The Heart of the Black Madonna

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Pieta

If you have ever been to the Vatican and entered St. Peter's Basilica, one of the most famous works of art in this unbearably ornate cathedral is Michelangelo's Pieta. I first saw this when I was 12 years old, during the days when you could actually get close to it and experience the elegant soulful mourning of a mother who watched her adult child's execution. Shortly after our family's visit, an insane man attacked the statue with a hammer, it was repaired but now sits behind bullet proof glass and a hefty distance from viewers. Actually it is hard to really experience the art in this new arrangement, but alas modern times dictate the safety precautions.

Pieta in Groom, Texas 1995

In Groom Texas, outside of Amarillo, a local gentleman was tired of all the advertising of the decadence in modern culture along the interstate. He commissioned a series of black metal sculptures depicting the Stations of the Cross, and placed them on private land so as to not be subject to secular laws. To my knowledge, this is one of the few modern Black Pieta's in existence. It is also a very intimate as you can walk up and get close to the image, which goes along with the Black Madonna experience in general, more accessible.

Often when we think of The Madonna, it is of a Mother and young infant son. While the white Madonna's, particularly starting in the Renaissance, are depicted in very serene and joyful presentations.......... 

The Black Madonnas on the other hand are often somber.

 The Black Madonna of Czestochowa, Poland

The Black Madonna of Marsat, France

In the journey of faith, mysteries are continually revealed throughout the experience. As one ages, the understandings become deeper and more real with time. One of the purposes of Christ's Incarnation is to model the initiation of Humanity. Christ came to us to experience a human life and death so the Spiritual World could comprehend our task, but also to show the way to conscious free union with the Divine. "Ye shall be as Gods," does not mean power over the elements, it means to suffer so all illusions disappear and we can be free from what holds us back from full awareness of the truth. He endured all human weakness and folly, to show us what lies ahead for us, both the pain and the triumph.  The Christian Community calls The Christ; The Son of Man. This denomination also calls communion; The Act of Consecration of Man. There is a profound reason for this identification.

Mary the Mother of Jesus was one of the first humans to say yes to the Christ Event. 

The Annunciation by Henry Osswa Turner

In art, the archetype of The Madonna is that of the perfected human, the human soul. The obvious correlation is that humanity is to birth the Christ within. The tender depictions of Madonna and Child in a way belie the challenges that come with taking up the way of the Christ. The final outcome is a joyous, peaceful and enlivening experience, but the journey is anything but smooth.

The Black Madonna's, their color and narratives, resonate deeply with humanity. The devotion to these works of art is unrivaled in Europe. They depict the deep sufferings that earthly life encompasses but also give a message of endurance, and an example that conveys support, the Black Madonna's continually say "you can do this, because I have done it."

To lose a child is one of life's greatest sorrows. No matter the age of the child, stage or method, it is the most devastating of all pains from which the parent never recovers. But Mary the Madonna, knows this pain, this searing tearing of the heart. For her, she witnessed the unjust execution of her child. After all she had experienced, all that she had "pondered" in her heart, the heavenly revelations as to the being she was guiding through his life as only a mother can, her bewilderment over what she was witnessing must have been multifold.

When we lose anyone, particularly a child, we often question, "how could God do this, how could he let this happen?" Can you imagine the questions Mary had watching her child on the cross? What went through her mind as he lay lifeless on her lap? For me this is the deep significance of the Pieta. We in the West often overlook the suffering involved in Christianity, we focus on the joyous birth of Jesus, and skip right on to the Ressurection, with our Easter egg hunts and pastel flowers on the Altar. Obviously the focus should be on the Joy, the empty tomb, but quite a bit happened to get to that point. This is why I think the term "Son of Man" is so poignant, because in essence he is our Son, and we will all go through a similar journey.

So many mother's mourn their children, many lost to senseless violence of unjust laws or wars.

To carry a child in your body, all the effort, sacrifice, love and care that goes into raising that child, no other earthly love can compare. To lose a child due to violence adds an extra layer of horror to the grief.

God understands this grief, Mary lived it, the Spiritual World witnesses this pain, and yet there is transformation. The refinement of suffering brings a wisdom and an openness no other worldly lesson can bring. The searing pain was experienced by one of humanities greatest daughters, and in a way is endured by the Divine as he witnesses his children destroying themselves and the very planet they were gifted to live upon.

For me as I go along my sojourn, with so many losses and enduring griefs, as I witness and offer support to my friends who are going through the fire of the death of their children, I look to the somber Black Madonna's who bring a message of comfort. They speak to me of the refinement that comes with suffering, that endurance is possible, and that triumph is the outcome. The Black Madonna's seem more prophetic of the journey the Madonna was about to embark. Some even show a glimmer of a smile which for me is a knowing look conveying what lies ahead for us, the treasures in heaven and of the riches hidden in dark places.