The inspiration for this image first came to me a few months ago during mass...
The gospel reading was the parable of the brides waiting for the bridegroom. I pictured the warm glow of light from their lamps, the cool blue of the sleeping town below, their faces turned outward in anticipation for the return of their beloved. But that image, like so many that flit into my imagination at random moments, was lost in the the busyness of life. I did not think of it again until the feast of the Epiphany.
Listening to the gospel, I contemplated the strange sense of wonder, curiosity, and maybe even fear that Mary would have felt as she watched three peculiar men kneel before her newborn son and offer him homage. This mingling of emotions would have been, I imagine, a frequent experience throughout her life—not least of which when an angel appeared and told her that she would conceive and bear a child, who would be called the Son of God.
In those days, women didn't have charts and apps to track their fertility, but would have known the timing of their cycles by the phases of the moon. In that first month after Gabriel's visit, Mary would not have felt too different than she had before. It would be months before she would show, and even longer before she would feel Jesus' little flutters. But looking out at the face of a new moon, she would have known in a very concrete way that what the angel said was true. How her heart must have thrilled with joy! But even in that beautiful moment there would have been an underlying tremor of nervousness, for the current culture was unkind to unwed mothers.
Yet beneath that, even deeper still, would have been a quiet peace, as steady as the glowing moon in the sky above her. The Holy Spirit, her mystical spouse, was with her.
This painting has multi-layered symbolism. The woman is Mary herself but also the Church. The small light she holds in her hand, fragile but bright, is close to her womb where her tiny child sleeps. Just as she carried Jesus with a quiet confidence and trust in God, so we are called to bear the light of the world within the womb of our hearts with that same dignity and courage.
She contemplates the moon, which is itself a symbol of Mary and the Church. The moon, though incapable of creating its own light, is most beautiful when it reflects perfectly the light of the sun, illuminating a dark world.
Trim now your lamp and embrace with wonder and awe this incredible responsibility entrusted to us:
That we, like Mary, may bring the light of Christ into the world.
"Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done unto me according to thy word."
— Luke 1:38