Two weeks ago, at the Ministry Centre Christmas lunch, Dustin Schellenberg from Crestview Park Free Methodist Church in Winnipeg, MB spoke to our group via Skype. He shared this image.
I found both the image and Dustin’s words unique and powerful. The following is Dustin’s devotional which he agreed to share with all of you.
This is a drawing is by Sister Grace Remington from the Sisters of the Mississippi Abbey. It is a drawing of Eve and Mary, iconic women of history. Eve, the first woman and mother of us all she stands as a representative of all humanity. Her eyes downcast and face sorrowful she appears heavily laden. She stands naked before the world with nothing to cover herself but that which she possesses herself, and it is woefully inadequate. Clutched in her hand the very object of disobedience and sin, the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. Her feet are tangled by the personification of evil, the deceiver, Satan as the serpent. You can imagine beneath those tight coils a bruised heel. She bears the curse that we each bear.
She even appears to be moving away from the bower setting around the frame, an entrance to a garden. The serpent has led her away. She has nothing but shame and the forbidden fruit as her possessions and she stands alone. This is our mother; through whom we are each born.
And across from her stands the virgin Mary, theotokos, mother of God. Garments of white to symbolize the purity and righteousness that is to come through Jesus Christ, yet tinged in blue to represent the kingdom of heaven that he will proclaim. The serpent’s head firmly crushed under her foot as she is almost taking a step back towards the garden when God and humanity were not at odds. And yet she bears a familial resemblance to Eve. She is not divorced from the humanity of whom Eve is the progenitor, rather she is firmly part of it. Mary is part of humanity; she is one of us. They stand as two choices, disobedience and obedience, pride and humility. Examples of the consequences of choice and the love of God.
Now consider their hands. Mary doesn’t stand with her hands at her side or raised up nor even making some sort of holy gesture. With one she reaches out to comfort Eve as if to say there is hope, lift your head, you no longer need to be downtrodden and defeated. There is an end to the weight of your grief and you can know joy again. Her other hand is entwined in Eve’s and rests upon the yet unborn baby. These two hands stand as a symbol of salvation being interwoven with humanity, as if Mary is inviting Eve to come be part of the experience of redemption.
The focus of both women in the picture is also very important. Where it could have been drawn with Eve looking at Mary and Mary looking to heaven or even facing forward as she is often depicted, they both instead peer downward at Mary’s belly, the unborn baby. Mary isn’t the focus; Eve isn’t the focus; rather this incredible event is central to their focus. And it is such a human event. Pregnancy, childbirth, the very means by which we continue to exist is the method by which God enters the world.
The artist could have drawn Mary holding Jesus as a baby, but I think something really profound is said when she stands there pregnant. If you recall the specific curse placed on Eve was that childbirth would be a painful ordeal and I imagine some of the sadness in her face as she looks down at Mary’s belly is how every childbirth is a reminder of that curse. And yet Mary too looks down at her belly and knows that even though this childbirth will be painful, through it salvation will enter the world.
Because of this birth and the actions of the Son of God we are being invited back into communion with God. So we look at these two women from the doorway of eternity. We stand on the threshold of life with God because of this moment, not fully in the kingdom but not outside it either. I want to close with a poem one of the other sisters wrote to accompany this image entitled O Eve!
My mother, my daughter, life-giving Eve,
Do not be ashamed, do not grieve.
The former things have passed away,
Our God has brought us to a New Day.
See, I am with Child,
Through whom all will be reconciled.
O Eve! My sister, my friend,
We will rejoice together
Life without end.
— Sr. Columba Guare copyright© 2005 Sisters of the Mississippi Abbey