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ursing Icon of the Mother of God (for Mother’s Day 2022)
“...her who not only/ gave God’s infinity/ dwindled to infancy/ welcome in womb and breast/ birth, milk, and all the rest/ but mothers each new grace/ that does now reach our race/ Mary Immaculate/ merely woman, yet/ whose presence, power is/ great as no goddess’s/ was deemed, dreamed;who/ this one work has to do/ let all God’s glory through/ God’s glory which would go/ through her and from her flow...”
May 1883 : by Fr Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ (the poet’s poet) from his poem “The Blessed Virgin compared to the Air we Breathe”
“Biblically based on the passage from St Luke’s Gospel where a woman in the crowd cries out ‘Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you.” To which Jesus responded ‘Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it.’ The icon shows the acceptance of God’s will by Mary becoming the Mother of God and metaphorically affirms the Church as Mother who nourishes her children...while a rare subject, it appears in both iconography and western religious art. The Virgin Mother through this icon patroness for nursing mothers. The icon is thought to be Greek in origin and particularly popular among Greeks, Russians, and Southern Italians.”
From a website on Eastern Icons : Holy Trinity
The feast day of this icon, is quite naturally, the day after the Nativity, 26 December.
Honoring today the Heroic Mothers of Ukraine, and all the brave suffering Mothers, in every country. Honoring dear friends who are mothers, my Mother and my sisters, Mary and Marjory, my sisters-in-law, Kathy, Jane, and also the Mothers of Taos and Taos Pueblo. For 14 years I learned so much from witnessing these women. I don’t think I’m the only one who has noticed that New Mexico is traditionally a Matriarchal Society. I think it’s part of the reason why some tourists and visitors become enamored with the mystical quality of this “Land of Enchantment,” and cannot explain why they keep returning and finally, move here. Just imagine what it might be like to live in a Matriarchal Culture ?! Not enough space to tell you all that means in church and society. There are also great women in St Joseph ‘s parish here in Albuquerque, who continue to teach me how to heroically survive, multitask, live and suffer gracefully.
I cannot help but think of Jesus the Mother Hen ( Matthew 23:37-39) , the ancient Eucharistic symbol of Jesus the Mother Pelican, Lady Julian of Norwich (feast day 8 May too...) who spoke of Our Mother Jesus ...”who takes us into his heart through his open side.” (See the warm, tender, authentic new translation from Middle English by my dear friend, Mirabai Starr).
But I would also love to write someday, about the concept of “Male Mothers” I encountered in 1990, in the book “Iron John : A Book About Men” by the late author and poet Robert Bly. And who can ever forget the cries of the Poor Clares as they saw the body of Francis of Assisi, carried beneath their window so they could say a final goodbye; crying aloud, “What will we do without our father? What will we do without our mother?”
I’ve often joked that at least for me, priesthood is being partly a glorified mother and father. I think this is what Pope Francis is trying to say to ordained priests, about “Shepherds smelling like the sheep.” He’s getting at the reality that like a father and mother, life is messy, ministry is messy, and often you feel like you can never get it right. Personally I’ve often been criticized for being too Catholic or... not Catholic enough. The book publishing company “Sounds True” was considering a book of my icons. Finally I got a letter that said something like “....we’ve considered every possible use for your work, but, ummm, they’re just too Catholic.” If I ever find the letter I promise I’ll get the quote exactly as written. Yet to quote a great New Mexico artist, Georgia O’Keefe, “I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life - and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.”
I’d only change “wanted” to “believed I should do.” And I’ll never forget when Dan Berrigan was being criticized by both sides, he told me, “Well, I must be doing something right !”
My Mother, Marjory Hart McNichols, died on 3 August 2006. I literally broke down while saying the Rosary at the funeral home. After the funeral I went back to Taos and it was the feast of the Assumption. I told everyone I couldn’t preach, and they completely understood. That Advent I was numb. I realized so many memories of Christmas were about Mom. To pull myself out of the grief I decided to paint/write, the Nursing Icon. It worked. Just touching into the infinite tenderness of this beautiful icon began to heal me. My prayer during the creation of this icon and now, it that it will be healing for you.
A most happy and blessed Mother’s Day !
Fr William Hart McNichols 💮 May 2022