Mary Cassatt

My favorite artist of all time is Mary Cassatt. The thing I love is the way her paintings make me feel.  Many of her paintings depict a mother holding a baby or child; the child is often reaching up one hand to touch the mother’s face. My eye is always drawn to that hand on the mother’s face. It’s the first thing I see when I look at the picture. I know that hand. It is soft and tender and so innocent. I could look at those pictures all day and never grow tired of what I see in them – a mother’s love, a sweet child.

A while ago, I heard a message on a passage that was very familiar to me. In fact, I had been thinking about it, meditating on it, attempting to memorize it in Hebrew (weird but true).

“Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad”

Hear, O Israel, The Lord our God, The Lord is One God.

The Shema is a prayer found in Deuteronomy 6 that is recited by many Jewish people twice every day. It is the first prayer memorized by Jewish children. So when the pastor chose the passage in the New Testament (Mark 12:28-34) when Jesus speaks the Shema, I was excited. I knew exactly where the pastor would go with it.

When asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus recited this prayer to an audience who knew every word he was going to say, but he stopped before he had completed the prayer. In its entirety it gives the instructions for the tefillin that were worn by devout Jews and the mezuzah on the doorposts of Jewish homes. Jesus stopped and skipped to a totally different passage in Leviticus about loving our neighbor. Jesus was saying that our relationship with God and our relationship with our neighbor were of the highest importance, not the outside trappings of our faith that we get so focused on.

Obviously the pastor had not been memorizing the Shema. He went in a totally different direction. When I realized he wasn’t going in MY direction, I started grumbling and stopped listening. Why didn’t he see what the passage was about?! I really can’t tell you what he spoke on that day, only what he didn’t speak on.

Sometime during that week I started thinking about Mary Cassatt, about how her art touched me, about the hand on the cheek. Sometimes I am very slow to see the connection between things, and this was one of those times. It took me some time to understand.

This next Sunday the same pastor spoke on the 10 lepers who were healed, but only one returned to thank Jesus. It was another story I had heard many times, but one I really liked. The question from this passage — where are the other nine? — has long haunted me.  Again the pastor caught me by surprise.  He went somewhere with the story that I had never been.  He pointed out something in the story that I had never seen.

To the man who came back and thanked him, Jesus said, “Your faith has made you whole.” His thankfulness led to a second blessing, a spiritual blessing of wholeness, not just outward healing.  This really gave me something to ponder:   an attitude of gratitude can lead to spiritual blessing.

So back to Mary Cassatt… It hit me that when I look at those pictures, I see the hand. Other people may see something totally different. Other people may be drawn to the mother’s arms around the child or the loving gaze between the two, often seen in her pictures. Masterpieces are like that. There are many captivating elements, but what I see may not be what someone else sees. The Bible is the greatest masterpiece of all. Doesn’t it make sense that God would speak to different people differently through it? Or couldn’t the same person revisiting it see something entirely new?

For the record, I want to say I am very thankful for pastors who can open our eyes to see the Bible in new ways.

Where are the other nine? I am one of them, but I’m learning. The hand isn’t the only thing in the picture and memorizing the Shema doesn’t make you holy.

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Published in: on March 25, 2012 at 10:00 AM  Comments (4)  
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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Mary Cassatt is my favorite too.

  2. Beautiful analogy, Sally. Another inspiring post. And a lovely painting. My gaze generally falls first at a point just above center of a painting. I wonder if the artist’s vision as she brushed the canvass was the same as your interpretation. The relationship between mother and child and the evidence of the child’s affectionate response to the mother are very touching. It draws the heart as well as the eye. Blessings to you…

  3. Very nice! Our pastor very often goes in directions other than what I expect. You can check him out at

  4. Good analogy, Sally!

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