Simple Beauty

by Sr. Spero

In a world called to beauty, we who have been given responsibility for creation are also responsible for the beauty of the world, of our own lives, and of each other’s lives.
—Enzo Bianchi, Echoes of the Word, Paraclete Press

 
Reading this quote from Enzo Bianchi, I immediately thought of a vegetable garden in San Gimignano, Italy. The vegetables were as you would expect—tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant—but the layout of the garden, and the obvious care given to each plant, made it a work of art. No wonder—the garden was tended by several monks of the Boze Community, which was founded by Enzo Bianchi.  A simple vegetable garden expressed beauty to all who passed by. And I suspect it also reflected the beauty and simplicity of their lives.

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A Word of Mercy

by Sr. Fidelis

Every Friday morning at Lauds, we chant Psalm 51 — perhaps the most famous of all the penitential psalms. In fact, it is quite easy to start off in the wrong weekly cycle until you get to the following psalm because it occurs on EVERY Friday of EVERY week! Not only does it occur with an extraordinary regularity, it opens and closes with the simplest of antiphons which consists of only three notes on the opening text, Miserere mei, Deus  (Lord, have mercy on me).

Sometimes I find that I can’t wait to chant this psalm. I don’t have to think or perform. There are no “tricky intervals”, no vocal ranges which I will have to manage, no worry about staying in tune. The antiphon and the chant mode are both as simple as the request of the psalmist himself — “Lord, have mercy on me and create a clean heart within me.” What a beautiful and necessary message and one that I find myself in need of every time we come to Friday Lauds! This, I believe, is one of the truest beauties of chant — its ability to set itself aside as it allows the message, the colors, of the words themselves to take on ever new meanings. The very simplicity of this chant reminds me over and over again of the purity and simplicity of God’s mercy.

Have a blessed week!

Miserere

The Dormition of Mary

by Sister Fidelis

This week we celebrated the Dormition or Assumption of Mary. In preparation for this feast I pulled out a CD recorded by the Gloriae Dei Cantores Men’s Schola entitled, “The Chants of Mary.”  As I listened I was struck with the richness of the chant written in Mary’s honor, and thought again about how well-known these pieces are — pieces such as Salve Regina, Ave Maria, Regina Caeli, Ave Maris Stella. These are the beloved chants that many congregations can still sing by heart. Here, I think, is an example of our “human-ness” – the part of us that will still, even in our old age, respond to and be touched by the love and care of a true Mother, and the honor and respect we feel toward one who was willing to be simple and vulnerable, and to accept of all that God asked of her.

Taking a moment to look at Salve Regina a couple of thoughts come to mind. The simplicity and tenderness of the piece are evident in the simple structure, lack of melismas and “frills.” The line of the melody sweeps up and down peaking on important words and thoughts in a most straight-forward and child-like manner. The prayer that these words spell out has lasted through the centuries, still as pertinent as ever. Sometimes it is important just to take a moment to enjoy a little gem such as this. Listen here!

Salve Regina, Gregorian chant

The Light Switch

by Sister Spero

Why don’t I pray? I remember the sermons about prayer being a light switch. The electricity is always turned on, but we have to activate the switch. Many times I go around in the dark, proud of myself that I can navigate in the dark without sight. It’s only when I trip over something, or the room seems unfamiliar, that I turn on the light. How different it would be if I kept the light on all the time. But I don’t. Why?

lightswitch

New Bell Recruits

by Faithful Friar

The tower bell-ringers here at the Church of the Transfiguration are expecting good things at our summer ringing camp being held this coming week! This has become an annual event thanks to friends from Boston and Washington areas: a group of very accomplished change-ringing teachers who have taken us under their wing. As was the case a year ago we have recently welcomed some new recruits who wish to learn and participate. This is both a joy and a responsibility since there is a safety component to handling a long rope attached to a heavy swinging object. So it will be perfect to have our friends here to give a proper initiation to our new ringers. As for the rest of our “band”, each of us is continuing to learn. There are always new challenges with change-ringing: different methods to learn, different bell positions within each method, how to conduct a band, how to follow a conductor (how to think like they do). So it’s a challenge for each one individually, yet it remains a group activity where we must depend on and pay attention to one another. Both invigorating and humbling…. Hmmm, sounds a lot like trying to live together in community!
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Light in the Cracks

by Sunset Septuagint
Are you a “cracked pot”?  Does a cracked pot have value?  If we have a valuable item that gets broken, do we try to mend it so that the crack shows as little as possible?  Most of us would answer yes to these questions BUT some of us learned a whole different appreciation of “cracked pots” from Gabrielle Wilpers who gave an art retreat here in April. We were introduced to the Japanese Kintsugi technique which illuminates “cracks” often with brilliant gold highlights. This is similar to the philosophy of wabi-sabi which values rather than hides the marks of broken-ness.

Most of us would say we want the light of Jesus to shine through us, but we have difficulty accepting that light can only come through the “cracks”, and we do our best to hide the cracks from others and mostly from ourselves.

The value of being willing to appreciate our cracks really hit home with me the other day in a daily reading from Oswald Chambers which says, “The saint is hilarious when he is crushed with difficulties because the thing is so ludicrously impossible to anyone but God.”

Let us welcome being “cracked pots”. We have the assurance that Jesus will mend our cracks with the balm of Gilead and that they will shine as bright as the noon day sun.

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Compassion and the Cross

By Faithful Finch

Recently, I’ve been struggling with my lack of compassion for others. I’ve been frustrated with myself, and have been talking to the Lord about it. He told me that I also have a lack of compassion for myself, and if I begin there, it may be easier to have compassion for others. He told me if I really knew how much He loved me and accepted me, my problems in the area of lack of compassion would quickly clear up.

I recently read that in the Hindu tradition, they find it important to behold the Divine and allow themselves to be fully seen. Many Hindus visit the temples not to see God, but to allow God to gaze upon them, warts and all, and then to join how God sees us, which is always with unconditional love and compassion.

The scripture about taking the log out of my own eye before trying to help remove the speck out of my neighbors always has bothered me, but after letting the concept of allowing myself to be seen and loved for just “me”, the log turns into just my weakness, my sin, my need for Christ, which morphs it from a log to a cross.

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The Transfiguration Window

Back in August 2000, just after the dedication of the church, artist Helen McLean of Wexford, Ireland wrote about her experience creating the oculus for the Church of the Transfiguration.

This window presented me with a difficult challenge. How to create the window of the Transfiguration? The more I meditated on the theme, the more the spiritual, mystical nature of the Transfiguration dominated my thought. The moment Christ was transfigured and his garments became strong, white light, a heavenly radiance was at the center of my inspiration: “He was transfigured before them, and his garments became glistening, intensely white, as no fuller on earth could bleach them” (Mark 9:2-3). No human form or figurative piece could I feel express this experience — this incredible, intangible moment.

The window was to be an expression of energy and power with light emitting from the center — the light expressed by a hand-blown piece of glass with flecks of red. The rest of the composition was conceived as this divine energy transmitting lines and waves, flowing around the middle, meandering and moving, evoking color and energy. Fiery reds, vivid orange, gold and yellows explode forth, enlivening the circle, the entire cosmos. The cosmos is ablaze with the glory of Christ!

The four flames flicker, symbols of spiritual purification, enlightenment, and love. Thus this can be seen as a ‘fire window’ — the force of rejuvenation and renewal. The flame-form, outlined in gold, is a further expression of pure light.

Within the circle, elemental forms are portrayed, conveying the movement and energy of the divine light. The three interlocking forms and nine circles were intended on one level as abstract elements. On another level, they could be interpreted as Saints Peter, James, and John, and the nine circles as the nine choirs of angels.

The same light and energetic power provides the relationship between the window, seen on the outside, and the portal below. The circular cosmos and the power of God in every day of creation is clearly expressed, as is the light of God’s first word, “Let there be light!”

Inside, the window relates to the baptismal font. Both are created in a glass material. One absorbs and reflects light, whilst the other lets light pass through it. The gold on the font floor absorbs the natural light to reflect a white, sacred light. Both pieces have a central circular form, from which lines radiate around the center. This can be understood as the power and light of the Holy Spirit emanating out, flowing from light to dark, embracing all the baptized.

“All ye who would the Christ descry, lift up your eyes to Him on high:
There mortal gaze hath strength to see the token of His majesty.
A wondrous sign we there behold, that knows no death nor groweth old…”
—Prudentius, 4th century

Helen McLean
Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord, 2000

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Dirt

By Sr. Spero

When we were weeding, a friend said, “Too bad when you weed there’s more dirt exposed so more weeds can get in.” That was a new thought for me, but I agree that there’s nothing better for an airborne seed than a fresh patch of dirt. It reminds me of that Scripture I never understood—the parable of the unclean spirit who finds a house all swept clean and goes and brings in seven more unclean spirits, making the condition worse (Luke 11:24–26). Does this mean we don’t weed? I don’t think so. But it means that when I’m making my garden beautiful, I’m also making it vulnerable.

Beauty and vulnerability go together. And this is true for the spiritual life. As we get rid of our own weeds (selfishness, hate, jealousy), we becomes more beautiful, but also more vulnerable. What’s the solution? There’s only one. Prayer.

Weed

Swept Up Higher!

By Sr. Fidelis

No matter how many times I have chanted the chants for the Feast of the Transfiguration, I feel like a little kid all over again when I hear them! The chants for this feast have such exhilarating, text-coloring melodies, it’s difficult not to be swept up with them. Let’s take a look at just one example — the 1st Vespers Hymn — Quicumque Christus Quaeritis.

Here is the first verse:
Whosoever you are who seek Christ, raise your eyes on high;
there, you will be allowed to see a sign of eternal glory.

The hymn begins in the lowest part of the mode, as though “bowed over.” However, it gently and quickly rises higher until the very word “there” — as though carrying us along to the exact point at which we might see Christ — before returning to where it began.

However, and perhaps even more amazing, the musical shape of this hymn echoes the story of the Transfiguration itself. If you recall, Jesus took Peter, James and John with Him up Mt. Tabor (a long climb if you have never experienced it!), where they saw Jesus, Moses and Elijah speak together, and heard God’s own voice — in all senses, a “mountain top” experience! Also, remember that Peter wanted to remain on the mountain but Jesus said that was not possible — they must descend and return to their daily lives with this experience.

This is EXACTLY what the chant does in sound — melodic motion to a specific high point on the word “there”, a moment of lingering and, like I said earlier, a floating descent to its final cadence. When I hear this hymn, I feel as though I am being retaken on that same, living journey. I believe that this is one of the greatest gifts and benefits of the chant: its ability to lift us out of where we are, take us to a new place of conversation with God, and return us to our daily lives, transformed.

Have a blessed week and Happy Feast of the Transfiguration!

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