A month ago, the elder good deacon and I drove to St. Louis for a wedding. We happily made this trek to celebrate with our friends whose daughter was the bride. Because Mary Beth and her groom asked Mike to witness their vows, we attended the wedding rehearsal so all concerned could prepare. When we arrived at the church, I took a seat in the back so I could relax and enjoy the festivities.
I’d never been to the Catholic Student Center at Washington University, so I allowed myself a visual tour of the worship space. In the process, I noticed a beautiful painting resting on an easel in the sanctuary near the altar. Since the murals in the church dome and on the side walls were somewhat modern, I was surprised by this Renaissance-like depiction of Mary with two very little boys. I guessed that the children were Jesus and his cousin who grew up to become John the Baptist. Though Mary seems to be attending to the toddler on her right, I felt quite certain that the toddler on her left was Jesus. Before I could consider the painting further, the groom and the priest who would preside at the wedding began to adjust its position in the sanctuary. As I watched, someone in the bridal party told me, “You know, Lee painted that picture!” Lee is Mary Beth’s groom. This information amazed me because I would have believed that this was a bit of artwork borrowed from a museum for this event. I would also have believed that it was the work of a Renaissance Master. Yes, the painting is that good! For the remainder of the rehearsal, I studied that wonderful image of Mary, her nephew and her son and I wondered what inspired a young techy to create it.
At the rehearsal dinner, I learned that it had taken Lee five years to complete this work. Mary Beth was the driving force who encouraged Lee and saw to it that he took the time to finish it in spite of their very busy schedules. When Lee and Mary Beth made their way around the room to thank their guests, I asked Lee about the painting. After providing a three-minute review of Renaissance Art, Lee explained that he was actually inspired by Raphael’s work. Though these tidbits were interesting, I jumped at Lee’s offer to see the progression of the painting’s completion. Lee pulled out his phone and brought up the file which chronicled the painting’s evolution. What I saw took my breath away. This mini-presentation began with a gray-colored shadow on a plain white canvas. The figures of Mary, Jesus and John would eventually fill this space. Each subsequent frame revealed a minor addition until the three figures became discernible. Though I found all of this quite remarkable, it was the face of Mary which drew me into the process. As I watched her hair appear and her facial features evolve, it was as though the room emptied and only God and I were present. I asked almost aloud, “Is this the care you take in creating each one of us?” Though Lee’s final rendering would be the centerpiece of his and Mary Beth’s wedding the following day, the process which came beforehand became the centerpiece of my renewed appreciation of God’s persistent affection for each one of us.
In Luke’s gospel (Luke 18:1-8), Jesus offers the Parable of the Persistent Widow. The poor woman doggedly haunted a dishonest judge for a fair ruling in response to her complaint. Though the judge truly couldn’t have cared less about the woman’s troubles, he was concerned with his own safety. He eventually ruled in the woman’s favor before she could do him bodily harm. Jesus used this story to illustrate God’s benevolence toward us. Jesus insisted that if an unscrupulous judge could be pressured to respond to a lowly widow’s needs, God will certainly respond to our persistent prayer.
I realize that I have no business putting words into Jesus’ mouth. Still, I can’t help myself. Though Jesus certainly invited us to pray with passionate persistence -something which I do at an annoying level- I think he also invites us to recognize God’s passionate persistence when it comes to us. Just as one young artist meticulously attended to every detail of his painting, I believe God attends even more so to every detail regarding you and me. Lee envisioned Mary, Jesus and John with every stroke and God envisioned every detail of you and me when God breathed life into us. Lee got it right and so did God. God always gets it right!
So it is that God’s complete and persistent love transforms our prayer from a laundry list of requests and worries into a song of gratitude. Just as that painting took my breath away, our efforts to deal with this life as best we can take God’s breath away every time. God models the widow’s persistence and so should we!
Jesus, I hope you don’t mind that I found enough persistence in that widow for God and for the rest of us!
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