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3 Paintings every Catholic should meditate on during Advent 

CREATION OF ADAM
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Let these sacred images inspire your prayer the Advent season.

The Advent season is filled with so many activities that it can be challenging to channel our thoughts on God’s precious gift — His son. Whether Advent is a new or more practiced routine, I encourage you to press into this time of preparation with a daily practice of meditation using paintings and prayer. 

Here are three classic paintings to help you carve out time to reflect on the sacredness of Advent… 

1) Creation of Adam (Sistine Chapel) by Michelangelo Buonarroti

CREATION OF ADAM
Public Domain
Sistine Chapel, Creation of Adam (detail) by Michelangelo Buonarroti, fresco 1510, Vatican Museum Galleries, Vatican City

 

Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam from the Sistine Chapel shares a vision of God as a powerful, yet loving Creator reaching out to give man the spark of life. The iconic body language can become an important symbol as you begin to view the gift of God’s Son as His gift of love to the world.

Seeing the first moment of man’s creation as a loving gesture from God as He reaches out in tenderness can open your heart in a powerful way. Reflect on the many different things you can associate with God’s blessing:

  • The sight of a beautiful sunset at the end of a busy day.
  • The feeling of holding a sleeping baby against your breast. 
  • The sound of a gentle rain or the sweet smell of an orange.

Begin to awaken your senses to all the ways God is reaching out to you every day.

Imagine Michelangelo gazing at a blank wall and wondering where to begin. The gracefully posed Adam with his hand out-stretched towards the hand of God the Creator and Giver of Life is considered one of his greatest masterpieces. Try your hand at creating a personal picture of God by writing a “fantasy description.” Begin by asking yourself these questions:

  • How do I most often see God in my mind’s eye?
  • Allow yourself in the scene — what is the expression in God’s eyes?

For God so loved the world that he gave us his only one and only Son, that whoever should believe in him shall not perish but have eternal life. ~ John 3:16

2) Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner 

The Annunciation
Henry Ossawa Tanner | Public Domain
Annunciation, Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937), 1898, oil on canvas, 57 X 71 1/4 in, Philadelphia Museum of Art.

 

Contemplating God’s many gestures of love can lead us to a greater desire of becoming a special part of His mission. However, fear of the unknown can keep us from seeing how to do so.   

Can you imagine the courage it took the Virgin Mary to say yes to God when she heard the good news from the Angel Gabriel? 

Henry Ossawa Tanner’s Annunciation painting portrays Mary’s moment of ascent in a bold new way. Tanner takes this familiar episode and strikes a new chord by filling the scene with bold and passionate colors of red and yellow. Mary is suddenly awakened to hear God’s call. Notice how Tanner captures Mary just as she is “awakened” to see the light of God’s love. Despite her fear, she is facing it with eyes wide open. She does not hide as she listens to the good news of God’s mission for her life. The red surrounding her is a symbol of her passion for God’s call. 

Like Mary, God’s message of hope can attract and repel us when it challenges us to rise higher than we think possible.

  • How may God might be stretching you during this time of Advent?
  • Is there something new he is calling you to embrace? 
  • As you step out, imagine the angel saying to you: “Fear Not! You are highly favored!! The Lord is with you!”

 “Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Ephesians 5:14

3) The Golden Stairs by Edward Burne-Jones

Edward Burne-Jones | Public Domain
The Golden Stairs, Edward Burne-Jones, 1880, oil on panel, Tate Museum, London

 

At first glance, we simply see a group of young women processing down a spiral staircase in this painting. But because of the opening to the sky and the presence of doves, we can connect our ideas of angels to the figures descending the golden staircase from heaven. These women are very graceful as they flow soundlessly down the stairs. Their classic garments outline the beauty of their bodies as they glide in relaxed unity towards their goal. The colors of white, silver, and gold are individually struck and harmonized in variation to create a visual symphony of color.

Allow yourself to stop and wonder about their purpose…Where are they going? Why? 

Perhaps they are meant to open a portal to the divine for us. Like the angels who visited the shepherds on that faith-filled night, perhaps they’re bringing glad tidings of comfort and joy. These “angels” are waiting to play for us and to reveal the heavenly music of the spheres. 

May God grant us this holy vision and fill our hearts with His music once more.

“Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.’” ~ Luke 2: 13-14

Read more: Why didn’t medieval artists sign their work?

Read more: The multiple meanings of owls in Christian art

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