“Indeed, upon my servants and my handmaids I will pour out a portion of my spirit.” (Acts 2: 18)
In this painting of Pentecost by Jean Restout, the apostles and women seem to express many different emotions. Some seem to be peaceful as they prayerfully receive the Holy Spirit. Others cower in fear and surprise at the event currently happening in their lives.
But even among all this action, one thing is particularly striking. While there is a substantial amount of movement in this painting, one’s gaze is directed towards Mary, who is at the center covered in light. And she looks upward with an expression of peace, as though this action of the Holy Spirit is familiar to her.
Mary is radiant in beauty…In a beauty of receptivity. She is radiant in a gift that we are given innately as women. While surrounded by people who are not necessarily asking for the Spirit, she knows who He is, and welcomes Him without resistance. Her hands are over her heart, as though she is receiving the gift of one whom she loves.
The familiarity of a daughter of God...Often I pray for this grace. Many times I find it hard to see God as a good and providing Father, especially in some of the circumstances of my life where I question His goodness. And yet, this image encourages all of us that God has indeed placed in all of our hearts an authentic desire to know Him personally. Innately in all of us women, we long to be desired, loved, and affirmed in our beauty, especially by our fathers. And God, as your Father, continually does this in your life. He longs for you to know Him and to know of your value in light of Him. He created you out of love, He provides for you, and He longs for you to receive His love.
In Restout’s painting, Mary is imaging to us something we can all strive to achieve - a childlike trust in our Father. It was in such trust that she was open to what God longed to do in her life.
But, in order to trust, she needed to know the One she was receiving from. And this is the journey we are all on. Mary trusted in God as her Father because she knew him, and we should pray for the grace to do the same.
We are continually called on this journey of trust like Mary, and can nurture such openness to God’s gifts by reflecting on the ways we have experienced His goodness to us. One such way can be to journal and pray on times that He has indeed provided in your own life, or when He gave you consolation that He is present to you. Such pondering of God’s goodness in your own heart is similar to what Mary did continually (Luke 2:19). The pondering of God’s actions in our own lives is encouragement for us to trust in Him. And in such trust, we remain open to the gifts He wants to give us.
The trust of Mary in this painting shows that she recognizes this experience of Pentecost. And indeed, she has. Mary had the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at the Annunciation. And at that moment, Christ Himself was brought into the world because of her openness. It was through such a receptive woman that God became man.
And likewise, He can do the same in our lives. During this week, let us pray on and reflect God's goodness and providence to us. And in such reflections, let us strengthen our trust in Him. In the gifts of our receptivity, may we be open to the outpouring of His Love through the Holy Spirit, and go forth sharing the Kingdom of God with the world!
(The Image of "Pentecost" by Jean Restout is found at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jean_II_Restout_-_Pentecost_-_WGA19318.jpg)