Thursday, December 16, 2004

blue christmas

Christmas, for some people, is a blue time. It’s not joy and presents, but a time when they remember absent loved ones, face dysfunctional families or financial hardship. So last nite, I ran a Blue Christmas service.

As part of it, I invited people to tie a knot (using blue twisty tie) onto a white sheet, suspended in the middle of the room. This served to allow us to remember what makes us/our friends “blue.”

I then projected the art image below onto the cloth and onto our “blues. (My sister-in-law sent me the link last week).
Painted in 1515, its titled the Adoration of the Christ Child. The painter is unknown. Look closely at the faces of the angel beside Mary and the shepherd standing. Psychiatrists have diagnosed them both as having Downs Syndrome.

Angels and shepherds, as Downs syndrome, adoring Christ. This raised some fascinating reflections.
1. Is the stigma of Downs Syndrome a recent societal phenomenon, and were such people an accepted part of the artists world of 1515?

2. Can we accept Downs Syndrome as part of the birth of Christ? Can we accept the love and worship that such people offer? What does it mean for our church communities to be places that include such people?

3. What does this art piece do to our notions of a Blue Christmas?

For a high res version from the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, go here.

For more information on the medical background go here.

Posted by steve at 03:34 PM


  1. i’ve spent many years working with people with intellectual disabilities (some very severe), and its always made me question how we understand salvation. ie. what does salvation taste like for these friends of mine,? what role does the church community play in their salvation, now and in the future? q.2 what does it mean for our church communities to be places that include such people? i think it means critiquing our notion of individual personal salvation, maybe?

    i love this painting steve, its very meaningful to me. thanks.

    Comment by christina — December 17, 2004 @ 10:50 am

  2. My Father-in-Law died a very tragic and unexpected death back in August of this year. As expected, Christmas has been very hard on my wife. I can see the blue tying ritual as quite powerful. Sometimes even the simplest/smallest actions can aid the healing process.

    Comment by Rich — December 17, 2004 @ 10:58 am

  3. Sculptures of Greek gods used to be made with the face in slightly different proportions from most people, resembling more the face of someone with Down’s Syndrome.

    Comment by Eric — December 23, 2004 @ 4:38 pm

  4. Eric,
    did you follow the web link in relation to the medical diagnosis? These are trained, qualified, medical practioners who are looking at the art and with their medical training making the diagnosis.

    Comment by steve — December 23, 2004 @ 5:52 pm

  5. Steve, I am not sure the medical diagnosis is all that important. As Eric said, Art often intentionally distorts natural proportions. However, that doesn’t change the question of how the mentally handicapped are included in the church. My sister is a QMRP (Qualified Mental Retardation Professional). So this has been on my mind for some time now. I think Christina’s questions are quite relevant.


    Comment by Jeremiah — December 24, 2004 @ 5:54 am

  6. Jeremiah, (and perhaps Eric again :),
    These are medical people looking at art – seeing a group of people and with their medical training saying – wow, 2 of those people in that group have the physical symptoms of DS. And then arguing their diagnosis academically before there peers. That’s their medical reputation on the line. Why is that not important?

    Comment by steve — December 24, 2004 @ 8:30 am

  7. there’s an amazing video by Sigur Ros that has a Downs Syndrome dance group performing : actually amazing is silly, spectacular is more fitting.

    i’ve used it twice now in conjunction with the story of the massacre of the innocents. when julia was pregnant with allister we were asked if we wanted to take ‘the test’ for downs. we declined, but the point was that “most people who discover their child has downs will abort.” you can’t get a more succinct summary of the cultural prevailing attitude to downs, or any other mental disorder, than that.

    kia ora bro for bringing that art to our attention.

    Comment by stu — December 27, 2004 @ 6:47 pm

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