Christmas, Day 6: Black-Haired Boy

LOOK: Madonna and Child by Gracie Morbitzer

Morbitzer, Gracie_Madonna and Child
Gracie Morbitzer (American, 1997–), Madonna and Child, 2018. Acrylic on repurposed wood, 14 × 12 in. Private collection.

Gracie Morbitzer is a Catholic artist from Columbus, Ohio, who paints biblical and extrabiblical saints as modern, everyday people in a range of skin tones, forgoing the hieratic style of traditional icons in favor of a more relatable, this-worldly look that enables the individuals’ distinctive personalities to shine through. She uses discarded or thrifted pieces of wood as her substrate, welcoming cracks and imperfections as only further reiterating how the extraordinary shines through the ordinary.

In her Madonna and Child, Mary props up her newborn on her knees, basking in her new role as mother. She wears frayed jeans, a loose blouse, gold hoop earrings, and a nose stud. On her wrist is a henna tattoo of her Immaculate Heart—a burning, bloodied heart pierced with a sword and banded with roses, representing the intensity and purity of her love and the suffering that Simeon prophesies.

Jesus, wrapped in a starry blanket and donning a cruciform halo, playfully touches Mom’s nose, crinkling his face as he giggles with delight.

The yellow acrylic background recalls the gold leafing of icons, used to suggest the transfiguring light of God. Morbitzer also uses the traditional Greek shorthand names for the Mother of God (MP OY) and Jesus Christ (IC XC).

This image can be purchased as a 5 × 7-inch print at The Modern Saints Etsy shop.

LISTEN: “Mary’s Lullaby (Black Haired Boy)” | Words by Kate Bluett | Music by Paul Zach | Sung by Liz Vice on Advent Songs by The Porter’s Gate (2021)

Oh, black-haired boy, your eyes are dark
as midnight lit by shining stars
and bright as love that filled my heart
when first I looked at you.
Your skin is brown as pilgrim roads,
laid straight through fragrant olive woods,
as brown as mine, and I’m in awe
each time I look at you.

You made the ox and lamb, my love,
and shaped the wings of turtledoves.
You wrote the hidden secrets of
the world I’ll show to you.
Within my body you took form
and wailed aloud when you were born—
the moment that my heart was torn
with love I’ll show to you.

You wove these wonders through the earth;
you made them all and gave them worth,
and now you join them in your birth,
and I’ll give them to you.
I’ll show you skies filled up with stars
and teach you words for light and dark,
for all the wondrous things there are:
I’ll give them all to you.

I’ll hold you closely as I can
and watch you grow into a man.
As long as I can hold your hand,
I’ll walk the world with you.
And you’ll lead me to God’s own heart,
where all these wonders have their start.
But here within the stable dark,
I’ll be the world for you.

Since the Middle Ages, Christians have written lullabies in the voice of Mary, imagining her rocking her infant son to sleep, sharing with him her most tender feelings and wishes. This contemporary one by frequent songwriting collaborators Kate Bluett and Paul Zach—so poignantly sung by Liz Vice—is among my favorites.

In the first stanza Mary dotes poetically on Jesus’s features—his eyes dark and bright as star-studded midnight skies, his skin brown as the footpaths to Zion. In the remaining stanzas she marvels at how the Creator of the universe lies as a babe in her arms, and how she will get to experience its many wonders with him at her side, discover its secrets together. Jesus made the world in which she lives and moves and has her being, but now, while he is small, vulnerable, and dependent, she’ll be a whole world to him, as mothers are to their children.

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