SOMEONE WROTE AND WISELY ASKED: Why in the Nativity Icon is the Mother of God looking away from her Son, in Western images she is fixed on him? It does seem curious doesn't it? But follow the line of her gaze. She is looking at the shepherds. And the shepherds are called the ANAWIM.
The anawim are those who in every time and culture are those who live on the margins, who have been pushed to the edge, the ones who are forgotten by the world. For the shepherds we might say, "Out of sight, out of mind." They were forgotten, ignored or perhaps despised because they worked away from the practice of the Law. They were not present to their families. They could be perceived as thievish - dirtied. In the icon the shepherds are even at the literal edge of the painted board. Any further and they'd fall off. And this is where Mary gazes. Her eyes echo the invitation of the angels - come and see.
The ANAWIM today? Damaged soldiers back from war who feel forgotten and lost in the system, the people after Katrina and Sandy and the recent Philippine cyclone and Japan after the tsunami and the reactor meltdown. The ANAWIM are the un-insured, un-educated, those without a clinic or dentist, the families who live off of garbage mountains, the young people disappeared, the country of Syria - the layers of division so complex it can't be sorted out.
Or we could say that the ANAWIM is that inner place, in each of us, that feels estranged, lost, deeply confused or un-resolved, at the end of my rope, exhausted physically or emotionally.
We might return to this central piece of the icon - the Mother of God resting. She's not day-dreaming, "What have I gotten myself into here?" But she is looking for each of us and all of us. We might place ourselves and the hurting world in her line of vision. That's a good prayer.