Tearing at the Sacred Bond

In June, 2018 I spent about three weeks painting the faces of the mother and child.  June was also the month in which the policy of separating parents from children at the border became public, though the policy had actually gone into effect six months earlier.

Even before Sacred Bond was complete people began to comment that the painting was a timely response to what was happening at the border. The mother’s facial features and her traditional Mayan clothing linked her to communities of indigenous people in Central America, especially Guatemala which was the origin of many of the recent immigrants. The painting depicts a mother’s night journey along a lonely mountain path holding her precious child. Some viewers saw the mother and child as immigrants seeking asylum due to dangerous or oppressive conditions in their home country.  Others made the link between their journey and the Gospel story of the desperate flight of Mary, Joseph and the infant Jesus to Egypt to escape Herod’s massacre of the innocents. 

In June I was searching for a title for the painting.  One morning I read in the newspaper the words of a ruling by federal judge Dana Sabraw on the immigration policy of separating parents from children.  He wrote that allegations brought against the policy "describe government conduct that arbitrarily tears at the sacred bond between parent and child."  His words inspired me to choose “Sacred Bond” as the title of the painting.

I was also struck at the time that all five living ‘first ladies” took a strong, non-partisan stand condemning the separation policy.  They described that policy with powerful words like “cruel, immoral, heart-breaking, disgraceful and shameful.”  They pointed to the need to transcend partisan divides and respond to the humanitarian crisis with the “heart” and not just the “law.” They spoke from experience as mothers who knew the importance of the bond between parents and children and the harmful consequences of arbitrarily tearing at that bond. Their passionate condemnations implicitly affirmed that a “sacred bond” was involved. A higher morality, a sense of compassion and recognition of our common humanity was essential to address the full dimensions of the crisis.

Sacred Bond invites us to cultivate that level of compassionate response by taking a long, loving look at the faces of the mother and child. If we take time to really see the mother and child with open eyes and open heart we may come to a deeper personal recognition of their individuality, humanity, and identity as images of God. Gazing at their faces can help us move beyond abstractions to a visceral feeling of their unique value as persons and the sacredness of the bond between them. 

Contemplative vision and a sense of compassion naturally move toward fulfillment in daily life when we begin to transfer the “heart-seeing” we practice in contemplation to the immigrant parents and children suffering now in their homelands and at our borders. The heart-seeing becomes the kind of “touchstone of discernment” described in the blog post of March 15th. When we test possible responses and courses of action related to the crisis against the contemplative wisdom and compassion of the heart what happens? What path forward begins to reveal itself?