Jubilation!

by Cantor

It is with great excitement that we look forward to Week 2 of year A in the 3-year liturgical cycle. WHY? What a seemingly random date!

This is the moment in the liturgical cycle that the extraordinary offertory Jubilate Deo, universa terra, appears in Ordinary Time. Mary Berry referred to this offertory as “the most wonderful piece-fantastic!” Truly, it is one of the finest examples in all of the Gregorian repertory of a joyous text released and exploded through sheer melodic curvature and development.

In 2007, several of our cantors had the extraordinary privilege of chanting and studying chant with Dr Berry in her home for the entire summer. Everyone had to present a “long term” project. at the end of the summer. Whoever presented the project had to ask another one of us to be the “guinea pig” cantor. I got to be that “guinea pig” for the cantor presenting the Jubilate Deo offertory. So, for 90 minutes straight, I chanted this offertory repeatedly, while Dr. Berry modified the presenter’s conducting. That was an experience never to be forgotten! Not only did both of us have the joy of learning the work in great detail, but by force of nature, learned it by heart. For any who have the chance, learn this work by heart – it will be an absolute treasure to you.

iubilate_deo_universa_terra_1_

 

At the Cross Point

by Faithful Finch

Recently, a friend of mine was having one of those moments we all have of feeling discouraged about who she was. I asked the Lord what He wanted me to say to help her, and got, “You need to keep your eyes on who you are, but don’t lose sight of who I (Jesus) am in the process. That point of intersection is the cross, which is My mercy.” What a helpful word to balance those times when our sin overwhelms us.

Processional cross at the Church of the Transfiguration, Community of Jesus

Sacred Seeing: The Baptism of the Lord

A few years ago, the Community of Jesus published a little book, Sacred Seeing: Praying with the Frescoes in the Church of the Transfiguration. As we approached the New Year, it seemed like a good opportunity to share this simple guide to praying with the art here in the church, especially for those of you who aren’t able to come and see it for yourselves. Over the next several weeks, we will be sharing the meditations from the book. We hope that it helps to enrich your prayer life as 2017 begins!

The Baptism of the Lord

The Baptism of Jesus

Spend a few moments looking at the fresco image
What are you first impressions of this fresco panel?
What do you notice about this fresco that sets it apart form all the others?

Read the Scripture: Matthew 3:13-17
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me? But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, he went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him; and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Some thoughts and questions to ponder
Jesus is flanked by John the Baptist and by a rock. What is their role as they are pictured this way? Perhaps the spandrels below give us some insight — Joshua 24:25-27 and Ezekiel 47:1,9

BaptSpandrel1BaptSpandrel2

 

 

 

 

 

A single staff stands leaning, perhaps against a rock. Whose is it, Jesus’ or John’s? In either case, what is its purpose; why is it there?

What does John’s kneeling posture tell us? What does Jesus’ standing posture tell us?

The artist has presented Jesus wearing a simple white robe. Why?

Why, at this event, did the Holy Spirit appear in the form of a dove? (e.g. it could have been fire, as on the day of Pentecost).

Why do you suppose there is so much sky in this fresco? It almost looks like Jesus is standing on a mountain top rather than in a river valley.

What does this image say to you about your own baptism?

Prayer
Lord, I don’t think enough about heaven,
about the ultimate end of my life…and its eternal purpose.
But here, looking up at you as John did,
I believe again that you are doing something unimaginable with me.
Before I leave this place,
I will sign myself once again with the waters of the font.
— a reminder of my own baptism
— a reminder that you have sealed me within your own heart, and stamped my heart with heaven’s address
— a reminder that, whether or not I can hear it right now, your (and my) Father’s voice has declared of me, “This is my beloved child;”
— a reminder that all the coarse fabric of my life will someday fall away, and I will exchange these garments of sorrow for robes of joy.
Until then, I will believe that you are doing something unimaginable with me.

Lord, in every way you have gone before me.
My steps were your steps, not so very long ago.
You descended to the Jordan valley,
and now your staff leads me there, too.
The descent is rough, sometimes slippery, and often lonely.
But the valley is where the river runs,
and the promise of new beginnings.
So, because you went there first, Lord, I will follow.
I will step into the healing stream,
bow my head under its rushing waters,
and look to see how you will come to me, again.

A Word from the Tradition
There is a mystery here. The pillar of fire went first through the Red Sea so that the children of Israel might follow without fear; it went first through the waters to open a way for those who were following. That event, then, was a symbol of baptism, as Paul tells us. Moreover, it is the same Christ who was at work then and now. Then he went through the sea, ahead of the Israelites, in the form of a pillar of fire; now he goes through the baptismal waters, ahead of the Christian people, in the pillar of his own body.
— Maximus of Turin, Sermons on the Epiphany (D.C. 466)

Image: ©2003 The Baptism of the Lord by Silvestro Pistolesi at the Church of the Transfiguration

Suscipe

by Cantor
Tonight is our annual vow service. It is one of the most beautiful nights of the year. The church, still clothed in Epiphany garb, glows with the warmth of candle light. The vowed Community, robed with white scapulars, fill the seats on either side of the aisle the candidates will walk. And the candidates exude a light that comes with saying, “Yes.”
Everything about the service is moving, from the hymns, to the speaking of the vows, to the moment where the candidates prostrate him or herself at the foot of the altar in a moment of total vulnerability and surrender. It’s an event where the ever-moving stream of history is almost palpable and the unity with monastics across time and space is humbling to say the least. And it is a moment that reminds each of us of our own call.
One of the most beautiful moments is the chanting of the Suscipe — an ancient and traditional Gregorian chant for the final vows in a Benedictine community. The newly vowed sings it once on their own and then, in a chorus of support, the entire vowed community repeats it. It is as though, through the Latin text, we are pledging to stand with the newly professed, and they with us — a bond of obedience and dependence on God. And we sing it, knowing we will stumble, that sometimes we will want to quit, and that sometimes, we just need to stand still.
“Suscipe me Domine, secundum eloquium tuum et vivam; et non confundas me, ab expectatione mea.”

Uphold me, Lord, according to your word, and do not disappoint me in my hope.

Gregorian chant, Suscipe me, Domine, Community of Jesus

Star of Wonder

by Sister Spero

The “Epiphany” we celebrate is that God revealed himself through a star. (Epiphany is from the Greek word for “reveal.”) God could have chosen any way at any time, but he chose a massive ball of gas millions of light years away to show the world that something strange and wonderful was happening. Scientists today speculate that the bright star could have been a supernova, or a conjunction—meaning that 2 or 3 stars crossed paths. Whatever caused the great light, it was so unusual that wise men (probably astronomers) traveled to find the cause. Their epiphany became the revelation of God himself.   

Lord Jesus, help us all to find our own epiphanies, revelations of you, today.

Star of Bethlehem, O Antiphon mosaic floor, Community of Jesus

Sacred Seeing: The Epiphany

A few years ago, the Community of Jesus published a little book, Sacred Seeing: Praying with the Frescoes in the Church of the Transfiguration. As we approach the New Year, it seemed like a good opportunity to share this simple guide to praying with the art here in the church, especially for those of you who aren’t able to come and see it for yourselves. Over the next twelve weeks, we will be sharing the meditations from the book. We hope that it helps to enrich your prayer life as 2017 begins!

The Epiphany

Epiphany Fresco at the Church of the Transfiguration at the Community of Jesus

Spend a few moments looking at the fresco image. Write down any first impressions you have. Does the image raise any questions for you? Write down what they are.

Read the Scripture: Matthew 2:1-12
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
    who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Some thoughts and questions to ponder
What features of the image stand out most to you?

The infant Jesus is radiant, and the light emanating from him washes the wall behind him and illuminates the kneeling Magi. The star, almost at the center of the image, is the other bright element, shining ten times brighter than any other star in the sky. What connection does the fresco make between the light of the star and the light of the Child?

What do you notice about Mary and Joseph? What is Mary’s part in the event? What is Joseph’s part? What do they share in common?

In the Incarnation, Jesus descends to us so that we might be raised to him. Here, Jesus is raised upon Mary’s lap and the Magi are kneeling and bowing in adoration. What does this image say about ascending and descending in the kingdom of God?

Contrary to the human penchant for rising up and taking from God (remember the story of Adam and Eve and the forbidden fruit), the Magi came to bow down and give their treasures to Jesus. Humble worship is presented here as the antithesis of sin. Perhaps this explains in part why worship can be such work, and also why it can bring us such blessing.

Look at the hand gesture of the infant Jesus, who seems to be reaching out like any baby might. But, is he reaching out to touch what is being offered, or is it to touch the hand of the one giving?

Who are the observers looking over the shoulders of the Magi? Why are they included in the story?

Prayer
Heavenly Father,
you sent the Gift of your only Son,
infinite love incarnate, descending to dwell among us.
By many and various lights,
you have drawn and led me into his presence,
and as I remember each of them, I give you thanks.
Now, here before the radiant grace of your Son,
I bow my own heart in humble praise.
What I have, I offer to him in adoring gratitude,
and wait for the touch of his hand upon my soul.

A Word from the Tradition
He who enriches others becomes poor. He took to himself the poverty of my flesh so that I might obtain the riches of his Godhead. He who is full empties himself. He emptied himself of his Godhead for a brief time so that I might share in his fullness. What is this wealth of goodness? What is this mystery that touches me?
—Gregory of Nazianzus (330-389)

Image: ©2003 The Epiphany by Silvestro Pistolesi at the Church of the Transfiguration

The Inspiration of a Star

by Cantor

Late last evening, I attended a schola rehearsal in which a men’s group was preparing the Alleluia for Epiphany (Vidimus Stellam). They worked in earnest but the rehearsal did not seem to progress. We put the rehearsal on “pause” to see what we could do to change the course of this practice session.

Almost without a breath, everyone realized they had not discussed and ingested the text enough to inspire them to truly grapple with the chant and its meaning. Within moments, multiple ideas were flying around the room concerning the story of the three ancient seers who had spent years in preparation for this one fantastic moment of seeing the Christ Child. Suddenly, the rehearsal sprang to life! Now we had the inspiration to do the work needed to bring this chant “off the page.”

This was a good reminder to all of us that chant is first and foremost, drawn from the very sounds of the words which it upholds. And, in order to truly understand the chant, we must first know its text intimately. It is that understanding which under-girds our chanting and gives us genuine inspiration.

Translation:
We have seen his star in the East, and we have come with our gifts, to worship the Lord.
(from Matthew 2)

al_vidimus_stellam

 

Ringing in the New Year 2017

by Faithful Friar

The symbolism inherent in bell-ringing is never clearer than when we “ring in” each new year. Combining the celebratory and the chronological elements perfectly as they do, it’s a privilege to participate in the midnight ringing Dec. 31st, even if it seems the whole world (i.e. sleepy Cape Cod) is abed. Members of our Community of Jesus ringing band began as usual with rounds on the 10 tuned bells in our tower, and one by one the upper bells were stood until only the lowest tenor bell remained to strike 12 blows at midnight. Then all joined back in for some festive called changes.

It is well to reflect at times like this how much God has blessed us both individually and corporately. We each have a testimony of his love and care in the circumstances of our lives. And yet we are called together in our various circles, and we have to listen and pull our ropes as intrepidly as we may, sounding out in as good a sequence as we can manage whatever signal call the Lord allows us to make. The ringing of our church bells at daily service times happens to be among the loudest such signal; so again it is a privilege as well as a responsibility to participate!

Follow this link to see a video of some of our ringing!

Bell Tower at the Church of the Transfiguration at the Community of Jesus, New Year's Night 2017

Sacred Seeing

A few years ago, the Community of Jesus published a little book, Sacred Seeing: Praying with the Frescoes in the Church of the Transfiguration. As we approach the New Year, it seemed like a good opportunity to share this simple guide to praying with the art here in the church, especially for those of you who aren’t able to come and see it for yourselves. Over the next twelve weeks, we will be sharing the meditations from the book. We hope that it helps to enrich your prayer life as 2017 begins!

Introduction

Fresco of Jacob's Ladder by Silvestro Pistolesi in the Church of the Transfiguration at the Community of Jesus“Jacob came to a certain place, and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it!… Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place; and I did not know it.” And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” (Genesis 28:10-17)

An ancient practice of prayer recommended by St. Benedict in his Rule, and still widely used today, is called lectio divina—sacred reading. The method requires enough silence, both inward and outward, and enough time spent mulling over and meditating upon a passage of the Bible, that the text eventually becomes a stepping stone to prayer and contemplation. This kind of reading is done not so much for content and knowledge as for insight and interpretation, for it is meant to lead the reader through the words to the God of whom they speak. There, in the presence of God, prayer becomes the only appropriate language.

Something similar can happen with art, and so it is that this little book may be considered a prayer guide for “sacred seeing.” Like Jacob’s dream, art can point us beyond itself, through its visible shapes and colors, to God who is both invisible and present. Like sacred words, sacred art can be a ladder to prayer.

The clerestory walls of the Church of the Transfiguration contain twelve fresco images that depict major events in the life of Christ:

Epiphany Entry into Jerusalem
Baptism Last Supper
Wedding at Cana Crucifixion
Calming the Sea Resurrection
Feeding the Multitude Ascension
Healing the Man Born Blind Pentecost

The following pages are offered as one way to spend enough time with these images—to “converse” with them long enough—so that they can lead us to prayer. And “enough time” is probably the most important tool here (along with a Bible, a pen, and piece of paper). The goal is not to get through all twelve images; it is to pray with them. In fact, it may be necessary to return again and again to the same image until it has “said enough” to you.

The shape of each meditation is as follows:
1. First, sit quietly and look at the fresco. The opening questions look only for your initial thoughts and impressions. Breathe. Take the time.

2. Then, slowly read the scripture passage that the image portrays. Don’t be afraid to stop at any word or phrase that calls for your attention, or particularly connects you with the fresco itself. (These readings are taken from the Revised Standard Version, the primary translation that was used to guide the word of all the artists in the Church of the Transfiguration.)

3. Consider some of the thoughts and questions (mostly questions) that are listed. Remember, these are only meant to guide the “conversation” that you are having. In every case, the goal is to listen for what the Holy Spirit may be saying to you through the fresco image.

4. Begin to turn your own questions and answers into prayer. What prayer is the fresco creating in your heart? What is it inspiring you to say to Jesus? A prayer or two is included here, but you may wish to write your own.

5. Finally, a word is offered “from the tradition”—something from an earlier pray-er who contemplated and wrote of the event you are looking at. Something to take with you as you leave.

Reflecting on his own experience with icons, Henri Nouwen once said that it was important for him to look at art with his “heart’s eye.” From that perspective, certain images kept him connected with his experience of love and he found that they helped him to pray when he had no words of his own. Learning to “see” in this way can take a long time. While its primary purpose is to house a community at worship, the Church of the Transfiguration, even from the earliest stages of its design, was envisioned also as a “teaching church,” a space that would proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ even when standing empty and silent. Among the many things that the church teaches us, perhaps it can also teach us to pray.

The Holy Innocents

This is the text of this morning’s Gregorian chant hymn from Lauds for the Feast of the Holy Innocents, by Prudentius (4th-5th c.). This is a tragic event in the history of God’s people. It is also referred to as “The Slaughter of the Innocents.” The Wise Men reported to King Herod that they were searching for the infant king of the Jews. This threatened Herod. To protect himself against being supplanted by this infant, Herod ordered the slaughter of all male children under two years of age in Bethlehem and the surrounding region. No one knows who or how many were killed, so the Church honors them as a group of martyrs. Augustine of Hippo called them “buds killed by the frost of persecution the moment they showed themselves.”

Christmas candle tower at the Church of the Transfiguration, the Community of JesusHail, flowers of the martyrs, whom, at the very threshold of the light of life, the pursuer of Christ destroyed, as a whirlwind would roses in bud.

You are the first victims of Christ, the tender flock of the sacrificers; pure ones before the altar itself, you play with palms and crosses.

Glory be to you, O Lord, who are born of a virgin, with the Father, and the Holy Spirit, for everlasting ages. Amen.