The Miracles of Jesus
Tomie de Paola
Tomie de Paola’s The Miracles of Jesus is really a very simple book, and that is why I like it. It’s a collection of twelve miracle stories from the Gospels (primarily John and Luke), straightforwardly and faithfully told and lovingly illustrated. It’s a lovely little volume to keep on the shelf alongside story Bibles that may only include a few miracle stories: you can dip in and out of it for devotional or family readings, or read it straight through, like a picture book. In fact, that’s not a bad way to do it. My daughter can’t get enough of Jesus these days, and she finds the miracle stories fascinating. I have a hunch that’s because the miracle stories give us a glimpse of Jesus that is both immediate — meeting people where they are, in the midst of needs we all understand — and powerfully mysterious. “Who can this be?” the disciples ask, and we echo that question. It’s the irresistible, endlessly fascinating logic of the Incarnation: God is in our midst as one of us, but remains ineffably out of reach at the same time. No wonder the crowds followed Jesus, craning to get just one more glimpse or one more touch!
If you’re at all familiar with Tomie dePaola’s work, you’ll immediately recognize the charming illustrations. They’re at once warm, approachable, and slightly otherwordly, like the frescoes in a Florentine monastery. In fact, the author’s note at the end mentions that Romanesque art was his inspiration for this collection, and the beautifully composed scenes do echo early medieval art with its overtones of Byzantine iconography. As odd as it may sound to Protestant ears, I find the illustrations devotional. Orthodox icons aren’t meant to be straightforward representations of the divine (that would be idolatry), but rather windows through which we may glimpse the divine presence in created matter. These pictures echo that tradition – dePaola isn’t going for naturalistic representation or cartoons – and I’m happy to be able to offer that vision to my children alongside other artistic depictions of Jesus.
So far, our experience with this book has been that it just keeps growing on us. There are so many Bible story collections out there that are decent and unobjectionable, but this one stands out. I just love how the illustrations invite contemplation, both on the miracle story itself as well as the underlying Miracle of God living among us, healing our nature, and restoring us to community with the Holy Trinity. For those of you beginning your early Christmas shopping (i.e., those of you who are much more organized than yours truly, and have the patience to not give a book to your child the second you buy it), this would make a lovely gift.