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St Ignatius offers a dead stick-Cross to St Hildegard, and the Holy Child Jesus to be blessed and greened

July 29th, 2022

St Ignatius offers a dead stick-Cross to St Hildegard, and the Holy Child Jesus to be blessed and greened

St Ignatius offers a dead stick-Cross to St Hildegard, and the Holy Child Jesus to be blessed and “greened”
(detail from the bottom panel of “Viriditas: Finding God In All Things”)
“To sing is to pray twice.”
Attributed to St Ambrose or to St Augustine
“We cannot live in a world that is not our own, in a world that is interpreted for us by others. An interpreted world is not a home... A musical performance softens hard hearts, leads in the humor of reconciliation, and summons the Holy Spirit.”
St Hildegard of Bingen
“He was greatly devoted to the Most Holy Trinity, and everyday he prayed to each of the Three Persons ... One day, as he was saying the Hours of Our Lady on the monastery steps, his understanding was raised on high, so as to see the Most Holy Trinity under the aspect of three musical keys on a musical instrument, and as a result he shed many tears and sobbed so strongly that he could not control himself.”
The Autobiography of St Ignatius (#28)
Everyone knows that the utter beauty of Ignatian Spirituality includes the challenge of “finding God In all things.” I say challenge because his spirituality in not a “leave the world or the world is evil,” spirituality but you are sent out as disciples to find God In All people, in all of creation. Even if you live in downtown Boston, Manhattan or get the miraculous opportunity to live in the spirit-haunted and devastatingly beautiful Taos.
Music. Music. I’ve wanted to write a bit about how much music affects me and I presume most of humankind. I could live without television, but not without music. That seems odd for an obviously visual person, but I’ve always had an allergy to tv, I feel like the Native people who used to say a photo steals their soul. I’ve felt that way about tv since childhood. It doesn’t mean I don’t watch It, but if I watch too much I feel like I’ve eaten a massive amount of not very good food. But I don’t want to get too snobby about tv because I have a friend who is chronically ill and tv helps him; it distracts him from the pain. And my housemate watches a dabl channel of British house sales in the most beautiful countrysides.
My Mother always had 78’s playing (before we moved when I was five) as she did her house chores, she loved Perry Como, Nat King Cole, Rosemary Clooney, and at Christmas time, Mario Lanza. I have a vivid memory of us picking up my brother Steve at Regis High and hearing Perry Como sing the magical “Catch A Falling Star.” My brother Steve had a swing band, full orchestra and a jazz combo when I was growing up, he played the piano and my brother Bob played trumpet. I’d sit on the basement steps and listen to them play Dave Brubeck, or Duke Ellington and other 30’s and 40’s hits like “Blue Moon” ,”Young At Heart,” or “If They Asked Me I could Write A Book.” These songs “led me right to my record player” a Christmas gift I got when I was 11. All alone I thought, (my sisters tell me they know the words to every song I played) I’d listen to the Ray Conniff Singers, Johnny Mathis, Nancy Wilson, the Kingston Trio, Peter, Paul and Mary , and the incomparable Joan Baez. When I was a freshman in high school, my friend Stephanie called me and said turn on the radio right now ! It was Barbra Streisand singing “People.” That year also the British Invasion occurred and on the way home from school I made my brother Bob stop at a record store so I could get “Meet the Beatles.” I often say Barbra got me through high school as she emoted for me, sang my sorrow, on “Ma Premiere Chanson,” and let out my anger for me on “Where Am I Going ?” She was fiercely determined and early on faced a lot of negativity for her looks. I remember people saying she’s great if you don’t have to look at her, and then she turned around everyone’s concept of beauty. I’d sing with her at the top of my voice when I thought nobody was home. One day I was harmonizing with her on “Just In Time,” and when I finished, I heard clapping downstairs. Cringing and red faced I saw one of Steve’s friends standing at the foot of the stairs grinning and clapping. I don’t think any straight boys were singing with Barbra, so the cat was out of the bag, though later all my friends told me “We always knew.”
The Beatles seemed to change all the bullying high school boys just a little by singing constantly about love, and their looks softened the hard masculinity expected in the 50’s. In senior year they put out “Revolver” and there I was, driving around Denver listening to George Harrison play the sitar. I knew these Indian melodies were spiritual, and by osmosis, I learned of other authentic religions far from Colorado. At 19 in the Jesuit Novitiate in Florissant, Missouri (right near Ferguson where we’d go to sing at St Martin de Porres Church) we would sing every day for Mass and one of the Jesuit Brothers, Br.Johnny Horvath, came up to me after Mass and said “I love your voice! You could really sing country if you wanted to !” I was mortified that my Denver-twang was slipping out everywhere. Today I’m flattered! I sang at Florissant, St Louis and then in Boston where a young Jesuit friend, a young girl and I, formed a trio and would sing at Jesuit celebrations, funerals, weddings and Masses all over town. I really wanted to be a singer but since I didn’t have the powerful voice of Stevie Wonder or Cilla Black, I decided to stick to art. I’d also sing when I taught high school at Regis for graduations and other occasions. I remember singing Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young” at one graduation, and Jim Croce’s “Time In A Bottle.”
When I lived in Daniel Berrigan’s community on 98th and Broadway in Manhattan, during the Hospice Years of the 80’s, my deceased friend, Fr Eddie Oakes, SJ was writing his book on Hans Urs von Balthasar and would fly to Basel to meet with his mentor. He brought me back a cassette tape of the music of St Hildegard. Hildegard wrote 77 known songs and the first opera Ordo Virtutum, in 1151. I’m still listening to her. I take a little pride for introducing my friend, Case Scaglione, a world famous conductor, to Hildegard. I’ll never forget as he was listening with head phones to a contemporary version called “Vision : the Music of Hildegard von Bingen” he shouted out happily, “Wow, this is 500 years before Bach!”
“If They Asked Me I Could Write A Book” - seriously about my life with music. Ultimately I’ll say that all of this, as Joni Mitchell says - “you keep peeling back the onion to get to the bottom of your feelings” - is about longing for God. Touching into God whether it’s Ambrosia singing “You’re the Biggest Part Of Me” or “Longer” by Dan Fogelberg or Hildegard, for me it always leads to God.
During the two years of this current pandemic I’ve developed a terrible habit of staying up Way Way too late and listening to all the music from my past, and letting the tears flow freely. I never really grieved all the deaths of people with AIDS and many other losses, like leaving the Jesuits, leaving Taos, etc. I don’t know why but Jimmy Webb’s “Wichita Lineman” always makes me sob.
There’s the deep longing performed in an “achingly/controlled” way by Glenn Campbell.
One night I found a very young genius Maja Babyszka playing “Rhapsody in Blue,” and listened to it over and over and then another night I discovered “Heart “paying tribute to Led Zeppelin singing with a full choir, the gorgeous, mysterious “Stairway to Heaven.” In 2019, 2020, and 2021, I listened to all of Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and now I’m working on Brahms, I love his second symphony.
I’ve only touched on several people who bring my ears and soul much joy and anyone who knows me knows I could write a whole blog on the composer, musician and painter, Joni Mitchell, or the late Laura Nyro, or Stevie Wonder.
“As a prayer practice, the music of Hildegard of Bingen draws from within me a peace that already exists and needs only to be accessed... I listen to her paean and hear the soaring emotion of encountering a maternal, earthly love for all creation, and the Love which unites all living things and flows intimately through them.”
from “The Music of Hildegard of Bingen as an Act of Prayer by Nikki Diefenbach
Fr William Hart McNichols 🎶 February 2022
(My favorite Bach :
Komm, Jesu, komm... BMW229)

St Brigid of Ireland -Kildare, c.451 - 1 February 525

July 29th, 2022

St Brigid of Ireland -Kildare, c.451 - 1 February 525

St Brigid of Ireland (Kildare, c.451 - 1 February 525)
“Remind us how to kindle the hearth, to keep it bright, to preserve the flame ... the protection of Brigid keeping us from harm, from ignorance, from heartlessness...”
“Brigid’s feast day is 1 February, which was originally a festival called Imbolc, marking the beginning of spring. From 2023 it will be a public holiday in the Republic of Ireland, the first named after a woman.” Wikipedia
This icon was commissioned by my dear friend Fr Scott Brubaker for his church of St Brigid in Mesa, Arizona.
There are so many evocative and poetically beautiful legends around St Brigid I decided to just share a link to them so you can begin to discover Brigid. One of my favorites is that Brigid was “accidentally” ordained a priest or in some legends, a bishop; one of her iconographic symbols is a bishop’s crozier. Her prayers were said to still the wind and rain. The fire lit by Brigid in the fifth century, is kept burning by St Brigid’s community of religious women who live in Kildare. Look into this lovely prayer 🔥
St Brigid’s Hearth Keeper Prayer
“Brigid of the Mantle, encompass us,
Lady of the Lambs, protect us.
Beneath your mantle, gather us,
And restore us to memory.
Mothers of our mother, Foremothers strong.
Guide our hands in yours,
Remind us how to kindle the hearth.
To keep it bright, to preserve the flame.
Your hands upon ours, Our hands within yours.
To kindle the light, both day and night.
The Mantle of Brigid about us.
The Memory of Brigid within us.
The Protection of Brigid keeping us
From harm, from ignorance, from heartlessness.
This day and night,
From dawn till dark,
From dark till dawn.
Amen “
Fr William Hart McNichols ☘️ February 2022

St Henry Walpole SJ - Splashed by the Blood 1558 -7 April 1595

July 29th, 2022

St Henry Walpole SJ - Splashed by the Blood  1558 -7 April 1595

St Henry Walpole, SJ : Splashed by the Blood (1558 -7 April 1595)
“The Blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you.”
Exodus 12:13
“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”
from Apologeticus by Quintus Septimus Tertullian, around AD 197
“Your work is to discover your work and then with all your heart to give yourself to it.”
Siddhartha Gautama Buddha 480 BCE
“This is such an anxious period of time, how do you feel about a kind of nostalgia comforting you in these times ?”
Stephen Colbert
“Henry Walpole was born in 1558 and, while in London training to become a lawyer, he witnessed the horrific execution of Father Edmund Campion, the Jesuit priest. Bespattered by Campion’s blood as his heart was torn from his body, Henry resolved to devote himself to the Catholic cause for which the priest had died. He left England and was ordained in Paris in 1588.”
Carole Tucker
Henry was just 23 at the time of Campion’s martyrdom, and at 37, he himself would be martyred in the same way. We all seem to have several eras or periods of time that we are somehow familiar with, or drawn to in some inexplicable ways. I have friends passionate about the Civil War, the Revolutionary War or World War II. Some even believe they have been reincarnated and carry those memories in their physical and spiritual bodies. Though, I once read that Our Lady of Medjugorie, was asked about reincarnation and she said kindly but firmly, that we only have one life.
From early childhood I was drawn to the children and youthful martyrs of the early Roman Church, Agnes, Sebastian, Tarcisius, Lucy, Pancratius. In fact I have a funny story from age 10 when we were about to be Confirmed. I wanted to take the name of 14 year old Pancratius (at age ten he was a mature teenager to me !). I told my teacher and she rather rolled her eyes and said, no, you take either Anthony or Dominic,so, that’s how I got the Confirmation name of Dominic. Much later, I would learn that a Dominican motto is “Contemplata aliis tradere” - meaning to “hand down to others the fruits of contemplation,” derived from the Summa Theologiae by St Thomas Aquinas. So providentially, I was being given part of my vocation as someone devoted to the artistic life, very young. The Early Church of Rome, the Medieval, and the Elizabethan eras have always seemed familiar to me.
But what does “bespattered or splashed by the blood” mean to you and me ? To me it’s both literal and symbolic. Symbolically and literally, we are all influenced by the great sacrifices and deaths of people like Gandhi, Edith Stein, John F Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Sister Dorothy Stang, Matthew Shepard, Sister Dianna Ortiz, or most recently, Elijah McLain. These are just a few names, and we all have a person whose tragic death caused us to further convert our lives. And they don’t always have to be saints; the murder of a young girl like Gabrielle Petito can change lives forever and create a movement of immediate concern for all the missing and murdered young girls and boys.
Especially now, during this harrowing time of a pandemic, (and increasing threats to our democracy) we look to people whose lives are courageous, what Scripture, in the Book of Hebrews, calls the great “cloud of witnesses.” We also look to the survivors like Lady Julian of Norwich who lived through three outbreaks of the Black Plague in England, or a man who survived the Nazi Concentration Camps, Viktor Frankl. I look to contemporary and trusted spiritual guides, Nicholas Black Elk, Charlie Rich, Adrienne von Speyr, Sister Wendy Beckett, Dorothy Day, Daniel Berrigan, SJ, Elizabeth McAlister, or ... we watch and pray for the now, heroic survivors of the recent fires of Colorado, to see how they will rebuild every part of their lives. Finally I want to say, I’m with you in these struggles, in no way above or beyond any of the suffering, nor do I ever want to be, but a fellow Pilgrim depending upon God in a “radical Way of St Francis- of looking to God for everything” ... every single day.
I’ll end with the beautiful prayer from the former Sacramentary for the feast of St Sebastian, 20 January.
“Dear Lord, fill us with that spirit of courage which you gave Holy Martyr St Henry Walpole strength to offer his life in faithful witness. Help us to learn from him to cherish Your law and to obey You rather than men. We ask this through Our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, forever and ever.
Amen.”
Fr William Hart Dominic McNichols 💮 January 2022

The Murom Icon of the Mother of God

July 29th, 2022

The Murom Icon of the Mother of God

The Murom Icon of the Mother of God
“Behold the father is his daughter’s son/The bird that built the nest is hatch’d therein/
Might feeble is and force doth faintly creep/Up, heavy hearts, with joy your joy embrace/ This life, this light, this Word, this joy repairs ...”
Holy Martyr St Robert Southwell, SJ : taken from his 16th. Century poem “The Nativity of Christ”
“To place the year under the protection of her motherhood means that we are asking her, as brothers and sisters of Jesus and therefore as Mary’s children, for an enduring understanding of lasting discipleship of Jesus...with limitless love the Mother of the Lord views us as her children and blesses us. In the New Testament this blessing cannot be separated from her Child’s blessing and from the entire triune God, so deeply is her motherhood grounded in and surrounded by divine fruitfulness. She blesses us both as personal mother of Jesus and as the epitome of the ‘immaculate’ Church (Ephesians 5:27) who is Jesus’ Bride.”
Swiss Theologian Cardinal Hans Urs von Balthasar (12 August 1905-26 June 1988)
For 1 January, the feast day of Mary, Mother of God
This icon was created right during and after, the horrific Tohoku earthquake and tsunami struck off the northeast coast of Honshu, Japan in March of 2011. Somehow I felt the waves were unconsciously reflected in the lower folds of Mary’s maphorion (outer garment) in this Murom Icon. Any contemporary news of suffering always appears in the icons in some way or other. I know Our Mother grieves with her wounded children . Join me please, in praying to the Mother of God for all affected by recent fires and other tragic disasters all around the world.
“Hail Mary full of grace
the Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou amongst
women, and blessed is the fruit
of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners, now and at
the hour of our death.
Amen”
A blessed New Year of 2022 ! 💮 Fr Bill McNichols

St Joseph Flower of Jesse

July 29th, 2022

St Joseph Flower of Jesse

San Jose’ Flor de Jesé 💮 (St Joseph Flower of Jesse)
“... Matthan the father of Jacob; and Jacob was the father of Joseph the husband of Mary; of her was born Jesus who is called the Christ.”
Matthew 1:16 (Genealogy of Christ)
“O flower of Jesse, standing as a sign among the nations; before whom kings keep silence, for whom the nations long; come and liberate us and delay no longer.”
The third of the “O Antiphons” (December 19)
“Drop down dew, O heavens from above, and let the clouds rain the just; let earth be opened, and bud forth a savior...”
Isaiah 45
“A shoot shall sprout from the stock of Jesse and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The Spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord.”
Isaiah 11
I’ve wanted to do a symbolic painting of Joseph all during “his year;” the past 8 December 2020 to this year, the same day. I think this desire came during the summer when we had months to go of the year Pope Francis dedicated to Joseph’s guidance, to Joseph’s way. I’ve already mentioned that I’ve been studying Scripture, especially a beautiful book on Isaiah by John Sawyer, and 3 books on St Joseph; by Fr Andre’ Doze, Fr Michel Gasnier, OP, and the Life of Joseph by Maria Cecilia Baij, OSB. I have often thought about Mary before she met Joseph ( I have a similar idea for a painting of her, if I ever get to do it...) and especially her relationship to God during those years. I wanted to imagine Joseph in the same way and portray his gradual awakening to what God was creating inside him.
Technically Jesus is the Flower of Jesse, through his lineage from Joseph, which goes back to Jesse, the father of King David. In my heart and mind Joseph is a bud or flower too, on the family tree of Jesse.
In my time with the people of Taos, Northern New Mexico, I learned that hollyhocks are called “Varas de San Jose’” or Staff of St Joseph. This is a reference to a legend about the choice of Joseph to be betrothed to Mary. Many young men were hoping to be the husband of Mary and they all came together to the Temple in Jerusalem. Each one was given a branch and asked to lay the branches down as a prayer, and asking God to show by a sign which young man He had chosen. The priest’s of the temple were all waiting for a clear sign. Joseph’s staff or branch flowered and that’s why he’s usually portrayed with this flowering branch in one hand . So I imagined a kind of “interior vision” given in prayer to Joseph of a hollyhock springing from water in the ground with many buds unopened, and one blood red one, just opening to Joseph, as a symbol of his life’s vocation. In the background is the mist of the Holy Shekhinah descending and ready to envelop Joseph with God’s love. The Moon too, a symbol of the Mother of God, is not full but also awakening to the fullness of the future Messiah. This past year I’ve thought of Joseph every day and have loved thinking of him always by my side. I wanted to thank him through this image and I hope that you find something here to bring him closer to you.
Fr William Hart McNichols 💮 December 2021

Cristo Emmanuel

July 29th, 2022

Cristo Emmanuel

Cristo Emmanuel : Cordero de Dios (Christ Emmanuel : Lamb of God)
“The image of the Master: one glimpse and we are in love.”
15c. Zen Master Ikkyu
“The end is not an event but a person.”
G.B.Caird
“And I wept much, because no one was found worthy to open and to read the book, neither to look thereon. And one of the elders said to me, do not weep; behold, the Lion of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof. And I beheld, and lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders ...stood a Lamb...”
Revelation 5:5,6
“O come, Desire of Nation bind, in one the hearts of human kind; bid Thou our sad divisions cease, and be Thyself our Prince of Peace.”
final verse of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel “
I’m always stunned and amazed how peaceful I finally get when I decide to go into my studio room paint. It’s similar to celebrating Mass for me. I can be in one mood when I go in, and be completely transformed by the Word of God and the Body and Blood of Christ.This is true, of every time, in the past 42 years. Every single Mass is different and every Mass is so holy, I wonder why God ever chose me for such an honor and profound privilege ?
In Theology school we studied the Book of Revelation. Being such an Apocalyptic book, like the Major Prophets, it was difficult to understand. After Theology and Ordination, I was Artist in Residence at St John Francis Regis University in my hometown, Denver. The next year I was an art student at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. My grandfather, Robert A. Hart was born in Brooklyn so I felt I had some kind of familial relationship to that borough of New York. It was in my first year at Pratt that I discovered two books by the scripture scholar George Bradford Caird; “The Gospel of Luke” and “The Revelation of St John the Divine” ( Divine, meaning theologian). I dove into both books and would read them going to school on the subway, with my Walkman playing the music I loved; like Laura Nyro...a perfect subway companion who was absolutely unique, brilliant, and an extremely passionate musician, who truly loved New York City.
G.B. Caird opened both books for me and I finally had some sense of the beauty and mystery of Revelation. Besides the prophetic commentaries by Fr Daniel Berrigan, SJ, I don’t think I’ve ever been so affected by any other commentaries... to this day. I know we all have our favorites, so this is simply my opinion. Both books by Caird would become a preparation for what was to come, in the 1980’s, unbeknownst to me.
Today there is much talk and fear too, that we’re heading into the Apocalypse. Yet some of the Orthodox theologians that I read, once I began my apprenticeship in iconography, wrote that the Apocalypse is not one event. In fact they estimated that we’ve been living in the unfolding Apocalypse since World War 1. But no one really knows, even Jesus said, only the Father knows... “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”
Mark 13:32
When I began to create icons my Dad would always tease me with, “Willy, how come icons have such old babies?” I’d try to answer, but it didn’t make much sense to either of us, until I began to grasp the Orthodox Theology about the Child Jesus they always call “Christ Emmanuel.”
Next to St Andrei Rublev, and the tender, childlike Muscovite Mannerism of Dionysius, my favorite iconographer is Simon Fyodorovich Ushakov, 1626 -1686. He was heavily criticized by the conservative Russian priests, such as Archpriest Avvakum, for his “lascivious works of the devil...and fleshy saints.” Personally, I found him deeply influenced by the “sfumato” technique (delicate shading) made most famous by Leonardo da Vinci. Ushakov’s icons are uniquely beautiful and have an infinite tenderness you cannot forget. One of the wonderful thing about iconography is that you are supposed to copy other icons, and the masters. I have tried to copy three of Ushakov’s, and just trying, was an incredible education for me; perhaps like a singer, who may sing a song made famous by someone else, but still cannot help making it her own. So I looked for the most beautiful Child Jesus I could find in iconography to paint as a gift for Dad, while he was in the hospital nearing death. I didn’t finish before his death 25 November 1997, and he never got to see this Child, but I’m sure he sees Him now.
I know everyone has been moving through this Advent with many troubling catastrophes like the Kentucky tornado devastations, the stalking of a new variant, omicron, or the almost daily school shootings. These are our brothers and sisters so how can we not ache for them ? Another brilliant contemporary commentator on the Book of Revelation, Craig Koester, has told us that Revelation is a very hopeful book about the plans God has for all of us, his children. As we enter this fourth week of Advent I offer this Radiant Child Jesus (an attempted copy of Ushakov) who promised us in the last book of the Bible “... He who sat on the throne said ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ And He said, ‘Write, for these words are faithful and true.’”
Revelation 21:5
“O Come Thou Wisdom from on high, who ord’rest all things mightily; to us the path of knowledge show, and teach us in Her ways to go...”
second verse of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”
One of the things I know for certain, is that God always hears our prayers; always. And though I don’t know who is going to read this, I promise to pray for you all during this last very Holy Week of Advent . And I know He will hear me .
Fr William Hart McNichols 💮 December 2021

Cristo Emmanuel

July 29th, 2022

Cristo Emmanuel

Cristo Emmanuel : Cordero de Dios (Christ Emmanuel : Lamb of God)
“The image of the Master: one glimpse and we are in love.”
15c. Zen Master Ikkyu
“The end is not an event but a person.”
G.B.Caird
“And I wept much, because no one was found worthy to open and to read the book, neither to look thereon. And one of the elders said to me, do not weep; behold, the Lion of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof. And I beheld, and lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders ...stood a Lamb...”
Revelation 5:5,6
“O come, Desire of Nation bind, in one the hearts of human kind; bid Thou our sad divisions cease, and be Thyself our Prince of Peace.”
final verse of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel “
I’m always stunned and amazed how peaceful I finally get when I decide to go into my studio room paint. It’s similar to celebrating Mass for me. I can be in one mood when I go in, and be completely transformed by the Word of God and the Body and Blood of Christ.This is true, of every time, in the past 42 years. Every single Mass is different and every Mass is so holy, I wonder why God ever chose me for such an honor and profound privilege ?
In Theology school we studied the Book of Revelation. Being such an Apocalyptic book, like the Major Prophets, it was difficult to understand. After Theology and Ordination, I was Artist in Residence at St John Francis Regis University in my hometown, Denver. The next year I was an art student at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. My grandfather, Robert A. Hart was born in Brooklyn so I felt I had some kind of familial relationship to that borough of New York. It was in my first year at Pratt that I discovered two books by the scripture scholar George Bradford Caird; “The Gospel of Luke” and “The Revelation of St John the Divine” ( Divine, meaning theologian). I dove into both books and would read them going to school on the subway, with my Walkman playing the music I loved; like Laura Nyro...a perfect subway companion who was absolutely unique, brilliant, and an extremely passionate musician, who truly loved New York City.
G.B. Caird opened both books for me and I finally had some sense of the beauty and mystery of Revelation. Besides the prophetic commentaries by Fr Daniel Berrigan, SJ, I don’t think I’ve ever been so affected by any other commentaries... to this day. I know we all have our favorites, so this is simply my opinion. Both books by Caird would become a preparation for what was to come, in the 1980’s, unbeknownst to me.
Today there is much talk and fear too, that we’re heading into the Apocalypse. Yet some of the Orthodox theologians that I read, once I began my apprenticeship in iconography, wrote that the Apocalypse is not one event. In fact they estimated that we’ve been living in the unfolding Apocalypse since World War 1. But no one really knows, even Jesus said, only the Father knows... “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”
Mark 13:32
When I began to create icons my Dad would always tease me with, “Willy, how come icons have such old babies?” I’d try to answer, but it didn’t make much sense to either of us, until I began to grasp the Orthodox Theology about the Child Jesus they always call “Christ Emmanuel.”
Next to St Andrei Rublev, and the tender, childlike Muscovite Mannerism of Dionysius, my favorite iconographer is Simon Fyodorovich Ushakov, 1626 -1686. He was heavily criticized by the conservative Russian priests, such as Archpriest Avvakum, for his “lascivious works of the devil...and fleshy saints.” Personally, I found him deeply influenced by the “sfumato” technique (delicate shading) made most famous by Leonardo da Vinci. Ushakov’s icons are uniquely beautiful and have an infinite tenderness you cannot forget. One of the wonderful thing about iconography is that you are supposed to copy other icons, and the masters. I have tried to copy three of Ushakov’s, and just trying, was an incredible education for me; perhaps like a singer, who may sing a song made famous by someone else, but still cannot help making it her own. So I looked for the most beautiful Child Jesus I could find in iconography to paint as a gift for Dad, while he was in the hospital nearing death. I didn’t finish before his death 25 November 1997, and he never got to see this Child, but I’m sure he sees Him now.
I know everyone has been moving through this Advent with many troubling catastrophes like the Kentucky tornado devastations, the stalking of a new variant, omicron, or the almost daily school shootings. These are our brothers and sisters so how can we not ache for them ? Another brilliant contemporary commentator on the Book of Revelation, Craig Koester, has told us that Revelation is a very hopeful book about the plans God has for all of us, his children. As we enter this fourth week of Advent I offer this Radiant Child Jesus (an attempted copy of Ushakov) who promised us in the last book of the Bible “... He who sat on the throne said ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ And He said, ‘Write, for these words are faithful and true.’”
Revelation 21:5
“O Come Thou Wisdom from on high, who ord’rest all things mightily; to us the path of knowledge show, and teach us in Her ways to go...”
second verse of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”
One of the things I know for certain, is that God always hears our prayers; always. And though I don’t know who is going to read this, I promise to pray for you all during this last very Holy Week of Advent . And I know He will hear me .
Fr William Hart McNichols 💮 December 2021

Nuestra Senora de las Nieves - Our Lady of the Snows

July 29th, 2022

Nuestra Senora de las Nieves - Our Lady of the Snows

Nuestra Senora de las Nieves (Our Lady of the Snows)
“Wisdom will praise herself, and will glory in the midst of her people. In the assembly of the Most High she will open her mouth, and in the presence of His host she will glory: ‘ I came forth from the mouth of the Most High, and covered the earth like a mist. I dwell in high places, and my throne was in a pillar of cloud...in the waves of the sea, in the whole earth, and in every people and nation I have gotten a possession.
Then the Creator of all things gave me a commandment, and the one who created me assigned a place for my tent. And he said, ‘Make your dwelling in Jacob, and in Israel receive your inheritance,’ From eternity, in the beginning, he created me, and for eternity I shall not cease to exist...
I am the mother of fairest love, of fear, and of holy hope; being eternal, I am therefore given to all my children, to those who are named by him. I will shine forth like the dawn, and I will make it shine afar; I will again pour out teaching like prophecy, and leave it all to future generations. Observe that I have not labored for myself alone, but for all who seek instruction.”
Ecclesiasticus 24
These words always echo the words of Jesus, Holy Wisdom, especially in the long poignant soliloquy’s in the Gospel of St John. And in the mist or clouds hovering around the Sandia Mountains I always see the Shekhinah and Holy Wisdom as she describes herself in the above passage.
A few years ago a friend of mine told me his wife was suffering from cancer and he wanted to give her an original icon for Christmas. He had saved an old black and white holy card of the Blessed Mother pregnant with adoring angels at her feet and a Cross glowing in the background. It was done in an Art Nouveau style and he wanted it transformed into an icon. I looked at the holy card for a long time and had to make a decision about the meaning of the symbols in the card.
At the beginning of my apprenticeship I read an article by the genius Russian mystic Valentin Tomberg ( author of the incomparable Christian Hermeticist “school” of “Meditations on the Tarot”) about the meaning of the word and experience of “joy” for Russians and Americans. It helped me a lot because I was always being asked why the icons of the Mother of God we’re not smiling, “not happy.” As an American I could understand the thinking but I also gradually understood and respected the deep serenity and inner joy of the ancient icons. I also experienced this kind of quiet, introverted joy with the Native Peoples of Taos Pueblo and the Hispanic Taosenos. This ancient combination of cultures provided a perfect place for me to grow into a vocation as an iconographer.
In this icon the Mother of God is pregnant and on her womb is a star to signify the holy child within. She is looking into you . Will you share with her the miracle she carries in her womb? A Seraph replaces the adoring angels; in Icons the Seraph is present whenever the Son of God is near. The softly glowing Cross is behind her, in her future, a reminder of why the Child took a human body and became flesh. Living in Manhattan especially, I always noticed how falling snow made everyone quiet and they would move carefully along the sidewalks of New York, holding umbrellas looking like they stepped out of a Japanese print by Hiroshige or Hokusai. It was really beautiful.
I tried to create the delicate silence of snow falling in this icon to quiet the viewer/pray-er, into a natural contemplation.
This year we are fast approaching Gaudete Sunday and we rejoice (Gaudete!) in the midst of all that the world throws at us, which is considerable and not to be denied, that this Incarnation is the truth and our joy. It is the way we move forward like St Joseph and live in faith and trust in the midst of whatever may come.
I pray with the beautiful prayer/motet (BWV 229) written by Paul Thymich composed by J S Bach, in 1684, “Komm, Jesu, Komm!”
Fr William Hart McNichols 💮 Gaudete Sunday 2021

Retablo de San Jose Obrero

July 29th, 2022

Retablo de San Jose Obrero

Retablo de San Jose’ Obrero (Retablo of St Joseph the Worker)
“Breathless, tremblin’ wonderin ‘ what’s gonna happen next ?
Questions upon questions His little heart beatin’ on my chest.
How can I be the one? The one who Father’s the Father’s Son ?
How can I raise a king when this humble life is all I bring ? I believe in you, yes, I believe in you ...”
The Carol of Joseph
Lyrics from the album “For King & Country : A Drummer Boy Christmas”
“The fact that Joseph was preparing to say ‘no’ to a mystery which was beyond him and of which he felt unworthy, is significant. God invites him to pronounce, with his whole being, a ‘yes’ whose impact is considerable like everything that directly touches the Incarnation... Then Joseph discreetly withdraws from the context of the Gospels when his son reaches the age of thirty. This is the age when the Joseph of ancient times takes his leave from Pharaoh to begin his brilliant career as prime minster (cf Genesis 41:46). It is the age when David,the beloved forefather, becomes king (cf 2 Samuel 5:4) the age of heavy responsibilities. The reason for this silent disappearance, later imitated by Mary, is simple: henceforth, Jesus will speak of the Father as the center of his whole mission.”
From “St Joseph: Shadow of the Father” by Fr Andre’ Doze
“Devotion to St Joseph is one of the choicest graces that God can give to a soul, for it is tantamount to revealing the entire treasury of Our Lord’s graces.”
St Peter Julian Eymard
“I, John, who am also your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was on the isle of Patmos, for the word of God, and testimony of Jesus Christ. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day and heard behind me a great voice...”
Revelation 1:9, 10
It’s only a few days until the Year of Joseph is officially ended; this Wednesday. I confess I’m silently grieving and not ready to let “my spiritual director” go. But I understand that the next year, 2022, will be guided by his wife, the Mother of God. I wonder if that is a clear direction for us? We go from the holiest of men, yet human and trembling in his faith, to a young woman who was born sinless, and had no admittance/entry for any doubt or evil. Mary was always connected to the Father. If you can’t understand this, just think of a time in your life when you were completely innocent and open. It’s not about an imaginary, impossible kind of perfection, but about a connection of Love that was uninterrupted. This was the same connection we believe Jesus had until the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, when the Father allowed Jesus to feel and be, abandoned.
All during my apprenticeship with Friar Robert Lentz, OFM, (1990-96) I would receive continual information, some authentic and some wildly crazy, from people all over the world, about prophecies, especially from the apparitions of the Mother of God. This was long before “Q etc, and the present conspiracy theories “ because there was no social media. This all came in letters, or snail mail.
Concerning St Joseph, there is prophecy (probably coming from the Life of Jesus by Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich) that when the body of St Joseph is found, incorrupt, in Israel, then its a sign that Christ the King is not far away. There are prophecies now .... about the end of the Year of St Joseph, (8 December 2020-8 December 2021) that may or may not be coming from true prophets or simply misled false prophets. But they are out there now. Be deeply discerning and “proceed with caution.”
One of the many things I’ve tried to learn from St Joseph this past year is a radical trust in God, whatever may happen. To try and gather the spirituality of Joseph I have used the Gospels of St Matthew and St Luke, “The Life of St Joseph” by Mother Maria Cecilia Baij, OSB , and “St Joseph : Shadow of the Father” by Fr Andre’ Doze. But mostly, I’ve been praying with him and asking for guidance. I find the “Way of St Joseph”, very similar to the Novena of Surrender by Holy Servant of God Don Dolindo Ruotolo (6 October 1882 - 19 November 1970).
I’m working now on an image of St Joseph now, I am calling “San Jose’ : Flor de Jesé,” to end his year. I’d love to show it to you now but it’s not finished yet.
Every year the season of Advent, and Christmas , is totally different. I find I am “receiving from God” new music, new expectations, new spiritual life. If I try to rerun last year, it never ever works. In the Spirit of St Joseph and St Francis we accept each day as unique and we are offered a spirituality sent by God; just for that day. Joseph is a Wisdom figure par excellence. He waits each day to be enlightened and is humble enough, to be led. There are truly massively intellectual, and incredibly savvy saints, to be sure. But I’ve always felt that some, have to be kind of stupid and dumb, in the worldly sense, to be led. Holy Servant of God, Adrienne von Speyr, says of St Bernadette, that she doesn’t even know what a mission is. Bernadette would say of herself, “Mary used me like a broom, then put me back in the closet.” She disappears like St Joseph.
This, now ,is the oldest known prayer to St Joseph:
“O St Joseph, whose protection is so great, so strong, so prompt before the throne of God, I place in you all my interests and desires.
O St Joseph, do assist me by your powerful intercession, and obtain for me from your Divine Son all spiritual blessings, through Jesus Christ, Our Lord, so that having engaged here below your heavenly power, I may offer my thanksgiving and homage to the most loving of Fathers.
O St Joseph, I never weary of contemplating you and Jesus asleep in your arms; I dare not approach while He reposes near your heart. Press Him in my name and kiss His fine head for me and ask Him to return the kiss when I draw my dying breath.
Amen”
Fr William Hart McNichols 💮 Wisdom Icons, Second Week of Advent 2021

Jesus Christ Redeemer Holy Silence

July 29th, 2022

Jesus Christ Redeemer Holy Silence

Jesus Christ Redeemer Holy Silence (Hagia Hesychia)
During these four weeks of Advent of 2021, I’m going to focus on icons of Wisdom. And though she is enigmatic and nearly defies our western mind’s need for a rational explanation, I’ll do my best to try and share some of what I’ve learned. My dear friend Christopher Pramuk has written two books specifically about Wisdom and that’s actually how we met; when I wrote him a gushing fan letter after reading “Sophia: The Hidden Christ of Thomas Merton.”
Encountering the Orthodox tradition of icons of Wisdom in 1990, really changed me forever. Wisdom is feminine in all the 5 Books of Wisdom in the Hebrew Scriptures, except the Book of Job. I’m still in her school, which is just wonderfully humbling and ultimately... you come to Psalm 131.
“O Lord, my heart is not proud.
I do not set my sights too high.
I have taken no part in great affairs, in
wonders beyond me.
No, I hold myself in quiet and silence.
Like a little child in its mother’s arms.
Like a little child, so I keep myself.
Let Israel hope in the Lord now
and forever.”
“When I was a youth, before I went traveling, In my prayers I asked outright for Wisdom. Outside the sanctuary I would pray for her, and to the last, I shall continue to search for her. From her blossoming to the ripening grape, my heart has taken delight in her. My foot has pursued a straight path, I have sought her ever since my youth. By bowing my ear a little, I have received her, and have found much instruction. Thanks to her I have advanced; glory be to Him who has given me Wisdom! For I was determined to put her into practice, have earnestly pursued the good, and shall not be put to shame. My soul has fought to possess her, I have been scrupulous about keeping the Law; I have stretched out my hands to Heaven and bewailed how little I knew of her; I have directed my soul towards her, and in purity I have found her; having fixed my heart on her from the outset. I shall never be deserted; my very core having yearned to discover her, I have now acquired a good possession. In reward the Lord has given me a tongue with which I shall sing His praises. Come close to me, take your place in my school. Why complain about lacking these things when your souls are so thirsty for them ? I have opened my mouth and said: ‘Buy her without money, put your necks under her yoke, let your souls receive instruction, she is near, within your reach.’ See for yourselves: how slight my efforts have been to win so much peace.”
Ecclesiasticus 51 : 13-27
It’s so clear that within these words, you hear the voice of Jesus in the Gospels . The early church father, Origen of Alexandria (much maligned until wisdom figures like Cardinals Danielou, de Lubac and von Balthasar began to rehabilitate his reputation) once said (and I paraphrase him) “God’s Sophia (Wisdom) took a body and became just like other crying infants.”
I first saw this icon in my first icon book “Russian Icons” by Fr Vladimir Ivanov, published in 1989 by Rizzoli Publishers, and the letters were so faded I asked my teacher, Friar Robert Lentz, who is this very feminine looking angelic figure ? When he answered “Jesus” I knew I was entering a whole new theological world. I confess, when I leave or go against Wisdom, I pay mightily hurting myself or others, by trying to make earthly wisdom work. This was the reason I had to copy this icon. When you copy a master, you learn so much. For example, in this icon notice how the background goes from dark green to softer green, and the wings repeat in reverse, the same subtle gradation. She is also wearing a deacon’s stole. The deacons and early church deaconess’s (see the recent article by Ariel David about the finding of a 1600 year old Byzantine basilica with graves dedicated to female ministers) responsibility was to preach. So how does holy silence preach ? Think of St Francis’ instruction to his followers, “Preach the Gospel always, and sometimes use words.”
I know in these flammable and hostile times we are all asking, like the brilliant author of Ecclesiasticus, for Wisdom. A Wisdom that gives you the inner peace and rest you are seeking. In the words of Our Lord, Matthew 11: 28-30,
“Come to me all you who are weary and overburdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Fr William Hart McNichols 💮 for the first week of Advent 2021

 

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