Stop. Look. Listen. — Week 2

Welcome to week two of Stop.Look.Listen. I’m so glad you’re joining me for this Advent series! Are you ready to press pause together for a few moments? This week’s post is also available as a YouTube video! Just press play below. Or scroll down for the transcript if you’d prefer to read as usual.

Have you found moments this week to pause and resist the rush? If not, now is the perfect opportunity. Give yourself permission for the next few moments to focus solely on these words of scripture:

The Annunciation by Fra Angelico (1440-1445)

Just look at the angel Gabriel’s wings in this beautiful painting! Such exquisite detail! Compared to the rest of the painting, I find my eyes drawn to those gorgeous, colourful wings. This early Renaissance painting is the work of Fra Angelico (literally the angel-like brother). 

Fra Angelico, a Dominican friar and Italian painter, is said to have spent much time in prayer before beginning any work of art. As the story goes, he never changed a single brushstroke as a result, believing that as he devoted his work to God, God was guiding his hand.

This habit of not changing his strokes reminds me of something my children’s art teacher tells them over and over again. She encourages them to embrace any mistakes they make and see what they can do with them, incorporating them into their finished masterpiece somehow. This concept is well illustrated in Barney Saltzberg’s children’s book called Beautiful Oops. Have you read it? In this whimsical read, a torn piece of paper gets transformed into an alligator’s mouth, while a spill of purple paint across a page becomes an enormous elephant. As Saltzberg writes, “When you think you have made a mistake, think of it as an opportunity to make something beautiful.”

This is a lesson we as adults would do well to heed too. And, no, I’m not talking about forging ahead in arrogance, convinced we can do no wrong. Not at all! The only way we forge ahead is by grace. It’s God’s grace that assures us that the darkest streaks and most hideous scratches on the canvas of our life can be redeemed and worked into its overall beauty. Only God’s love and sovereignty can do something with all those things we can never undo.

When we look at Mary, we may be tempted to think she had so much to give to God when He sent this angelic messenger to her. We watch with awe as she surrenders and bends her innocence and maidenhood to the will of Almighty God. In comparison, perhaps what we have to offer looks rather tainted, maybe even ruined. But I believe we can find comfort in the words of her song. Remember, the rich and full are sent away. Empty. It’s the poor and hungry that are satisfied and filled. 

So, no matter what we’ve lost, no matter what we’ve squandered, no matter the deficit we bring to God, He’d rather us seek Him in poverty and full dependence anyway. He can do something with that! His love is a love that restores what the enemy of our soul has broken and stolen. Our gracious and loving God is indeed the Master of the beautiful oops!

This week’s listen, like last week’s, hails from the northern region of Spain, specifically from Basque Country in the Pyrenees. “Gabriel’s Message” is a Basque folk carol that comes from a Latin carol dating to the 13th or 14th century. I really enjoy Matt Maher’s version of this song, but I’ve chosen to include here a choral version because of its beautiful accompanying artwork and exquisite harmonies. It’s a feast for the senses. May it bless you as you contemplate what it must have been like for Mary as the angel Gabriel brought her such unfathomable news. 

I’ll be back next week, same time same place, for the third instalment of Stop. Look. Listen. In the meantime, may we be attentive to the places in our lives and our world where God’s love is working to restore all that’s been lost, stolen, and broken. Let us have the courage to yield to God’s will and ways as unwaveringly and reverently as Mary did.

Waiting with you,

Other posts in this series:


WEEK 1 — Stop.Look.Listen…for the Lamb of God

WEEK 3 — Stop.Look.Listen…for the Light of the World

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