Feast of the Presentation

by Sister Fidelis

Tomorrow, February 2, we celebrate the Feast of the Presentation. One of the best-known pieces from this feast is Lumen ad revelationem gentium, (“A light to enlighten the Gentiles”), a very simple mode VII antiphon, paired up with the verses of the Nunc dimittis.

This is one of my favorite Gregorian chant antiphons and brings back two very clear memories. My first introduction was in a class with Dr. Mary Berry at age 10. Dr. Berry herself created an indelible impression — a stately white-haired woman, arms gesturing, as she peered over her glasses and led us in song. We were caught up in the stories and history she told — a magical world to 10-year-olds. She had us all happily marching up and down the church, arms up and down in patterns of 2s and 3s, and the piece and the moment and the stories were all burned into our childhood memories….

Years later in a church in Italy some of our Brothers were asked to chant on the Feast of the Presentation. In a small ancient church in Tuscany we watched as they joined the procession of priests, deacons, acolytes, and various children, following the cross to the altar and chanting. The Brothers stood in their robes front of the altar with billows of incense rising around them…Lumen ad revelationem gentium…another moment out of time.

And then we come to the true moment for this piece and the story is even more wonderful — a man named Simeon and a prophetess meeting the Messiah and his parents in the temple. Ancient prophecies fulfilled and new prophesies spoken, mysteries, prayers, praises…

The simplicity of this music is interesting for such a special moment — a narrow range and almost completely syllabic. Sometimes it seems that mysteries bring us to a simple and childlike frame of mind. We come like a baby, simply being carried into this moment of God meeting man. May we each take a moment to remember our child-likeness on this Feast of the Presentation.

Lumen ad revelationem gentium, Feast of the Presentation, Community of Jesus

Exercising with Augustine

By Open Eyes

Recently we had a reading at Lauds from a Commentary of Augustine. His words: “The entire life of a good Christian is in fact an exercise of holy desire. You do not yet see what you long for, but the very act of desiring prepares you, so that when he comes, you may see and be utterly satisfied…. Simply by making us wait, he increases our desire, which in turn enlarges the capacity of our soul, making it able to receive what is to be given to us.”

I found the word “desire” running around in my head for a while after hearing this reading. What is it I desire in my life, and how can I increase my desire for a deep relationship with my God? Returning to Augustine’s words I heard the word “exercise” in a different light. Learning to desire God in every part of my life requires training, repeated exercise, gaining strength with each choice I make to put him first in my life, in the things I pay most attention to.

Physical training and exercise require stretching. Augustine talks about the spiritual stretching of “the sack” or “wineskin” to increase our capacity. Life often feels like a “stretching” that I don’t always appreciate. Perhaps though the stretching is what increases my desire for more of God.

st_augustine_hippo_24

From the Bell Tower: Facing Fears with Friends

By Faithful Finch

“For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you.'” Isaiah 41:13

I find it so interesting that ringing bells can be a spiritual exercise!

The other day, some of us were learning the process of “ringing the bells up.” This can be a frightening experience because if you don’t do it properly, you can have an accident. As the Lord is accustomed to doing, he taught me a lesson in the process.

I was so stuck in my fear, that I was doing things that blocked me from going forward in the process. I wasn’t breathing, my knees were locked rigid, and I couldn’t even hear Br. Matthew’s instructions he was giving me to help me. I had been quietly saying out loud, “Jesus, I trust in You. Jesus, I trust in You.”

To my surprise, all of a sudden, I found myself saying, “Br. Matthew, I trust in you.” When we stopped ringing, I had a good laugh with those ringing with me, but realized, sometimes my lack of trust isn’t just a lack of trusting Jesus. It’s not trusting my friends around me that want to help and that the Lord has put there for me. I realized I allow my fear to block myself from going forward. Things don’t always have to be as difficult as I allow my own sin to make them.

What a great lesson!

Ringers at the bell tower, Church of the Transfiguration

Sacred Seeing: Stilling the Storm

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 in 2017!

Stilling the Storm

Stilling the Storm fresco by Silvestro Pistolesi in the Church of the TransfigurationSpend a few moments looking at the fresco image.
What initial feelings does this fresco evoke?
What are some of the different things that you notice in this image?

Read the Scripture: Mark 4:35-41
35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Some thoughts and questions to ponder
Look carefully at the facial expression and hand gestures of each of the disciples. What do you imagine that each one is saying or thinking?

A careful look at the boat leads one to wonder how such a small and fragile vessel can be expected to carry all of these people, even in good weather. Why do you think the artists portrayed the boat in this way?

The mast is broken and lying uselessly off to the side of the boat. What does this mean for the disciples? What does this mean for you?

Look at the way that Jesus’ arms are extended. What is he “saying” with each hand?

The fresco panel seems to capture a precise moment near the time that Jesus commanded the wind and the sea, “Peace! Be still!” All is not yet calm, but Jesus appears firmly in control of the situation. What does this kind of peace mean to you? Over what storm in your own life do you need to hear Jesus’ command?

What is the central element in this image? Is it the raging storm that fills the sky with its dark fury? Is it the frightened disciples sitting in the boat, each with his particular anxious thoughts and gestures? Or, is it Jesus standing tall in the boat, his arms reaching out with authority and compassion? When the storms rage in my own life, what fills the center of my vision and becomes the focus of my attention? Is it the circumstances that are knocking me about and blowing me “off course”? Is it the turmoil of my own fearful thoughts and feelings? Or, is it Jesus, the Ruler over all the storms of sky and sea and soul?

Prayer
Lord Jesus, I am afraid. My world is crashing down around me. Punishing winds and waves, beyond my control, seem to be driving my life off course. Where are you, Lord? You are so quiet. I have forgotten that you are making this journey with me. Actually, getting in to the boat was your idea in the first place. So, you must be able to calm this storm; you must be able to right this boat; you must be able to get me to the other side. And I must be able to trust you.

Lord, you see the weather in my soul. Sometimes it feels like a storm is raging within me. And once the billowing winds get started, I don’t know how to stop them. Without your help, I will drown in this turmoil. If even wind and sea obey you, then you also must be Master of my soul. Speak peace to my heart, Lord, and may it listen.

A Word from the Tradition
A temptation arises, it’s a wind; you are trouble by a wave. Wake Christ up; let him talk to you…. Don’t let the waves overwhelm you when your heart is upset by a temptation. And yet because we are human, if the wind has driven us on and shaken our souls, don’t let us despair; let us wake up Christ, and so sail on in a calm sea, and reach our home country.
—Augustine (354-430)

Image: ©2004 Stilling the Storm by Silvestro Pistolesi at the Church of the Transfiguration

Alleluia Adorabo

by Sister Fidelis

This week our women’s chant group has been practicing an Alleluia for next Sunday, Ordinary Week 4: Alleluia Adorabo ad templum sanctum tuum: et confitebor nomini tuo (I will adore [bow down to] you in the temple and praise your name).

We’ve done all sorts of exploration personally and as a group – everything from speaking the text aloud, singing it silently in our heads, to finding an image or vignette that brings it to life. It’s a wonderfully expressive Mode VII piece, peppered with leaps of 4ths and 3rds.

Right from the start we can visualize the story: Adorabo – I will adore – rises up and then cascades down like a person in prayer rising and falling in worship.  The thought continues up and down like a prayer “in your holy temple.” The next phrase starts simply and low, and suddenly becomes the focus of the pieces as the composer uses no less than 57 notes to express the word, “Praise!” The word bubbles, turns, and twists with joy! (This of course takes work on our part to move it along with energy, unity and purpose in order to express it adequately.) And then the final part – “your name” – another beautiful melismatic rise and fall settles us back to the home tone at the end.

Gregorian chant: Alleluia Adorabo, Community of Jesus

News from the Bell Tower

by Faithful Friar

We had the privilege last week of having 2 interesting guests drop in to see our bells and our tower: Benjamin Sunderlin and his wife, Kate. It’s not often that people come to Cape Cod in the bleak midwinter, and even more seldom when they are interested in and knowledgeable about bells! They are the owners of B.A. Sunderlin Bell Foundry in Ruther Glen, VA, which is a “full service foundry that provides the highest quality, traditionally made, bronze bells in the States.” It was nice to show someone our bells and have them appreciate the way they were made and the sounds that they make – their personality!  Ben’s interest in bells has taken him all over the world in order to research the different techniques for bell making. They have the unusual ability to cast bells right in your yard or parking lot and turn this experience into a cultural event for the local community, complete with a lesson on the history and craft of bell casting.

I logged on to the Sunderlin Foundry website and watched the sad video on “The Death of a Bell”…don’t miss it if you are a bell ringer and need a new found appreciation of  how bells contribute to the voice of the church, and how we as bell ringers should bring out the best in our monolithic instruments! Don’t miss the brief video on Benjamin as “Notre Dame’s Bell Maker” and find out why he describes a bell as a “culturally charged object”!

Our best wishes accompany them both on their ambitious and much needed vocation.  Thanks for stopping by!

BenSunderlin

Ben Sunderlin (above) and Kate Sunderlin (right) at work in Ruther Glen, VA. Images courtesy of B.A. Sunderlin Bellfoundry Facebook page.

KateSunderlin

Sacred Seeing: The Wedding at Cana

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 in 2017!

The Wedding at Cana

Fresco, The Wedding at Cana, Church of the Transfiguration, by Silvestro Pistolesi

Spend a few moments looking at the fresco image.
There is a great deal of activity in this image. Describe the different things that are happening.

In a few words, describe the general feeling that this fresco evokes for you

Read the Scripture: John 2:1-11
On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

Some thoughts and questions to ponder
Many parts of this story are compacted into a single image — an empty pitcher; Jesus gesturing with his hand and finger; new wine being poured for the bridal couple; the surprised steward; Mary sitting quietly; six empty vessels. Today, which of these captures your attention most? Why

Describe the look on the steward’s face. What is going through his mind?

At this wedding table, Jesus is a guest. But his actions made him the host as he provides new wine for everyone at the festivity. Look at his hand, and especially the way he is pointing his finger. What is the artist saying here? (See also Luke 11:20; Exodus 8:19).

The central figure in the fresco is Mary. Why? The look on her face seems distant. Where has she gone? What is she thinking?

There are some interesting smaller features to this image that seem more symbolic than realistic — the blood red moon; a burning torch; a bar (and seemingly dead or dormant) tree branch; two turtledoves, and even a maple leaf (clearly not native to Cana in Israel). What is each of these for? What do you think the artist included them?

Prayer
Lord Jesus, I didn’t know — or at least I forgot — that you have something more…something better…something best…in mind for me.
Could it be that my cup running dry is actually the best thing that could happen?
I have no more wine, Lord.
What will you make?
To sip the sweetest vintage, all I need to do is whatever you tell me.

We have this treasure in earthen vessels.
Father, I am in so many ways like one of those clay pots — plain, ordinary, breakable…and empty.
They say I’ve been made for the rite of purification.
It’s true, but it turns out that the cleansing needed is my own.
Wash me with water, thoroughly, right to the brim.
I may still look the same on the outside — plain, ordinary, breakable…but you want me full, and with so much more than water.
The fruit of Mary’s womb has been pressed, and poured out, into me.
am like one of those clay pots —
An earthen decanter for heaven’s elixir of health and gladness.

A Word from the Tradition
I have invited you, Lord, to a wedding feast of song,
But the wine — the utterance of praise — at our feast as failed.
You are the guest who filled the jars with good wine;
Fill my mouth with your praise.
— From a hymn of Ephrem the Syrian (306–373)

Image: ©2004 The Wedding at Cana by Silvestro Pistolesi at the Church of the Transfiguration

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