“Change…is it a postive thing?” “Does it make life inconsistent or more fulfilling?” “How should I embrace change?”
These are questions that I frequently find myself struggling with. And I guess, these are the questions which essentially attracted me to Guido Reni’s painting of The Adoration of the Shepherds.
In this painting I could envision the journey of the shepherds towards the source of light radiating from baby Jesus. But although they ultimately reach the source they still do not quite make physical contact with it. Even the Virgin Mary, who is closest to the source of light and most illuminated by it, is not making any direct contact. It is as if one has reached the destination – the source of light or call, but hasn’t at the same time. And this leads one to ask the next question: “Why is that?” Reflecting on this point, I recalled how the birth of Jesus brought with it the hope for change, the prospect and promise of salvation. As the Old Testament passes onto the New, Christmas is therefore, both the harbringer of and change in itself.
Suddenly, in my eyes, the journey of the shepherds became something else: a journey towards change. Perhaps, that is why the shepherds do not touch the source of light, but simply bask in it. They have been changed and with change there comes the start of yet another new journey of growth towards a new light and deeper understanding. The same can be said of the representation of the Virgin Mary, who despite her purity, the birth of Jesus brought change and growth within her. This sense of movement is outlined in the painting itself, where one can trace the start-end cycle of a journey for both the shepherds and the magi. The representation of nativity scenes often combines the adoration of the shepherds with that of the magi. In fact, in Reni’s work, one can see darker figures making their way toward the central figures. However, they are too far away to be illuminated by the source of light, i.e. Jesus. This is another step along the journey towards hope and change. Unlike the shepherds, the magi prepared for this journey from before-hand. They were open to the change which they could foresee at the end.
This is the meaning of advent. Advent, after all, is the preparation for change. Incidentally, preparation also brings change for the ride. Therefore, in its entirety, both the preparation and the actual journey paves the way for growth and stirs change. Without change, life will not only be still, but will start to fester into a stagnant pool of apathy, indifference and mediocrity.
So, to return to the questions posed initially – is change for the better? I believe, it truly depends in which light one sees it. What is certain however, is that with change comes growth, and, as in the example set by nature, growth often bears fruit. As symbolically portrayed with the inclusion of musical instruments at the “end” of the journey, the potential to grow and be fruitful offers much reason to rejoice and be festive.
Image: The National Gallery