Balgo artist's uplifting vision for Christmas

'May this image of Matthew Gill’s provide a moment of feeling and believing you are also lifted up in love and joy by God at this time.'

This year, as my Christmas greeting to my Jesuit brothers, family and friends and all who support our Province life and mission, I have chosen this joyful image of Mary holding up Jesus as painted by Matthew Gill Tjupurrula.

Mary and baby Jesus painting by Matthew Gill Tjupurrula. Image used with kind permission from Matthew’s family.

I first met Matthew some 46 years ago at the very remote Balgo Mission in the south-east Kimberley. Matthew was then a teenager, moving from the mission, and the very traditionalist life of his desert family, to attend Nulungu College in Broome. At a very young age his life journey continued to change and evolve, involving much more than travelling those 900km of very rough road that then linked Balgo with Broome.

Over the years Matthew became a well-known Balgo artist. He is particularly remembered for his efforts to engage with the Christian story. He painted church banners, a series of Stations of the Cross, some Old Testament figures and this particular image of Mary and Jesus. In each painting he reveals something of his own culture as he listens and offers back to us his understanding of the Christian message.

I particularly like this image of Mary, since it captures her very public joy as she uplifts the early life of her son.

Each year at Christmas we are invited to wonder about its deeper gift and meaning. Amid the tinsel, music, celebrations and nativity scenes there is much joy and hope. Our culture calls us to rest, relax and celebrate.

The shadow of our humanity can also come upon us at this time with a growing awareness of our vast dry land, much covered in smoke, as we witness the recent tragic loss of homes and lives due to bushfires. We grieve, too, for the lives so terribly lost at White Island in New Zealand.

Meanwhile, the media fills us with daily news of the unrest in Hong Kong and many other places in the world where people struggle and mothers continue to worry about the lives of their children.

This uplifting of Jesus by his mother is an invitation to feel personally lifted up as well. The birth of Jesus, that very moment where the divine comes to live personally and intimately with us — Emmanuel, God-with-us — is a graced reminder that we are each blessed in our deepest selves, simply by our sharing in the gift of life and being part of God’s creation.

Many of us will gather in the coming days with families and friends and celebrate this moment when human life was once and for all changed and blessed. It will call us to share our tables of hospitality with those we love but also to remember those who struggle at this time.

Perhaps we might especially remember those mothers who continue to uphold their children in joy whatever the uncertainties of their present and future lives.

My prayers and best wishes to our Jesuit families, friends and companions. May this image of Matthew Gill’s provide a moment of feeling and believing you, too, are lifted up in love and joy by God at this time, and also lifted up in the prayers and gratitude of myself and our Province.

Fr Brian F. McCoy SJ, Provincial