French painter Luc Oliver Merson’s 1879 painting “Rest on the Flight” is set in the austere desert near the Nile River that runs through Egypt. Merson’s imagination is pretty fantastic with the scene he paints here. The more I look at it, the more the haunting painting pulls me in.
Do you notice that Joseph’s face is totally obscured by a hood. He is asleep on the desert floor under a vast, starless sky. His mule stands nearby, grazing on the few sparse shoots afforded by the barren desert.
But I am most drawn to Mary reclining with her baby on the great stone sphinx. (I once visited The Sphinx with Jennifer and my children in the desert just west of Cairo … a truly awesome experience, to say the least.) Notice the contrast… Merson paints a dark sky with the main light in the painting emanating from the Christ child, asleep in Mary’s arms.
As I ponder this evocative painting, I can’t help but wonder where the holy family will go in the morning, following their night’s rest. In this first week of Advent, I have been thinking about how each new day is an adventure, a new gift with new opportunities. And yet, each days brings uncertainties and unknowns. Where will I go? Who will I meet? What will I say? Who will I serve?
Like the Holy Family on their divine mission, we must rest and be replenished if we are ever to reach Egypt, and all that means for our sanctuary, survival, vocation, redemption, and accomplishment.