One of the most striking features of Sacred Bond is the shawl draped over the mother’s shoulders. The green leaves, the varieties of purple fruit and flowers, and the squiggly lines that border these images offer a feast of rich colors and patterns. The shawl covering the mother and child looks like a pair of large, folded wings that shelter both of them from the chill night air just before dawn in the mountains. The green leaves and deep blue spaces of the shawl mirror the green landscape and the dark blue mountain tops emerging like islands from the sea of fog in the valleys. These correspondences visually link the mother’s shawl to the beauty and fertility of the landscape in the background. There is a kinship, a sacred bond, between the shawl and the land.
As I reflected on what this mirroring of landscape and shawl might mean, I recalled a verse from the Canticle of Creatures by Francis of Assisi: “Be praised, my Lord, for our sister, Mother Earth, who feeds us and cares for us and produces such variety of fruit, colored flowers and herbs!”
The poetic images of the Canticle reveal another layer of meaning to the sacred bond between mother and child, shawl and landscape. Francis extends the bond between mother and child to the earth itself “who feeds and cares for us” like a mother. In the Canticle that care is concretely symbolized by “such variety of fruit, colored flowers and herbs.” Mother Earth feeds our bodies with her fruits, delights our souls with the beauty of colored flowers, and heals us with her medicinal herbs. The images on the shawl picture the same triad of fruit, flowers and herbs. The specific symbolic expressions of motherly care in both the Canticle and Sacred Bond are identical.
Sacred Bond adds further expressions of the mother’s care. The child is wrapped carefully in a warm blanket and held securely in a pouch gently supported by the mother’s strong hands. The child’s head is covered by a knit cap, and the mother’s shawl draped over the child’s head offers further protection from the wind and cold.
Perhaps the most profound expression of her care is her serene and compassionate gaze. Children need more than food and warmth to survive and thrive. They need the love communicated in the smile and loving gaze of a mother and father. In the moment captured in the painting the mother and child are not looking directly at one another. The child has tilted his or her head back just a bit to gaze in wonder at the stars. The mother seems to be looking inward in thought or contemplation. When children feel secure in love they have the freedom to explore the environment beyond immediate presence to the mother knowing that she will be there when they return.
In both the Canticle and Sacred Bond Mother Earth is not simply something that meets our physical needs. She is someone who loves and cares. In Sacred Bond the someone behind the shawl of fruit, flowers and herbs is our sister, Mother Earth, with whom we can enter into a loving relationship. By calling Earth our sister Francis is pointing to the fact that the Earth is a creature like us. All created things share a bond as brothers and sisters who owe their existence to a Divine Creator. This is beautifully expressed in Laudate Si: On Care for our Common Home, the letter written to the world by Pope Francis:
“…as part of the universe, all of us, called into being by one Father, are linked by unseen bonds and together form a kind of universal family, a sublime communion which fills us with a sacred, affectionate and humble respect.” #89.
In both the Canticle and Sacred Bond there is no unbridgeable chasm between Creator and creature. Communing with Mother Earth and communing with God in and through Mother Earth are integral to one another. Earth and the whole Cosmos are seen as holy, suffused with Spirit. As human beings we are linked with all creatures by unseen sacred bonds of deep affection and humble respect.