A Painter, a Thief, Mary Magdalen, and the Divine Mirror



The painter, Barbora Kysilkova and her muse, Karl-Bertil Nordland – the thief who stole two of her most valuable paintings

The Painter and The Thief

I am not someone who is known to get terribly excited if someone says to me, “you just HAVE to watch this Norwegian documentary”. I am also not someone who watches a Norwegian documentary start to finish two days in a row. But that is exactly what happened a few weeks ago with The Painter and The Thief:


The Painter and The Thief – Desperate for answers about the theft of her 2 paintings, a Czech artist seeks out and befriends the career criminal who stole them. After inviting her thief to sit for a portrait, the two form an improbable relationship and an inextricable bond that will forever link these lonely souls.


There is a scene about 30 minutes into the movie in which The Painter shows The Thief the portrait she has painted of him and he – a touch guy, a criminal, a drug addict, breaks down crying. Why?

Because she saw him.

And not just the tough-guy-criminal-drug-addict him. That is easy. What she saw was the him who is worthy of love. The him who entered this word as a baby like the rest of us. The him whose mother abandoned him. The him who is smart and funny and tender. The him whom God loves. The him he dare not let anyone see, and yet somehow she did.

And he, having experienced being seen in this way, changed more and more into the person she saw him to be.

It all reminded me of Mary Magdalen

“Woman, why are you weeping?” the angel at Jesus’ tomb asked her. She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”


I’ve always assumed that the grief Mary Magdalen expresses at Jesus’ tomb had a particularity to it. We know that he had cast seven demons out of her and that she supported his ministry out of her own purse. I do not know what it is like to be a woman 2,000 years ago who was the village demoniac, but I cannot imagine it was a pleasure. She must have been alienated and reviled. I imagine the other villagers couldn’t make eye contact with her, that she was too accurate a reminder of their own fragile hold on their own mental health. Demoniac. That was her designation. She was nothing more. Couldn’t ever be anything but. Her devotion to the one who freed her must have began before the act was finished. Because I believe her exorcism began, perhaps was even entirely accomplished by Jesus seeing her. To him she was not what she has been designated as. She was not her diagnosis, or her station, or the names spat at her by the crowd afraid of their own tentative hold on reality. I imagine her grief when she said They have taken him and I don’t know where he is was tied up in the fact that he was the only one who saw her, valued her, believed in her. The her whom God loves. He loved her into her truest self, no wonder she cried as she did at his tomb.

Mirroring the Divine for each other

On Friday during Daily Prayer in The Chapel, I read Richard Rohr’s The Divine Mirror meditation, from his book, The Universal Christ. The line, “When we learn to love anyone or anything, it is because they have somehow, if just for a moment, mirrored us truthfully, and yet compassionately to ourselves” struck me, and I asked those in prayer with me to name the people who mirrored their God-loved self to them.



This desire to be known and loved as God knows and loves me is a tender, often hidden thing. But it is also a holy thing. And there have been people in my life who have been that mirror for me – who reflected back a more beautiful version of myself than the one I saw. And having done so – having seen in me what I could not see myself – brought me closer to God, because it is the image of God, reflected back to each other that allows us grow in holiness. How in the world the idea of “holiness” devolved into priggish lifestyle choices is beyond me. I have only ever been loved into holiness, never shamed into it.

Do you have someone who mirrored the divine in you? Name them here!

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