Tuesday, February 22, 2011


A childhood friend who lived next door to me in Baton Rouge, Louisiana owned a collection of saint cards that she kept in her missal. Each time she came home with a different card, she singled me out to view the entire collection again, many of which depicted Jesus with blood dripping from his heart and Mary weeping at the foot of the cross, and I wanted to hide when she brought home a new addition to her frightening collection. Today, I have a few saint cards of my own, but the memory of that fear I felt when I viewed my friend’s cards hasn’t faded.

A few days ago, I received a copy of You Who Make the Sky Bend, Saints as Archetypes of the Human Condition, with Lives by Lisa Sandlin and Retablos by Catherine Ferguson and was impressed with the beautiful depictions of saints, many of whom have inspired worshippers throughout history. The retablos certainly nullify my childhood memory of saint cards – they are stunning renderings by a Mexican artist whose artist parents found one another in the studio of the famous Frida Kahlo. As a young girl, artist Catherine Ferguson often viewed a painting of the Virgin of Guadalupe and felt no terror – she was inspired. After those viewings, Ferguson began her lifework of painting saint images, 31 of which are contained in You Who Make the Sky Bend.

Even St. Christopher, reputed to be tall and ugly, appears as a kindly-looking giant carrying the child on his shoulder who will eventually carry the burdens of the whole world (Christ). He is depicted against the black background that symbolizes his outcast condition, but Ferguson deftly captures his inner benignity and goodness. Each retablo is accompanied by a brief biography derived from ancient documents, books, legends, and human testimonies, and author Sandlin says that they attracted her because

“they had once been flesh and blood people, most of them anyway, and as such, they had to contend with the trials of earth while constantly aware of eternity. Making butter or boats, cooking, writing, fighting battles and storms and slander, they never mislaid eternity. They spoke of it, they saw it, they heard it…”
This attractive book, published by Pinyon-Publishing, will be welcomed by those who are fascinated with God’s missioners – people who have human qualities but inspire in us a desire for a deeper understanding of God and an allegiance to his Kingdom. My favorite retablo and biography features Mary Magdalene, the reformed sinner whom the Eastern Orthodox Church still honors as the Apostle to the Apostles, an

“…adept who ‘walked with the Lord,’ the full if embattled disciple, the lover of truth who wanted to understand all things just as they are…’”
You Who Make the Sky Bend is an elegant book of illuminating retablos and a text that shows examples of human nature uplifted to the condition of the “better self.” The images and stories bear out the ancient maxim from the contemplative, St. John the Divine: “Absolute self-giving is the only path from the human to the divine.”

You can order this account of exceptional saints from www.pinyon-publishing.com.

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