02 December 2014

Son of David! Brother Mickey McGrath, OSFS

On the Feast of Christ the King my parish was lucky enough to be visited by Brother Mickey McGrath, OSFS who was in the area for a conference in the South Bay. Bro Mickey is an Oblate of St Francis de Sales, the same congregation as my pastor, and during the visit Mickey stayed at the parish and did the homily for the Feast. He took slides of his work and projected them on the wall in the sanctuary; he then did a running commentary on the Feast via each of the pictures. It was an amazing presentation. All of the works related to Jesus as King, or to Kingship in the OT and thus to the story of the multitude of ways God dwells among us and is (or wills to be) sovereign. The depth and breadth of the scriptural references was stunning and exhilarating.

One of the pictures especially spoke to me. It is called Son of David and reflects not only King David and his Son, but also Jesus as Son of David and God's sovereign and merciful One. (Whenever Jesus healed people "they had tended to call out to him, Son of David, have pity on me/us!") In the foreground is the Son of David figure holding a harp which reminds us of the psalms David is supposed to have authored but which stand as the singing heart of the OT. There is a river and a pomegranate tree reminding us not only of the tree of life and the movement to freedom of the Exodus but of the rich symbolism of the fruit as well. In Judaism the pomegranate (rimon) symbolizes, "righteousness because it is said to have 613 seeds, which corresponds with the 613 mitzvot, or commandments, of the Torah. For this reason and others, it is customary to eat pomegranates on Rosh Hashanah. Moreover, the pomegranate represents fruitfulness, knowledge, learning, and wisdom." The river and tree also remind us of the Israelites' exile and corresponding plaint --- We hung up our lyres, for our captives there required of us songs; but how can we sing the songs of Zion in a foreign land? Likewise then the harp in Jesus' hands reminds us of the song that Jesus awakens in our hearts when he brings us to freedom and then, eventually, home.

For me all of these meanings have personal significance, especially because so much of my time is spent singing psalms, but also because of the idea of playing an instrument and singing while in a state of exile. Eremitical life generally (and certainly my own) is joyful and an instance of God's own song even when it must sometimes be sung in a minor key; after all, exile (and being at home in exile) is a very big and meaningful piece the eremitical vocation and my own personal story. The consolation and inspiration of the Holy Spirit is also represented in the painting --- from Whom else do we sing and in Whom else's power are we made song? (Here I also remember Dom Robert Hale's comment that God sustains us like a singer sustains a note!) The name Stillsong Hermitage reflects all this and more.

Because I was so struck by the painting (and because Mickey left the Church early so I missed talking to him directly), I asked my pastor if he could check to see if there were prints available and if so, to get some information for me from Bro Mickey.  Unfortunately, I hadn't seen Fr John all week to follow up on the results but Sunday morning, when I came into the sacristy after Mass to take off my cowl and get ready to go outside, a flattish wrapped package with my name on it was sitting on top of my vest there on the vestment press. I wondered vaguely  if, because of the day and it's size and shape, it could be an Advent calendar --- though no one else seemed to be getting one! Anyway, after making sure I did not have to wait for Christmas to open the package (Such a relief! I probably would NOT have been able to do so anyway!) I realized what it MIGHT be. And so it was, namely, a ready to frame 11"X14" print of Brother Mickey's, Son of David! WOO HOO!!

For a chance to "meet" Brother Mickey and to see a face of religious life you may not have met yourself, check out the following videos. One of the points he makes which resonates with my own theology and work is that our God is found in the unexpected and even the unacceptable place. Our world is at least potentially sacramental, always and everywhere. We seek God wherever we are and wherever we go and we are open to allowing God to transfigure all things. Brother Mickey's commitment to this truly joyful vision of reality comes through in what he says and assuredly it comes through in his art.

For those of you who like this print (it is more vibrant than shows here, I think) please check out all of Brother Mickey (O'Neill!!) McGrath's work at www.EmbracedbyGod.org. It is extraordinary with vibrant colors, thoughtful and multi-layered composition, and wonderful dashes of humor and contemporary tones, notes, faces, and scenes. (He had slides of Mary holding Jesus and sitting in a modern rocking chair because his Mother had and loved sitting in just such a rocking chair, while his paintings of contemporary Saints, Founders, Popes, etc are unique.)

Another painting I particularly loved is Christ the Teacher which has Jesus with his arms full of torah scrolls, books, papers, and even computers reflecting all of the ways the Gospel of God has come to us over the history of his Proclamation. It is available in a print but also as note cards. Jesus the Student is also lovely and there are any number of paintings of Mary and the various Saints which remind us of how ordinary such extraordinary holiness is meant to be (as well as how extraordinary we each are called to be in our ordinariness). Incarnation is a thread woven throughout the work again and again. The prints are generally available in several sizes (specific prints each seem to be available in only one of these sizes), are very reasonable in price. Please consider contributing to this unique and significant ministry!