The painting has a stillness and serenity about it, in marked contrast to the strong and inhospitable wind which is clearly pulling at Mary's robe - or perhaps that's her hair. Mary and Jesus peer out from their place of warmth and security, the child safe in the arms of the mother despite the raging of the storm.
It's an archetypal image, seen in every land and culture. One of the joys of the past year for me has been the addition of two family members, making me a great-uncle twice over. I've been able to observe once again that bond of love between mother and child, so precious, and thankfully so much a part of everyday life in each new generation.
Receiving such love and security helps us to gain confidence as we grow and learn. It gives us the stability we need - stability which will help us face life with courage and integrity; stability which is a key theme of our Lent book this year ('Abiding' by Ben Quash).
Archbishop Rowan Williams, in his book 'Silence and Honey Cakes', writes this:
'We are easily persuaded that the problem of growing up in the life of the spirit can be localized - outside ourselves. Somewhere else I could be nicer, holier, more balanced, more detached about criticism, more disciplined, able to sing in tune and probably thinner as well. Somewhere there is a saintly person who really understands me (and so won't make life difficult for me).'
He goes on to quote an anonymous writer from the Christian desert monastic tradition:
'If a trial comes upon you in the place where you live, do not leave that place when the trial comes. Wherever you go, you will find that what you were running from is there ahead of you.'
How true that is. But the knowledge of love and security helps us to remain stable and persevere when times are hard. Just as Jesus was held safe in the arms of Mary, so we learn by experience that 'the eternal God is our refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms'. Just as Mary held firmly onto Jesus, so we hold firm in our faith in him. As we do so, we come to realise that the answer to the challenges we'd rather avoid lies within ourselves, because God gives us the grace and strength to face them - not alone, but with God's presence and guidance. Look at the painting again: both mother and child are looking out, looking into the wind; finding themselves, perhaps, in the eye of the storm and yet remaining calm and strong.
Hail Mary, you are full of grace
Above all women blest;
and blest your Son, whom your embrace
in birth and death confessed.
(J R Peacey)