Friday, December 07, 2012

Mother of God Similar to Fire Fr. William Hart McNichols

Mother of God Similar to Fire

Fr. William Hart McNichols

Orbis Books

$15.36 on Amazon
Review by Rene Schwiesow
Fr. William Hart McNichols is an artist and a humanitarian.  The icons that he brings to life are stunning in print.  One can only imagine the impact of their aesthetic grandeur when seen in person.  In “Mother of God:  Similar to Fire,” an astoundingly breathtaking work, McNichols joins his artistic vision with the poetry of the mystical author, Mirabai Starr.  Starr, an adjunct professor of philosophy and world religions at the University of New Mexico in Taos, has studied diverse spiritual paths with many well-known teachers.  It is these ecumenical experiences that have formed the universal quality of her work.  She is the author of “God of Love:  A Guide to the Heart of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
 Their joint effort offers the reader Mother Mary’s grace and wisdom as interpreted through the talented hands and hearts of McNichols and Starr.  Mary is diversely and universally portrayed as the Black Madonna, Latina, Bosnian, Greek, Italian and Native.  In 2002, Time Magazine described McNichols as “. . .among the most famous creators of Christian iconic images in the world.”  Fr. McNichols has two previously published books that have won the Catholic Book Award.  Yet, when you meet Fr. McNichols, fame is not evident in his demeanor.  What is evident is that he is a grounded, compassionate, empathetic man who serves the people of Taos, New Mexico with his whole being.

When Fr. McNichols goes in to paint an icon he tells us, “I go in to work like I go in to pray.  Waiting.  Waiting for God to come.”  When I opened the book to the first icon, it was clear to this reviewer that God had arrived.  Each icon whispers its own prayer and the sound is echoed by Mirabai Starr’s words:

Mother of God
similar to fire,
ignite my heart in prayer. . .

lit from within,
let my blazing heart become a sanctuary
for the weary traveler,
until this long night lifts
and dawn unfolds her new radiance.

Two of my favorite icons in the book are “Mother of God Akita” and “Mary Most Holy of All Nations.”  Both of these images include the world.  In “Mother of God Akita” Mary is depicted standing on the planet and in “Mary Most Holy of All Nations” she cradles the world in her arms.  Fr. McNichols has a beautiful way of creating his icons as universal, the spiritual depth of each image accessible to all people so that when we gaze upon “Mary Most Holy of All Nations” and then read the words, “Let the children of all countries of the world be one!” our response is a breathless Amen.

While Fr. McNichols is a Roman Catholic iconographer, the influence of Byzantine icons can be seen in his work.  He indicates that he has no intention of assuming to be Orthodox, but honors and reveres the Byzantine icons. Fr. McNichols has a profound respect for the spirituality of the Orthodox churches.  In addition to the Byzantine icons, he has been influenced by ancient and contemporary Russian icons and finds that he has always been drawn to the beauty of the images we do not have in the West.

“You gaze on the icon, but it gazes on you too.  We need to gaze on truly conversational, truly loving images, images that will return our love.”  Fr. William Hart McNichols.

“Mother of God:  Similar to Fire” will be a library addition that you will turn to again and again for its peace and meditative tranquility.

Rene Schwiesow is co-host of the popular South Shore poetry venue, The Art of Words.  She writes a column in The Old Colony Memorial for the Plymouth Center for the Arts

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous8:29 AM

    thank you Rene for this review. it is a wonder to see his work and to read what you describe about his dedication to the icons. irene