I spent ninety minutes wandering around the Mint Museum of Art this morning. Art and artifacts from various epochs and areas all in one building for the perusal of wanderers like myself. So many thoughts, questions, insights came up for me.
* A dear friend of mine from Mexico gave me a videotape ten days ago and asked me to watch it. It depicts the life and ministry of her parents in a small city in Mexico called Atepec. They administer medicine to the sick, teach and preach the Bible to those who attend their church, and provide assistance to their family and friends in need. The final part of the video showed la Senora Bautista (What a great name for a preacher - Bautista means "baptist.") making tortillas in their kitchen. She used what is called a "metate y mano" which are basically a stone rolling pin and inclined surface on which the "masa" or dough is rolled. Then she placed the lump of masa into a wooden tortilla maker and flattened it. From the flattener into the pan over an open flame. Pure, unadulterated tortillas. Fresh. Hot. Perfect.
This morning I saw another metate y mano from either the 18th or 19th century at the museum. "Elaborately carved from a single piece of volcanic stone" is what was written on the descriptive card. "Probably not used for daily food preparation." I wonder what Mrs. Bautista would think of the one I saw.
* The main exhibit at the Mint right now is made up of Spanish Colonial Art. Fine wooden, silver, and stone statues. Historic images painted on canvas, wood, cloth, and stone. Saints. Angels. Demons. A priest's robe. Altar pieces. The remnants of the conquest of Central and South America by Spaniards.
Each of the pieces on display were skillfully, colorfully, expressively, beautifully rendered. I read dozens of wall plaques and cards explaining who the people were and what they are believed to represent. My mind whirled with dozens of questions about all of it. Where did it come from? Who created the art? Did the artists produce them under threat of death or for the love of God and church? How did it end up at the Mint Museum? I know the name of the patrons of the museum who purchased the pieces and donated them to the Mint. But how were they extracted from churches and private homes in those far off nations?
* Beside one statue, I read that reportedly Adam is buried on the very spot where Christ's cross was mounted. I'd never heard that before. What if that were true?
* There are patron saints of nuns, travelers (at least two patron saints of travelers; I like knowing that...), the West Indies, all South Americia, the Philippine Islands, lost items, bus drivers, unmarried women seeking husbands, the poor, and black missions.
That last patron saint is of personal interest to me for many reasons. St. Peter Claver was a Spanish Jesuit who dedicated his life to the care and ministry of African slaves brought to the new world. In the relief painting in the museum, he is feeding a slave, and pinned to his priestly robe is the shell that is associated with those who walk the Camino de Santiago, the pilgrimage of St. James in northern Spain where my dear friend Antonio, also a Spanish-born Jesuit priest, lives.
* I don't remember seeing paintings of Joseph holding the Christ Child in his arms before today. I've seen the Madonna and Child countless times, but Christ in the embrace of His earthly father, never. I cannot say that I have given much thought to how much Joseph must have loved, feared, respected, and wondered about the Son he called Jesus. I will think about it a lot more now that I've seen it in living color.
* The statue of Christ reclining in death in the tomb stunned me; I had no choice but to draw near, squat down, and stare at Him for a good long while. I tried to imagine that body resurrected, standing, discarding those linens, and exiting the tomb. As I took frantic notes on my contemplation, a favorite Easter hymn came to mind: "Low in the grave He lay, Jesus my Savior, waiting the coming day, Jesus my Lord." The chorus resounds with: "He arose. He arose. Hallelujah, Christ arose." The image there before me depicted the brief moment, that split second of breath between the verse and the refrain.
As I sat there transfixed before that icon, I was reminded of the woman at the little church in Bologna, Italy. The crying woman. Weeping. Convulsed with tears of deep sorrow. She was on her knees with her arms extended in a pleading and desperate embrace around an eerily similar image of Christ's broken, bleeding body. I longed to approach that woman on that sunny October day in 2003, wrap my arms around her, and pray with her. I prayed silently for her that day and many times since. For her peace. For grace and mercy to help her in her time of need - whatever that need may have been and may still be. I prayed for her again today.
Those ninety minutes went by far too quickly. If I didn't need to leave and pick up my children from camp, I would have stayed for hours. There is never sufficient time to wander and ponder the marvels that surround me on this, my life's journey.
Buon viaggio, amico mio.
Traveling mercies to you, my friend.