Monday, November 5, 2012

Nativity Tapestries

This is the Nativity Tapestry that will hang on the right side of the church's lectern. It has a nativity image of Mary, the Mother of Jesus. I especially wanted Mary to be in an intimate, motherly pose, as I have seen so many images of her not even looking at her child. I love the words in Kathy Mattea's song, "Mary Did You Know?" that ask if she knew that  'when you kiss your little baby, you kiss the face of God?"  I have felt that I kissed the face of God when I have kissed my own children or my grandchildren, and even our foster babies. But that would have been even more literal for Mary. I wanted to show a mother's wonder and unconditional love in this image of Mary. 

Included in this tapestry are lilies, which I was told are a flower that is symbolic of Mary. The color blue was also chosen by the church as a color identified with her. Most of the symbolism in this tapestry is in the border. It includes a dove of peace, which is also a symbol of the Holy Spirit, which 'came over her' at her conception and 'filled her' during her time of pregnancy (Luke 1).

The border also has a grape vine, for He is 'the vine' and we are 'the branches.' (Luke 15:5) I wanted this to give us inclusion in the story. We are not alone on the vine. We are to live in community, with other branches and grapes, and with the vine itself.

The banner proclaims Peace, as He came to proclaim peace. This was very important to me to have included, as I am a pacifist, as are the couple who commissioned these tapestries for the church. And, of course, this is also something we share with Jesus, who was a pacifist and peacemaker. (Matthew 5: 9, 39)

This tapestry will hang to the left of the church's lectern. Each of the tapestries are 20 inches wide and 40 inches long. This tapestry is of a man whom I have always referred to as "The Shepherd," though the commissioners see him as Joseph. The images I have always seen of Joseph are of an old man, alongside his very young bride. I did not want that image, though it may have been somewhat accurate for the time. So I have left the identity of the man ambiguous, to be whomever the viewer wants him to be; Joseph, or a shepherd, or the Great Shepherd, or a grown Jesus.

There is more symbolism in this tapestry. The man is a symbol himself, of a gentle shepherd whom creatures trust and love. Alongside Him, the fox and the sheep can live in harmony. The fox is a symbol of the son of God's humble humanity. Jesus reminded us of that when he said " "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head." (Matthew 8:20) The fox reminds me to have compassion on those who do not have a 'place to lay their heads,' for they have much in common with my Savior. Jesus also told his followers to 'go tell the fox' of all He could do. (Luke 13:32)  I also chose to include the fox because I want the images in this tapestry to be familiar to the viewers. Red foxes are one of the animals we delight in here in the mountains. The foxes keep the moles and the mice down, and there is nothing more delightful to watch than romping fox pups!

The sheep is a common image in religious art. We are the sheep, He is our Shepherd. We hear His voice and He knows and cares for us, so we willingly follow Him. (John 10:27)

The Mule-eared deer is also a familiar sight in this part of the world, and one of my favorite animals for their beauty and gracefulness. There are a number of scriptures that reference the deer, but the one that made me include a deer in this tapestry is Psalm 42. It has been turned into several of my favorite hymns. One can be heard here,   and another one here. These two songs truly make me thirst for what the world does not have to offer, as the deer thirsts for the water. We go down to the lake almost every evening when we are at our mountain cabin, to watch the deer going down to quench their thirst. The deer is to remind us to go to the One who can quench our thirst, as well.

There is another dove in this tapestry. It is a mourning dove. In fact, it is a specific dove whom I have been privileged to know for a number of years. She sits outside my studio window. The image I used in the tapestry was from a photo I took of her through my studio window. God wants us to be 'wise as serpents,' while out in the dangers of the world, but also 'as innocent as doves.' (Matthew10:16) The dove outside my window does no harm. She even manages to live in harmony with those she should fear. Here is more about my dove, in an earlier post.

The blooms on the tree branches above the figures are dogwood blooms. There is a religious story (not Biblical) about the symbolism of the dogwood tree. I included the blooms partly because of that story, but mostly because I love the blossoms, having first seen them when visiting my son in Boston. (Also, we lived on a street called Dogwood Ct. for 17 years, so I included them as a piece of personal history. Hey, I can do that: I'm the artist!)

In the border, I included a branch of Rose of Sharon blooms, as they are a flower which symbolizes beauty and purity in the Bible. And the border also includes the anchor, which is something to cling to, to hold us 'steadfast and sure' in our faith. (Hebrews 6:19) I posted more about the tradition of the anchor here.

 I have previously posted about the Grace banner here, but I think this bears repeating from that post: I hope those who view these tapestries as they worship will be ever mindful of God's Amazing Grace.