Henry Ossawa Tanner was the first African American to gain international acclaim as an artist. The son of a former slave, he spent his working life in France where it was easier for a person of colour to gain recognition. He specialised in religious subjects. This is his best known work, painted in 1897 after a trip to Palestine.
The artist conveys Mary’s trepidation, modest spirit, and, above all, her deeply reflective nature. What is being asked of her is symbolised by the empty pottery vessels. Notice the ruck in the rug and the crumpled bedclothes, hinting at how disruptive a ‘Yes’ would be to her ordinary life and plans for the future. Beside her lies a blue robe … will she put it on? Cloth of blue covered the Ark of the Covenant: Mary is the new Ark… if, that is, she consents to God’s life within her.
Trusting God, we surely know how it feels to let our plans and expectations be derailed. ‘Let it be’ is more than a once-in-a-lifetime response: it is a way of being.
How freely can I say my ‘Yes’ today?