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Comfort and Joy: Faith through Beauty


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Editor’s Note: As part of our “Comfort and Joy” Advent/Christmas blog series, Michael Carlson, a former Communications Associate at Franciscan Mission Service, shares how he draws comfort through the times faith challenges him.

Faith rarely makes me comfortable at all. I’m amused when people accuse religion, like Karl Marx did, of being an opiate, a fantasy distraction from reality. Faith asks a lot of me. It asks me to forgive people when it’s so much easier to judge them. It asks me to love others when I’d rather not. It also asks me to serve those in need.

Since we all have needs, whether emotional, spiritual, or material, that’s a tall order itself. I ask God for things all the time in prayer, but God also asks quite a bit of me too. But God asks. God loves us so much that God gave us freedom. God never made me do anything in my life.

I’m fairly reasonable, but I’m not a logical person. My imagination is more persuasive than any theorem can ever be. God doesn’t force me, but God does move me, constantly. The more I pay attention, the more I’m present to myself, and others, the more I’m moved. I suppose I could call it pathos or the numinous, but classifying how God moves me simply buries the beauty.

Advent is the anticipation of the ultimate beauty: God with us. Beauty, however, is of course quite different from glamor. Childbirth is not glamorous. Historically, Palestinian Jewish wives were quite young. Most Madonnas in Western art feature Mary as a thirty-something Caucasian woman wearing bright blue and unstained white clothing. In reality, Mary was a pregnant girl in an age without detergent or toothpaste or deodorant.

Artists traditionally depict Mary with pleasant features out of piety, but she may have physically been quite ugly. God doesn’t care about that kind of thing. Her labor was probably long, and there was no epidural. It was anything but comfortable. But, when the angel Gabriel asked, Mary said, “Yes” and so I imagine Mary in labor, soaked in sweat, dark eyes bloodshot, voice hoarse from screaming, and afraid for her life and the life of her baby. I imagine her pleading to the God of Abraham and Moses to give her faith.

Mary’s beautiful faith asks me to be joyful for God’s gift of Jesus. When I share her joy in Jesus, that’s when my faith brings me comfort.

Question for reflection: One of the greatest examples of faith is Mary’s “yes” to God’s call. How can you echo this “yes” in your own life? Do you feel that there is something God is asking you to do that you’re afraid to say “yes” to? Trust in Him. You won’t be walking alone.

Michael Carlson

Michael Carlson

A former Communications Associate at Franciscan Mission Service, Michael Carlson is currently a graduate student at Yale Divinity School.

Featured image: adaptation of photo from Pixabay – Creative Commons.

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Michael Carlson hails from Illinois. A graduate of Loyola University Chicago, he has been a Lasallian Volunteer, high school English teacher, and a Jesuit novice. He served as a Communications Associate at FMS from 2013 to 2014 and is currently a master’s candidate in religion and literature at Yale Divinity School.