Updated: Sep 2, 2020
In July of 2019, Billy and I were invited to attend the Glen Workshop, hosted by Image Journal, which is a spiritual retreat and hands on arts festival in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Each participant signs up for a different art class and I was assigned to the mixed media class. The first day our wonderful instructor led us to a big dumpster on the campus of Saint John’s College where the retreat was held. I am pretty sure I was the youngest female in the class of mostly women in their 60’s. I wasn’t sure if I’d have much in common with any of these women, until I saw one of the women climb up in the dumpster in her sparkling tight white capri pants and bling jewelry dangling from her wrists as she searched for treasures. I climbed into the dumpster with the other ladies and began sifting through trash for interesting things to make art with. My eye caught a texture of something white with flecks of color and I pulled out a large scrap of material that looked very shredded up. I wasn’t sure what it was, but I loved the texture. Then I found the rest of the piece that the material originally belonged to. It was an old archery target made of layers and layers of foam that was worn to death and finally confined to the dumpster.
rescue (a wrecked or disabled ship or its cargo) from loss at sea. "an emerald and gold cross was salvaged from the wreck"
retrieve or preserve (something) from potential loss or adverse circumstances. "it was the only crumb of comfort he could salvage from the ordeal"
I rolled the huge, heavy foam wheel down the hill back to our classroom and began deconstructing the layers, trying to figure out what I wanted to make. I wasn’t sure where I was going or what I was doing most of the week as I tinkered with the materials. The process of making this piece was such a delight with these sisters in Christ. I quickly realized how much I had in common with this group of amazing, artistic women. We had times of prayer together, making various projects side by side, sharing bits of our lives, and a whole lot of silliness and laughter.
As the end of the week approached and I felt the need to try to complete this piece, whatever it was, I searched around on our communal materials table for anything I might want to add. I found a plastic baggy full of turquoise beads that I thought complemented the piece well and could act as a focal point in the center. One of the women who lived in Mexico had brought a big suitcase full of found treasures to share with the class and this was one of them. I dumped out the bag of beads on the table and saw something bright white roll out amongst the beads. It was a little plastic baby not even 1” long. I kinda tried to ignore it, not wanting to put something so “overt” on this art piece. This piece for me became more about just freely making art with fellow sister-art makers, doing something more abstract, and not trying to make something with any deep meaning or personal story. Sometimes I can get too “spiritual and serious” or be too much of a literal thinker and I was enjoying a different process this retreat week. Well, as I added the beads, that little white baby just kept laying there on the table staring at me and I couldn't shake the feeling that this was a moment when materials have a way of divinely showing up.
As I lay the little plastic baby Jesus on top of the beads, somehow the piece all came together. It suddenly felt personal. I ended up sharing my story with the other women of my past with abortion, dealing with grief and loss, and how Jesus had met me in such a powerful way through my healing journey.
This chunk of foam, rescued from the trash, pierced thousands of times became the textural background for a profoundly beautiful little baby Jesus to lay on.
After the retreat was over and I came home, I learned more about the historical tradition of the little plastic baby Jesus that was hidden in the king cake (Rosca de Reyes) in Mexico and around the world. It is made for the festival of Epiphany which marks the arrival of the three wise men to deliver gifts to the baby Jesus. The bread represents the flight of the Holy Family, fleeing from King Herod’s massacre of the innocents. Whoever finds El Bebito Jesus (the Christ child) in their slice of cake is blessed and gets to host a party for the whole community. In other cultural traditions it is believed the baby symbolizes luck and prosperity to whoever finds it.
I am still trying to process the layers of meaning within this piece. (literally and figuratively) I love finding symbolic and metaphoric meaning in the materials I work with. I’m still in awe of how this Bebito Jesus just “showed up” at that moment. I’m in awe that after years of taking abuse from archery lovers, it just so happened that the target was tossed in the dumpster the very week that the Glen Workshop retreat was happening and I happened to find it. I’m in awe of how God uses his people to walk with each other and journey side by side. I’m in awe of the historical meaning of the king bread that represented the flight of the Holy Family, fleeing from King Herod’s massacre of the innocents and the parallel with my story related to abortion.
I have no explanation other than God knows, God sees all, and He cares deeply for each and every one of us, born and unborn.
I guess that means I get to host a party.