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Mary's Particularity: Encountering a 17th Century Drawing of a Chinese Madonna.

 The following post was originally written as a response for the fall 2018 course at United, TR271: Theological Interpretation of the Arts.  

Reading The Christian Story: Five Asian Artists Today by Pongracz, Kuster, and Cook is an emotional and empowering experience for me. I am half Asian, and this is the first time I have held a book that focused on Christian Asian art. I caught my breath on page thirty-one when I saw a seventeenth century illustration of a Chinese Madonna from Beijing: I saw myself in her. As a half-Korean, half-Caucasian woman, seeing myself in a Chinese Madonna may not make sense to others, but the image instantly connected to my heart. I saw facial features similar to my Asian ancestors and the long flowy dress similar to the Korean hanbok as if I was looking at my own reflection. I cried holding that picture.

It felt sacred to hold a textbook that focused on art made by people from my home continent (i.e., Asia) on the other side of the world. It tapped into a deep part of my soul; I felt seen in a way most American texts fail with their Eurocentric perspective.

Seeing this Madonna reminded me of what I learned in Professor Eleazar’s Public Theology class: it is God’s particularity that makes God universal. Seeing Mary, the Mother of Jesus, depicted as an Asian woman made me feel more connected to God than any portrait of a white Mary. Mary and baby Jesus portrayed in an Asian culture makes me see the universality of God in a whole new way. Before Professor Eleazar’s class, I thought if God were particular, then God could not be universal. But it is only because God is particular that God can be universal. And I finally, fully grasped that concept upon seeing an Asian Mary. I could see myself in Mary, the mother of Jesus, in a way I never have before, and because of that, I am able to see myself in the gospel story as a whole.

God’s universality is made manifest by God’s many particularities, and seeing an Asian version of God’s particularity made me feel connected to God’s universality. As someone who yearns for belonging, this picture of Madonna made my heart utter those two words: I belong. And for that, I am grateful.

Learn More About United's Theology and the Arts Concentration

Nikole Mitchell

Nikole Mitchell is a current MAL student with a concentration in Social Transformation.

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