My first church experience in more than three years was lovely. The people were welcoming, the pastor’s sermon insightful, and the surroundings tasteful and reverent. Even the choir members, who performed traditional hymns, sang in a way that might be described as “pretty,” and I’m not much of a music lover.
Looking back now, I’m not sure what I expected to experience there. There were no extremes in response; I didn’t burst into flames upon arrival nor have divine revelations during the service. Ken and I were both willing to visit again, and I found nothing there to send me running from Christianity.
But my heart still wasn’t settled. So at nights, when the baby was asleep, and Ken at work, I continued my obsessive searching on the internet. I wanted to know more about Christianity. I wasn’t even sure what it was that I wanted to learn, that’s how little I knew about it.
One night, my searches led me to a picture of a Bouguereau Madonna that made me stop dead in my tracks.
Growing up, I distinctly remember a Bouguereau painting in the Detroit Institute of Arts that I loved. It was called The Nut Gatherers, and it reminded me of my cousin and me.
I had a print of that painting for a large portion of my childhood, and so when I saw the same artist’s Madonna, it struck me as particularly meaningful and intimate.
And the painting! Many images of Jesus’ mother I’d seen portrayed her as something so meek and simpering that she almost looked feebleminded, but this one! This Madonna was regal. She seemed fierce. She kept a laser-like focus on Christ. She was not a Mary you wanted to mess with.
(Just look at her. She’s ready to lay the smackdown on John the Baptist if he messes with her Son.)
I stared at that picture, and then realized what it was that I wanted. I wanted to have the same laser focus on God that Mary had in that painting. I wanted that iron will, unshakably fixed on God. I wanted a faith that was, like Mary’s, epic. And once I’d articulated this in my own heart, I knew somehow that Mary herself would lead me there. I was filled with complete trust that if I followed her example, she would show me how to love God, and how to establish that relationship with Him I’d been longing for my whole life.
Now, finally, I had a focus in my search. I just had to copy Mary long enough to figure out where I was supposed to go. I thought of it a bit like shadowing someone on a job.
I started with the only place I knew to go to see what Mary did—the Bible. I started reading for the first time with an eye for instruction, rather than a way to pass childhood sermons by looking for “the weird parts” in the Old Testament. The more I read, the more I became comfortable with Christ. He stopped being a sticking point with me, something that I viewed as “standing in the way of my relationship with God.” He started being Someone who loved me–Someone who demonstrated in a way that a weak and limited human could understand, what God’s love meant. Until I saw God as a human, I never appreciated how impossible it is for humans to grasp the enormity of God’s commitment to us.
I read everything I could get my hands on. With only one child at the time, and a husband whose work schedule ran from 3 p.m. until 4 a.m., I had lots and lots of time to do so. When I couldn’t get to the library, I ran internet searches, trying to follow Mary’s footsteps and walk a path as close to Jesus as I could get.
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