Jen said...

This is great! I'm sure Mary had plenty of people gossiping about her already since she "got herself knocked up" to begin with. Losing her kid in the city probably didn't help her reputation.

Annie said...

If you think that song is a crock... when I was a kid, they used to make me sing about how I was doing my genealogy!!

mindyluwho said...

I love this picture! I love the expression on Mary's face and the pages of the book getting wrinkled. You captured it so beautifully with your words. I'm thoroughly enjoying this advent!

The Lazy Organizer said...

I've heard about that Mary! Isn't she the one who lets her kids run up and down the aisles during Sacrament meetings?

Jenna said...

You're brilliant, and such a joy to read. That happens to be my favorite Primary song, actually, but I've always sung it as a lullaby to my little babies...while they still ARE meek and mild. Great post.

Luisa Perkins said...

Oh, I like the idea of the statues come to life. How I've missed your blog; it's good to be back.