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Trees for Rivera Funeral Home in Taos, New Mexico
In 2014 I was asked by my dear friend Tim Rivera, to do something for the room in the Rivera Funeral Home , in Taos, New Mexico, which might bring Hope and Comfort to families of All Faiths...as they sit in the main room, mourning, grieving, during a service for their deceased loved ones. Now in this particular summer, where souls all over the world are leaving our earthly home, it seems urgent to show this triptych once more for your contemplation. I think all this grief and experience of tragic deaths, began for me in 1983 when I began to work as a Chaplain in the AIDS Pandemic. To date, over 32 million people have died from the AIDS pandemic. Michael O’Loughlin has made a 6 part series on podcast, for America Magazine, about the Catholic response during the 1980’s. The narrative was/is that there was very little help. Michael corrected that narrative through his interviews last winter, right before covid 19 ravaged the world. He recently won an award from the LGBTQ community for his incredible work. I believe he was guided by the Holy Spirit, who offered a kind of premonition, and comfort, in the stories of those still living who lost so many people, and the frontline caregivers of that time.
In 2014, I thought of 3 images of Trees (in art called a triptych) that would convey different seasons, and also the never ending life of the soul.
1) Trees of Winter Life
These trees portray what seems to be simply cold death,
to us who see them.
And yet trees underneath the most bitter
and cold snow are not really dead.
A candle burns beneath them symbolizing that they are destined to come back to life. The body dies but the soul is eternal , and the Full Moon is our night light. In the symbolism of the ancient Catholic Church, Mary is always the Moon; as the reflected light of her Son...sun. I often add a Moon to my images and icons to bring Our Mother’s presence into the picture.
2)Tree of Life
A single pine tree grows out of a sepia-green color.
As it rises, it gains full green and life; St Hildegard of Bingen calls all green life Viriditas. The tree is surrounded by a Sun, (Son) nurturing the climbing growth.
The Rose tops the tree as it's Crown. The Fiery Rose is a famous symbol in T.S Eliot's mystical masterpiece of poetry, The Four Quartets. In the last poem
after quoting Lady Julian of Norwich, in her “Showings (Revelations) of Divine Love,” he ends with:
"When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.”
3) Tree of Souls
At Mass we say to God concerning the dead,
who have now transformed into eternal souls,
"Welcome them into the light of your face."
How to picture souls rising into a Light which speaks of hope and a beautiful Star guiding them home?
Listening to a book on CDs, in 2014, as I was painting this final tree for the triptych, “The Fault In Our Stars”
by John Green, I heard a longing for an After Life in the two teenagers who are the center of the novel.
In my imagination I saw this Tree. Each and every dot in this heavenly tree painting is a Soul rising ... into the Light of God’s presence. During my years as a hospice chaplain, I found the transcendent, heavenly inspired music of Gabriel Faure’ and Maurice Durufle’s Requiems particularly comforting to my body and soul. Maybe these two exquisite musicians will touch you now as well.
“Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of all the faithful departed through the Mercy of God, rest in peace.”
Fr William Hart McNichols
Summer of 2020
Tree Triptych for Rivera Funeral Home 220 by William Hart McNichols