Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Mother of God Similar to Fire

I've been in a(nother) funk lately... struggling with my own demons and dealing with some painful situations. Not that I'm unique in this--we all have pain, we all have sorrow. So, this week I'm especially thankful to have somebody to lean on. That "somebody" has come to me in the form of four amazing women.

Two of those women are dear friends who know me better than I know myself sometimes. They are always there for me, but never more than when I'm in despair and on a precipice. I'm thankful to both of them for talking me down from the ledge this week.

A third woman, also a dear friend, brought me a gift on Sunday that is full of grace and healing. It's a beautiful book of icons and lyric poems called Mother of God Similar to Fire. The icons are by William Hart McNichols and the reflections are by Mirabai Starr.

Starr's reflections are another wonderful example of ekphrastic poetry, like those of Orthodox poet and author, Scott Cairns.

Father McNichols is a Catholic priest who worked as a hospice chaplain for a number of years before studying iconography. Mirabai Starr is, as Fr. McNichols says, "a bright and highly respected author and translator and is gifted above all with a genuine poet-touched soul. Having lost a child, she has dedicated herself to a ministry of sitting with the bereaved."

I don't want to infringe on McNichols and Starr's copyrights, so I won't quote any of the poems in full here, or show any of the complete images. I hope they won't mind the details I'm sharing from two of the icons, and a few lines from the reflections that have blessed me so much this week.

Oh, and the fourth woman? Of course it's Mary, the Mother of God.

Excerpt from "The Woman Clothed With the Sun" ("Encircled by sunlight, rooted in moonlight"....)

Whenever we attempt to give birth
to something beautiful and true
the dragons of this world seem to crop up
and try to eradicate it...
Wrap me in your protective light, Mother Mary,
so that I may in turn protect the holiness I carry.

Excerpt from "Our Lady of Grace, Vladimir"

Help me rekindle the awe that infuses your countenance,
the fleeting joy that comes at the inevitable price of pain.
Let me be grateful again
for the grace or ordinary moments,
where God dwells.

I've set this detail as the wallpaper on my cell phone today, to remind me of Her presence throughout the day. I hope these images and words also bring you grace and peace.


Tina Fariss Barbour said...

Susan, Thank you for sharing these excerpts. They are beautiful. I am sorry that you are struggling. I am glad that you are receiving expressions of grace from your friends and from the poems and icons.

I don't know a lot about iconography, but from what I've seen and learned from your site, I want to learn more. I can feel comfort from studying the icons, and I think they would help me too during the dark times of the soul. I have those times, too, and all the medicinal and cognitive treatments in the world can't heal some of the deepest pain.

Grace and peace to you,

Susan Cushman said...

Thanks for reading and commenting, Tina. Icons can definitely help heal our wounds, and just bring comfort. If you can move beyond studying them to venerating them, the saints represented by their images will engage you in a real and mystical way. If you haven't read it, my essay, "Icons Will Save the World" talks about some of this:

Susan Schepens said...

I get a message from the buddhist nun/teacher/author Pema Chodren. Here's the latest:

February 16, 2012


Patience is a way to de-escalate aggression and its accompanying pain. This is to say that when we’re feeling aggressive—and I think this would go for any strong emotion—there’s a seductive quality that pulls us in the direction of wanting to get some resolution. We feel restless, agitated, ill at ease. It hurts so much to feel the aggression that we want it to be resolved. Right then we could change the way we look at this discomfort and practice patience.
I am lifting you up in my prayers.

Tina Fariss Barbour said...


I read your essay--thank you for sharing it! I enjoyed it very much. You do a great job in distinguishing veneration from worshipping. I can see that there's so much more to the icons than just looking at something lovely. I am going to do more reading about them.

I know it's very different, but I have found comfort in making mandalas. They remind me of the sacredness of life and of the connections among all of life.

I hope you are finding some peace. And I will pray for you.