Paul Gauguin’s 1896 Bébé (The Nativity) invites us into the mystery of the Incarnation in all of its earthy, human intimacy. The Word becomes flesh in the context of this Tahitian scene, where two women, a child, an angel, and some farm animals share a space. Closest to us is a young Tahitian woman, seated and gazing intently, while holding an infant. Her focus is on the far left, where another woman, surrounded in light, rests on straw, as farm animals amble about her. An angel stands firmly and protectively above the young Tahitian woman and child.
In The Nativity, Christ is born. He enters messily into the imperfection of our lives, a gift of himself for humankind so that we may see his glory now and forever. What profound mystery—the young Tahitian woman captures our limited capacity to take all this in as her face reveals a grave intensity holding this gift. What is she thinking? Perhaps she is awed by the woman on the straw, who has given birth, given her will, heart, body, and soul over to new life coming into the world through her. Perhaps she is overwhelmed by that new life, that gift resting in her very arms now, instead of remaining with his mother. Perhaps she is engulfed by the thought of what it might mean for her to bear Christ for the world now that she has him.
The Tahitian woman is in adoration. In this scene she is the wise woman, though privileged to have the scene arrive in her context, instead of her traveling to seek it. She is the wise woman who receives a gift instead of bringing it. She does not fully comprehend the mystery but senses its gravity—and how it engages her fully and intimately. She holds the child, the gift, the glory, taking it in. How will she bring his light to the world?
Commentary is by Daniella Zsupan-Jerome, assistant professor of liturgy, catechesis, and evangelization at Loyola University New Orleans.
Ask children to call out words that represent family to them, such as kindness, protective, and strong bonds. Have children look at this week’s artwork and point out elements that symbolize family. Next, have children draw a picture of their family or if possible, use a photograph of their family, and collage phrases or words that represent what family means to them. Display the family collages around the classroom or in the vestibule of the church, or invite children to frame the collage and display it in their home.
Women in Our Lives (Ages 12–15)
Point out to young people how this artwork depicts different roles of women: new mother, supportive sister/friend, protective angel. Discuss the important roles that women play in their own lives. Have young people write a letter to one or more women who have had a positive influence in their lives. Point out that this letter is private and does not have to be sent if they choose. Encourage young people to be specific about how these women have helped them and to be mindful of their actions towards others. Invite young people to either send the letter or find another way to show their gratitude for these special women in their lives.