Fourth Sunday of Advent

The Virgin of VladimirThis week is odd because although it is still Advent, a time for waiting and anticipation, Wits’ End is celebrating Christmas and the birth of Emmanuel. How can we carry at once both the anticipation and the fulfillment?

The poem I’ve chosen for this week touches on this a bit, I think. It’s part two of a three part ekphrastic poem on The Virgin of Vladimir called Our Lady of Tenderness. It’s a poem addressed to the Christ Child who is clinging to the neck of his mother, and it anticipates all that Jesus is to become and is to do. In many ways this poem suggests that Christ is the one who births; Christ is the one who mothers Mary.

I love late in the poem when the narrator addresses Christ as “O Little Panacea” — O Remedy, O Cure, O Wonder Drug.

O Co-Sufferer.

After The Virgin of Vladimir, 12th C., anon.
II. Our Lady of Tenderness

By Susanna Childress

Christ Child with your arms around your mother
what have you done for us

to take in our hands bona fide conception with flesh?
Saint Catherine of Siena said

You drew us out of your holy mind
like a flower

and she was illiterate most of her life, her prayers written down
for her, and it is in prayer we have

two hands up, like your mother’s, every finger the final petal,
not touching you but meaning to touch,

either buttressing or balancing stacks of tokens, glasses dark with wine,
our limitations and that hot need

to love. Did you think I wouldn’t see it is you holding her,
not her holding you? For

she has already the unfortunate-that-which-is-to-come in her eyes,
drooped with sorrow, our careful human sap.

You, as though you will breathe into her—if only to adumbrate
a Russian artist’s rendering of hope—

you, a child who couldn’t have been only a child, your thick neck
twists to kiss her, and she looks

vigilantly at us. Ocher walls, chipped and ancient,
they are not your home. She knows

this, she tells me, obstinate as I am, slowly broken down
in the bones with a weight

known only by leaping belief, she asks with eyes like grapes
not what has he done

but what hasn’t he? O Little Panacea, suffering up under
your mother’s brow, keep your hand

cupped close, bless her name when years later the crowd
will beg for your breath, hallowed and terrible.

About Lauren Sawyer

I am an assistant instructor at a graduate school in Seattle, Washington, and I hold a master of the arts in theology and culture. I love coffee, rainy days, and John Updike. Learn more about me at