Q: Archbishop J, what does the Assumption mean for us today?
Look at the painting titled, ‘The Assumption’ by Jackie Hinkson done in 2019. Look very carefully! What do you see? Pause awhile and let the eyes see the image in all its parts and for what it says to you.
In 2019, on the Solemnity of the Assumption, we had a meeting of priests who had schools that were doing badly. We usually begin with a Lectio Divina on the gospel of the day. On that occasion we began with this image and had a very fruitful meditation on the Assumption. What do you see?
Some people’s eyes were drawn to the top of the image with the three persons. Others are drawn to the bottom of the image with the community gathered. Wherever your eye is drawn begin there and ask yourself: what do I see?
I like to start from below. The community is gathered around a white cloth on the ground. The policeman and the woman in the red top are pointing to it. On the far right the man in yellow is also pointing to the cloth.
Why is the white cloth so important? Why are the people gathered? All the others are standing around looking on. What are they looking at?
The man in the centre of the frame is all in white. Because of the pandemic, we know he is in PPE. Before the pandemic we knew it is a man in a Hazmat suit. A community like this, a policeman and a man in a Hazmat suit? What is going on? Clearly, there should be a dead body in this scene. But all we have is a white cloth.
You have to hear the woman in the red top and the man in the yellow saying: “I tell allyuh de dead body was here”.
This scene is so familiar in communities like this. We see it over and over on our television and the newspapers—the dead body, the man in the Hazmat suit and the crowd gathered. It is so familiar that we do not look a second time. But let us look again.
Still at the bottom, the far left, there is a Rastafarian man. He is pointing up. He is below a sign which says: “Go places, fly”. This man and the sign are pointing us elsewhere. But also the central figure in white has one hand pointing up and the other pointing down.
These three characters are pointing us to the steps that are so familiar to us in these communities. Follow the steps. You see that the upper part is wrapped in cloud. Think Jacob’s ladder when the angels of God were ascending and descending (Gen 28:12). These communities are now portrayed as portals to Heaven, connections to the divine.
Yes! Laventille, Gonzales, Picton, John John, Never Dirty, St Barbs just to name a few of the villages that now comprise the recently unveiled Yoruba village. These are the portals to Heaven, the sacred stairways to encounter the divine—Go places, fly! Remember when Nathanael was told about Jesus, he said: From Nazareth? Could anything good come from that place? (Jn 1:46).
Following the stairs all the way to the top, we meet three persons. The centre is easily recognised as Our Lady of Guadalupe. She appeared in the New World in 1531 as a native, dressed in the traditional dress of a New World woman. There is a stream of pure light bathing her.
The two men, one with a staff—The good Shepherd, the other one: “the Ancient of Days …His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool” (Dan 7:9).
These two with their hands over the woman, bathe her in pure light and crown her with glory as the yellow light surrounds her. While the woman in red and the man in yellow look to the ground, the rastaman and the man in the Hazmat suit point to where the body has gone and is now crowned in glory.
Pope Pius XII solemnly proclaimed in 1950 the doctrine of the Assumption. The doctrine states: “…the Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory” (apostolic constitution Munificentissimus Deus Paragraph 44).
Eastern Catholics celebrate the feast of the Dormition—Mary fell asleep and was bodily taken into Heaven. The rest of the Church believes Mary died and was then bodily taken up into Heaven.
The dogma did not define which, it simply proclaims that Mary “having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory”.
The painting, like the dogma, emphasises the absence of a body. It also expressly affirms that the body is in Heaven, bathed in glory and crowned by the Father and the Son.
When the eminent psychologist Carl Jung heard about the solemn proclamation of the dogma of the Assumption, he was delighted. In 1950, the cities of Europe lay in ruins from the Second World War. Women were still treated as inferior.
Jung saw the dogma as an affirmation of hope both for women and for Europe. If the earthly body of the woman is in Heaven, then this speaks to the dignity of womanhood and the woman’s body. It also speaks to the end of death and its power
(1 Cor 15:55–57).
When I asked Jackie Hinkson to paint the Assumption to use as the card for ordination to Bishop, ten years ago, he tried to decline. The work took eight years to complete.
But it gives us religious imagination.
Until we can see and believe that communities like Yoruba Village, China town, Enterprise and our coastal communities are portals to the divine, we would not have understood the true significance of the Incarnation, the Assumption or of the message of Our Lady of Guadalupe for that matter.
The Assumption proclaims that the physical body of the woman, Mary, is in Heaven, so all women and all our communities are destined for the divine.
Consider your feelings when you heard of Yoruba Village? Was it shock or joy? Ponder this.
1 Cor 15: 55–57