Advent in Art 12: Lisa and Marlowe Baudry

Who: 
Esther Graham
When: 
Sunday, 16 December 2012

My Child Could Do that

By Marlowe and Lisa Baudry

 

Lisa's work was a collaboration with her daughter Marlowe.

To view the slideshow and listen to the commentary, go here

 

Esther Graham interviewed Lisa about the concept for her work, and also gave the following presentation:

 

Reading:

The Hundred Languages of Childhood

The child
is made of one hundred.
The child has
A hundred languages
A hundred hands
A hundred thoughts
A hundred ways of thinking
Of playing, of speaking.
A hundred always a hundred
Ways of listening of marveling of loving
A hundred joys
For singing and understanding
A hundred worlds
To discover
A hundred worlds
To invent
A hundred worlds
To dream
The child has
A hundred languages
(and a hundred hundred hundred more)
But they steal ninety-nine.
The school and the culture
Separate the head from the body.
They tell the child;
To think without hands
To do without head
To listen and not to speak
To understand without joy
To love and to marvel
Only at Easter and Christmas
They tell the child:
To discover the world already there
And of the hundred
They steal ninety-nine.
They tell the child:
That work and play
Reality and fantasy
Science and imagination
Sky and earth
Reason and dream
Are things
That do not belong together
And thus they tell the child
That the hundred is not there
The child says: NO WAY the hundred is there--

Loris Malaguzzi
Founder of the Reggio Approach

 

This poem was part of Lisa’s inspiration for her art work, where she created a handmade book called a ‘field journal’ which contains the photos you can see on the screen. The photos that you can see were not made by Lisa, they were made by her collaborator, Marlowe, her 2 year old daughter.

We are going to begin this presentation by viewing the art work, then I’ll interview Lisa and offer some of my thoughts.

 

REFLECTION ON NATIVITY STORY

As Lisa has alluded to, the emphasis in the Bible on the birth and infancy of Christ is interesting . After all, only Matthew and Luke begin their story with Christ’s birth. Mark’ gospels begins with Christ’s adult life and John’s with the mystical “Word”. In both Matthew and Luke’s gospel, we hear a lot of detail - about the birth and first events in Jesus’s childhood, such as Herod’s massacre of the innocents that leads Mary and Joseph to flee to Egypt. However, apart from a brief mention of the 12-year-old Jesus’s Passover pilgrimage to Jerusalem, there is nothing said about the three decades between Christ as baby to Christ as adult.

So why the focus on events surrounding Christ’s birth and infancy?

In part, scholar Geza Vermes in this book, ‘The Nativity,’ suggests that the reason for certain events being mentioned in the infancy gospels is so that Christ’s birth is seen to fulfil Old Testament prophecy. One example is the prophecy in Isaiah: “Behold a Virgin will conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be Emmanuel.” The gospel writers wanted their readers to associate Jesus with this saviour, so a virgin birth was a crucial ingredient in the story.

Miraculous births were a common feature of literature in the ancient world. The Old Testament is full of them: Sarah (Abraham’s wife), Rebekah (Isaac’s wife) and Leah (Jacob’s wife) were all either post-menopausal or barren, but God opened their wombs and great sons were born. John, who would later be the Baptist also had a miraculous birth, he was born to the aged and sterile Elizabeth and her 90 year old husband Zechariah.

However, while similarly miraculous, the description of Christ’s birth to an earthly mother and a heavenly father is unique in the Bible. But Vermes argues that we must take account two things:

Firstly: that in Jesus’s time, the understanding of how babies were made was pretty basic. As he says, the “mystery of fertility was steeped in religious awe. In pagan times, fruitfulness was thought to depend on special gods of goddesses, and in biblical Judaism on the one God of Israel. This God had the power to close the womb or open it. …In some senses, every pregnancy was seen as mediated by God, as a divine gift, but some more so than others.” (Vermes: 40)

Secondly, when considering elements in the nativity story, Vermes explains that in the context of early Christianity, heroes or saviours were expected to have divine origins. It was a trope also used by Classical writers. The philosopher Plato was said to have been conceived when a “visionary figure who came to [his mother] in the form of Apollo”. The Emperor Augustus, who ruled the world at the time of the birth of Jesus was also said to have a divine father. A contemporary writer, Asclepiades of Mendes, recounted the remarkable story of Atia, Augustus’ mother who attended a midnight service at the Temple of Apollo, where she fell asleep. Suddenly a serpent glided up, entered her and then glided away again. Then…nine months later… Bingo! Augustus was born.

The miraculous beginning of Christ’s life – signalled by the annunciation, the Virgin birth, the mysterious star that the Magi followed were all crucial elements of the nativity story as they suggest Christ was not only a metaphorical son of God but literally a divine person. In summary then, Vermes suggests that rather than historical facts, Luke and Matthew integrate literary conventions of the day to convey their message of Jesus as the messiah-redeemer, the son of God, the Emmanuel, God-with-us.

Apart from the Christ child the other child-figure in the nativity story is Mary. It is not stated how old she was at the time of Jesus’s birth, but we know that she was betrothed to be married. Girls were betrothed to much older men often when they were still children. One of her most prominent characteristics is her virginity. At the time, the Hebrew word for ‘virgin’ did not just have its modern meaning of a person who has not experienced sex, it also could mean a girl of 11 or 12 who had not started menstruating. Either way, Christ’s birth was miraculous.

Upon hearing the angel Gabriel’s announcement, Mary’s decision to say YES, to collaborate with God in bearing the Christ child shows a remarkable willingness to do God’s will, as Brenda has already explored in one of her sermons. It is interesting to contrast the young Mary’s faith with the doubt shown by much older Biblical figure who had an angelic visitation, Zechariah, husband of Elizabeth, future father of John the Baptist. When Gabriel says to him, God will give you a son, he says “How can this be? I am old and so is my wife”. For his doubt, he was struck dumb. Later, when he accepts God’s will and names his son John, his tongue is loosened.

There’s a well-known verse in the Bible that says, ‘Suffer the little children come unto me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.’ Jesus goes onto say, “anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

For many years I thought this was an exhortation to be as simple in faith as a child. We associate vulnerability and simplicity with children. The verse implied to me a kind of unquestioning obedience – let’s face it, a kind of gullibility. However I think that its worth thinking about the other qualities children have that could also serve as our inspiration as followers of Christ. I remember someone pointing out once that children ask a lot of questions: the eternal “why”?Why can’t I go if she can? Why do I have to go to bed now?

Little children are curious and very open to learning but they don’t accept everything blindly. They question things. They see the world as full of wonder, as a place to be discovered. They hold few prejudices. They are not preoccupied with work or pleasing others. They take risks because they have not yet learnt to fear or doubt their own ability. They are uninhibited; often loving extravagantly and forgiving quickly. It seems that there is much to be learned from children.

What is remarkable about Lisa’s collaboration with Marlowe for this art work is that implicit in the process is a person showing that she genuinely values and respects the perspective and creativity of a child. And if there is one simple message of the Nativity story it is that we should never underestimate the impact of a child on the world. (Herod certainly didn’t!)

To come back to the poem Lisa read at the beginning”

The child has
A hundred languages
A hundred hands
A hundred thoughts
A hundred ways of thinking
Of playing, of speaking.

A hundred worlds
To discover
A hundred worlds
To invent
A hundred worlds
To dream
 

The poem ends with a comment on the way our culture diminishes the worldview of children by telling them

That work and play
Reality and fantasy
Science and imagination
Sky and earth
Reason and dream
Are things
That do not belong together

And thus they tell the child
That the hundred is not there

And ends on the line:
The child says: NO WAY the hundred is there--