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St Ignatius Amidst Alaska
“...at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth...”
Philippians 2:10 (King James Bible)
Of all the many icons and numerous drawings I’ve done of St Ignatius, this is my personal favorite. When I was a Jesuit novice in 1968, there was a joke often told , that went something like this. An old Jesuit was dying and he was showing considerable fear. A fellow Jesuit near him, could not understand and reminded him that he was a good man and had nothing to fear from God. The old man responded, it’s not God I’m afraid of, it’s St Ignatius !
The first time I heard that joke I didn’t laugh, but felt very sad that many Jesuits felt that way, and most of the the portrait art, of a chilly, austere, and severe man, had something to do with it. That was one of the turning points for me in terms of St Ignatius. There are two others I feel I can talk about. Another was an encounter with two comments made by Adrienne von Speyr . The first comment was that “No one points to God with such shrewd intelligence as St Ignatius.” The other was “St Ignatius has gotten to know St John the Evangelist in Heaven, and if he could start his order (the Society of Jesus) over again, he would wish it to be more Johannine.” So one incident in the late 60’s and another in the mid-90’s, set flame to a lingering desire to do my best to make Ignatius not just more approachable, but loved.
During the 1990’s I used to go to Holy Spirit Jesuit Retreat house in Anchorage, Alaska to give retreats on certain themes. During those times a friend of mine, Maureen Cowles talked the retreat house staff into ordering an icon (my first Mary Magdalen) of “St. Mary Magdalen Apostle to the Apostles.”
(http://frbillmcnichols-sacredimages.com/…/st-mary-magdalen-…) After that icon, more came, one very large icon of “the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life” (http://frbillmcnichols-sacredimages.com/…/the-holy-spirit-t…) another of “The Woman Given Eagle’s Wings”and a companion piece, to the hunted Woman of the Apocalypse or Revelation, “St Ignatius Amidst Alaska.” I’d very much like to discuss the Woman from the Apocalypse sometime - because the icon is so relevant today, and when I was speaking at Georgetown, I had the privilege to work with Craig R. Koester the author of two books on the Book of Revelation. His love and scholarship, changed my mind and heart about the meaning of a book which has always been thought of as a tragic and violent end. That blog is coming sometime soon, perhaps in another Marian month (like May) ...in August which, like December, has three Marian feasts. The Assumption, The Queenship, and Our Lady of Knock, Ireland. My question at the time of the commission, is how to connect the two icons ? If you put them together they are companions. But what connects them ?
The image of the Woman being hunted, because she is pregnant with the Word is given Eagle’s Wings to escape the devouring dragon. Ignatius is in adoration of the face of Christ , portrayed in the Orthodox way of the icon of the Mandylion or Face of Christ , because the Orthodox Church were the first to bring Christianity into Alaska.
In this icon I “felt” Ignatius adoration and immense love of Jesus. At times in his personal diary, he records the fact that, at times, during Mass, he would have to stop because he was weeping , overcome with emotion.
“The people who weep before my pictures are having the same religious experience I had when I painted them.”
As a final aside, the only time I’ve wept in an exhibit, was in New York walking into a room full of Rothko’s...
PS) just look into Rothko’s painting, “Saffron, 1957.”
For 31 July 2019
Fr Bill McNichols