by Melodius Monk
“I would like to beg you….as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday, far into the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”
I read this letter by Rainer Maria Rilke and it reminded me of one of the founders of our Community, Mother Cay Anderson. I was only 6 when Mother Cay died, so what I know of her is mostly through other people’s stories.
Sometimes I’m discouraged in my walk as a young Christian, feeling like I still wrestle with many of the same questions, doubts, and unbelief that I had when I first became a Christian. When I feel this way, a Brother likes to remind me of a saying that he had been taught by Mother Cay. She would encourage him by saying “it takes a lifetime to come into Christ.”
I find the combination of these two ideas comforting. Rilke’s notion of living your heart’s questions now, and Mother Cay’s encouragement to not be too impatient with yourself.
Each of our lifetimes is vastly unique, but I dare say that each phase of our lives is equally necessary, the good times as well as the difficult times. Hopefully in the end, each question we wrestle with will come together to make the whole person we are becoming.
by Sister Hannah
Can you make a cake? Sister Jane asked, and I said we could try. I had made bread in a make-shift double boiler here so the same might work for a cake. This was to celebrate Ben’s 13th birthday. Ben and God’s Plan are two boys from the orphanage who have been helping cook and do chores here at the convent for a couple of months.
We gathered ingredients (no recipe) buttered the pot and launched in. No mixing bowl, no beater — a fork works — and no measuring cups or spoons, but a lot of trust in the Lord.
All dry ingredients stirred together. Now a lesson on separating eggs, three whites to whip and fold in last, so Bee started beating with a fork. We added oil, eggs, water, orange juice and grated rind and mixed it all. The whites soon formed beautiful peaks and got folded in.
The batter looked great and the girls said it tasted good. We took it to the outside kitchen and lowered the cake into the larger pot of boiling water over an open wood fire. Sometime later I tested for doneness, on the concrete floor — done!
Eager to celebrate, we didn’t wait til the cake was cool. We quickly adorned it with a little marmalade and lots of toasted coconut. Yum! We sang, clapped and prayed for this special young man. Ben was the first baby to come to the orphanage and has grown up with Sister Jane as Mama Jane.
by Sister Fidelis
A group of Cantors at our community have been researching the history and roots of Gregorian Chant: a broad subject full of variety and many interesting angles. In reviewing this project I am reminded about the real purpose behind the centuries-old tradition and what has kept it alive and pertinent even today. I think we all know but sometimes forget the simple answer: to proclaim the Word.
It is easy to get caught up in minutia, rhetoric, and opinions and turn the subject of this form of worship into some sort of heady, scientific study. There is much to delve into in the learning of Gregorian chant, but in doing so let’s not forget its Life and simple purpose! This is really why it captures our hearts and has endured the test of time.
To share a few quotes from some of the Masters…
Chant is a question of bringing forth the music which the words already contain.
—Dom Jacques Hourlier (1910-1984, Solesmes monk)
The predominance of vocal music as a tool grew out of the attitude of using music to convey ideas. The vocal song of the Temple drew from folksongs of the day. People would learn the melodies and text and bring them back to their homes (thus spreading the word).
—A.Z. Idelsohn (1882-1938, Jewish musicologist and composer)
Gregorian chant presents itself as an art which continually undergoes change because it is alive.
—Dom Eugene Cardine (1905-1988, Solesmes monk & Gregorian chant specialist)
Chant is like a garden….you visit it dozens of times, but always see something new and fresh!
—Dr. Mary Berry (1917-2008, Augustinian canoness regular, choral conductor & musicologist)
by Sister Fidelis
Today we celebrate the Solemn Feast of Saint Benedict of Nursia. Here in our Community, one from the Benedictine monastic tradition, this is an especially significant day. We begin Vespers with a beautiful hymn written by Saint Peter Damian (1007-1072 AD), Benedictine reformer, and Doctor of the Church. Found in the Breviarum Monasticum, the hymn is written in Mode I and has a lovely lyrical tune which sets off the stunning poetry. Damian uses phrases such as “precious jewel of the heavenly king”, “your heart fixed on the stars,” and “you work through the narrow beginnings of a strict life” as he recounts the life of Benedict.
Each verse begins with a stepwise melody in the lower range, blossoms in the middle with leaps of 4ths and 5ths, and then settles back to a repeat of the opening phrase. It sticks to the typical features of Mode I – beginning and ending on Re and at points hovering around La. The clarity and simplicity are the perfect backdrop for the hymn text and a beautiful tribute to a man who influenced monasticism and thereby chant in such a significant way.
by Sister Victoria
Yesterday was a special and blessed day for our postulants of the Benedictine Sisters of Bethany here in the village of Kuvlu. These beautiful girls have taken the step from aspirants to postulants and with that step have received their new habits.
For the past couple of months, Sr Hannah and I have been busy putting together a new psalter with antiphons so that this new Community can begin singing the psalms.
Also, this past week began a rather intense two-week “music camp”. The girls have had beginning piano lessons with a visiting instructor, and I have been teaching them to chant the psalms. Meanwhile Sr Hannah has worked on alterations to their new habits, giving them their final pressing with a charcoal iron!
At church I sat behind them and admit, my eyes welled up a little thinking of the privilege and joy it is to be a part of their lives; young women wishing to serve God.
by Faithful Friar
Speaking of the 4th of July (which we all have been this week!)… Did you know that the tenor bell at the Community of Jesus bell tower was cast in the same pit in which the Liberty Bell of Philadelphia was cast 265 years ago? That’s right – in 1752, Lester and Pack (later known as Whitechapel Bell Foundry) of London, England received a commission for its creation from the Pennsylvania Provincial Assembly, along with the request to have the bell lettered with, “Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the Land to the Inhabitants Thereof” (Leviticus 25:10). The cost then was a little over 150 pounds, or the equivalent of over 21,000 pounds today.
Although there is no record of it having been rung on July 4, 1776, it was believed to have been rung on the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence on July 8th, 1776. Bells throughout the land rang in celebration of America’s newly declared freedom. The Liberty Bell weighs 2,080 pounds. It is formed from 70% copper and 25% tin, and the remaining 5% from lead, arsenic, zinc, gold and silver. John Philip Sousa, inspired by this bell’s history, composed The Liberty Bell March and debuted it on July 4th, 1893 in Chicago.
Sadly, Whitechapel Foundry closed its doors forever in May of this year. It was known as Britain’s oldest manufacturing company, established in 1570 when Elizabeth I was Queen, and they had been in continuous operation since that time. We will miss them dearly and all their help in our newly established tower. BUT, we are proud to have Whitechapel Bells in our midst, ringing every day, and equally proud of our bells’ connections to their more famous cousin, Liberty.
by a Cantor
This next week’s communion antiphon – Gustate et videte – O taste and see that the Lord is good – is one of the most beloved and familiar of scripture texts and chants. In “Chants of the Vatican Gradual”, Dom Dominic Johner notes that this is the oldest communion chant to be found with its psalm in the liturgy of both eastern and western church. (as quoted by Jeffrey Tucker on The Chant Cafe).
by Sister Hannah
At the Convent of the Emmanuel Sisterhood, when we have stayed there, I took a short walk almost every day.
I had a glimpse of God’s delight in His creation along the path, the red earth adorned with small and various rocks.
Along the way I looked up at some of the trees as I walked, laden with mangoes and guava, and then went past a short row of stately cedars. Here I discovered something very exciting. In the last cedar, I saw what was possibly a small orchid, and stepped off the path and looked more closely. Yes, it was an orchid, and then I found many other trees had them. Orchids are slow growing, and I hope during future visits to see many of them in bloom. The plants are less than half the size of those sold in supermarkets and florist shops, so, to me, all the more exquisite.
God planted them (or allowed them to take up residence on these trees) for His own enjoyment and to bless those who have time to see as they pass by. This humble little flower provided such a blessing: a reminder to all of us to take time to stop and smell the flowers — whatever might be growing near you!
The upcoming Communion antiphon Inclina aurem tuam (“Incline thine ear”) may indeed hold the title as the shortest Communion chant in the repertoire. I believe the brevity is quite intentional as the chant is a simple, decorated Mode IV recitation. The melody weaves continually between the pitches fa and la, giving a sense that the person praying may be rocking back and forth while making this supplication to the Lord. Perhaps the most touching moment is the way in which the composer highlighted the word accelera, by placing a tenere over several of the notes thus purposefully slowing down the word which means to hurry! What a delightful way to underscore the prayer’s desire that the Lord hurry and listen.
by Sister Victoria
Just recently we made the long journey from Kuvlu to Bafut to attend the consecration service for three of the Emmanuel sisters. What an event that was! It was a whole day affair, beginning with the service at 9:30 in the morning followed by a meal for all and then drumming, singing and dancing well into the night.
It is an event for all the families, who were distinguished by wearing outfits of the same flamboyant fabric, many neighboring villagers and friends, other religious including 20 clergy, and no doubt some walk-ups. All in all, there had to be no fewer than about 500 guests.
We were blessed to experience another slice of African life in this event, very much like a large wedding where the families “gave” their daughters away to be brides of Christ.