Sacred Seeing: Healing the Man Born Blind

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!

Healing the Man Born Blind

HealingManBornBlind
Spend a few moments looking at the fresco image.
What immediately strikes you when you look at this image?
How would you describe what is happening?

Read the Scripture: John 9:1-41

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We[a] must work the works of him who sent me[b] while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10 But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11 He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” 12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14 Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15 Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” 16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. 17 So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”

18 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19 and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” 20 His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21 but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus[c] to be the Messiah[d] would be put out of the synagogue. 23 Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” 25 He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 26 They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27 He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” 28 Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” 30 The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34 They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

35 Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”[e]36 He answered, “And who is he, sir?[f] Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” 38 He said, “Lord,[g] I believe.” And he worshiped him. 39 Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” 40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.

Some thoughts and questions to ponder
The fresco depicts the moment when Jesus anointed the eyes of the man born blind. In some other miracles of healing, Jesus simply spoke and the healing took place. Why did he use clay (mud, really) in this case, made from his own saliva and the dirt on the ground?

Even after he was anointed by Jesus, the man could not yet see. What do you think is the significance of his going and washing in the pool of Siloam?

How does this fresco depict Jesus as “the light of the world”? (John 9:5)

In addition to Jesus and the blind man, two other sets of figures appear in the fresco — in the foreground are four close witnesses to the miracle, while in the background there is another group gathered just inside the city gate. What is the difference between these two groups? What do you think is happening? Which group are you in?

Imagine for a moment what might be going on in the minds of the four “witnesses.” If they were to start speaking to one another, what would they be saying?

If you look carefully,  you can see that the city street is strewn with rocks. Do you think that there is a reason why the artist included these in the image? What might it be?

Prayer
Jesus, you said that this man’s blindness had nothing to do with either his own sin or his parents’ sin. His disability was no one’s “fault.” Instead, his suffering was always meant to be redemptive, to be the occasion when God’s work could be revealed. (One can almost imagine your speaking as you pressed clay into his eyes: “Let there be light.”) Given my propensity for placing blame — on others, on myself, even on God — this is a strange thought. I ask about causes — “How did this happen?” — and you speak of purposes —”I make all things new.” Is it possible that the deepest purpose of this man’s life was contained in these extraordinary moments with you? And where do I best find the purpose of my life? Much as I would like to find it in the “strong” moments of success or accomplishment, I think that it appears clearest in the things that bring me to my knees before you, and in the things that bring your healing touch to my life.

O God:
You said at the beginning: “Let there be light,”
and the darkness fled.
Remake my bind eyes, Lord,
so that I may come to see things as you see them,
so that each of my blind spots
may be the occasion for your wondrous work to be done,
again and again.

A Word from the Tradition
The reason for Jesus’ mixing clay with the saliva and smearing it on the eyes of the blind man was to remind you that he who restored the man to health by anointing his eyes with clay is the very one who fashioned the first man out of clay, and this this clay that is our flesh can receive the light of eternal life through baptism. You, too, should come to Siloam, that is, to him who was sent by the Father…. Let Christ wash you, and then you will see.
— Ambrose of Milan (c. 340–397) 

Image: ©2005 Healing the Man Born Blind by Silvestro Pistolesi at the Church of the Transfiguration

Sacred Seeing: Feeding the Multitude

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!

Feeding the Multitude

Spend a few moments looking at the fresco image.
What is happening here? What do you notice?
Take some time to consider each of the following: the crowd; the disciples; the children; Jesus.

Read the Scripture: Matthew 14:13-21
13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15 When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” 18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Some thoughts and questions to ponder
This is the only miracle of Jesus’ ministry that is recorded in all four Gospels. Why would it be so significant?

The Gospel account is specific about the time of day being evening. What does that mean to you?

What do you see when you look at the people depicted in each of the groups listed above? If each group were speaking, what might they be saying? Why are they saying these things? What is happening with them?

Look at Jesus. Look at his hands, his face, his eyes, even his dress. What is he doing? What do you notice? Why is he depicted this way?

Jesus could have fed the crowd in any number of ways. Why do you think he chose for the disciples to distribute the bread?

Prayer
I give to God the fragments of my life. He takes them, holds them up before heaven, gives thanks for them and then, to my chagrin, he breaks them into even smaller pieces. Then, he gives them away, to others—to friends and family, to brothesr and sisters, and to strangers I don’t even know. From the largest pieces to the tiniest crumbs, he wants to give it all away. Then, he hands me back what is left over…and I find in my arms a basket full, to overflowing, more than enough to satisfy. Not a single crumb has been lost.

As one of the crowd
Lord, I didn’t even know I was hungry until you told me to stop and site down at your feet. You have always provided for me, sometimes in very surprising ways. Remember when you…? But now I am wondering again how you can bring anything satisfying out of this wilderness. So, while I wait in need, you stretch out your arms toward heaven, and then you stretch them toward me. I want whatever you are offering, Lord. I need whatever you want to give me. My hands are now open, Lord…and so is my heart.

As one of the disciples
Lord, you have asked me to do many things, but this time what you are asking seems too much. Look at my empty hands—I have nothing to give. These aren’t just words. This is the truth. You want me to feed without food?…and you say it as if you are certain that I can be of help to you. You have the power to do whatever you want; you could do this without me. Nevertheless Lord here is what I can give to you right now. Help me trust you to do the rest.

As one of the children
What are you going to do this time, Lord? I can’t wait to see how you are going to solve this one. You have told me that there is nothing to worry about, so that must mean that you have the perfect answer to everything. What little bit I have in my hands—in my heart and soul—it is all yours. Here, I am giving it to you. Now, Lord, what will you do with it?

A Word from the Tradition

The wonder of the miracle of Jesus feeding the five-thousand surpasses human understanding. What is most amazing, however, is what this miracle teaches us about the compassion and grace of God in Christ. Just as the loaves and fish never seem to end, so our Lord’s mercy more than covers our need, more than comforts us in distress. God’s forgiveness more than exceeds whatever sin we may have done. God’s compassion is greater than our greatest tribulation. Our heart’s desire, the needs of our body and soul, our Jesus meets—and then some.
—Hilary of Poitiers (c.300–c.368)

Image: ©2006 Feeding the Multitude by Silvestro Pistolesi at the Church of the Transfiguration

Look at the birds of the air

By Blue Heron

The long mosaic of the Tree of Life at the Church of the Transfiguration has its roots at the Font, and then stretches East with its massive trunk and branches. The Tree embodies meaning on multiple levels; but for today it represents my own pilgrimage in daily life toward a distant heavenly city.
Sounds glorious in theory, but there are days when my day is less than glorious. I walk toward the altar haltingly, perhaps wounded from my own actions, or reactions; not quite so certain of my welcome.

Often, when I take myself too seriously, the Holy Spirit swoops down to intercede with a little humor. The trunk of this immense tree is covered in branches. And these branches carry all manner of birds; clothed in a myriad of colors and designs. All perky, and preened on the branches, I almost expect to hear them burst into song.

Thus, I am distracted from myself as I recall the beauty of God’s creation. A beauty that is not impersonal or disembodied; but as in his creation of birds, there is an imbedded invitation, an opportunity to let joy and forgiveness undergird all of my life — not just the times when I have done what I should. Good morning, chickadee and cardinal. Hello there, kingfisher and merganser. And fat robin, no shortage of your favorite worms. I return your greeting.

Snowy Egret, detail of mosaic processional path, Church of the Transfiguration, Alessandra Caprara

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

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

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

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 Creation Doors

I have the pleasure of writing about the exciting and wonderfully executed art program on the main doors of the Church of the Transfiguration. The doors were designed in a different art style from the interior program. This is a deliberate choice, pointing toward the Fall of humankind from Grace and underscoring the iconographic program within the church as God’s saving answer.

On the doors are the parents of the human race, our parents Adam and Eve. They are pictured enjoying the great loveliness of God’s garden, peaceful in it’s order. Eve holds a simple rose and is breathing in its beauty and aroma. All of this peace is contained in a simple frame. They are both partially covered with vegetation from the garden. The artist designed them in such a manner that when the doors are opened (into the church), Adam is looking up at God; and Eve, our mother, is looking down lovingly at us as we enter.

But we know that all is not well in this garden paradise. Our parents are about to reject God’s fatherhood. They choose to become their own gods, to know good and evil, to make their own decisions; the loss of all peace and fellowship with God is the result. Chaos now reigns. We see the prophetic coming of chaos in the wild dune grass at the bottom of the doors and the beginning of disorder in the vegetation covering Adam and Eve. This choice cast us all on the mercy, love and saving grace of God the Father, Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We must enter through the doors now, driven by our need to learn to love again.

Creation Doors Romolo Del Deo ©2000

Creation Doors at the Church of the Transfiguration

@Robert Benson Photography

Close up of Eve from the Creation Doors

Lumen Christi: Easter Encounters with Art

As Christians, the pursuit of beauty in all of its forms is ever before us. While the world’s definition of beauty – a wrinkle-free, almost inhuman imitation of so-called “perfection” – almost always leads to self-abasement and discouragement, true beauty as we seek it only leads to a further knowledge of God’s love for us, to a clearer and brighter reflection of who He is, and to a deeper desire to become co-creators of beauty with him in all the quotidian elements of our lives.

Gabriele Wilpers, an internationally celebrated painter and sculptor from Essen, Germany, knows all about this calling toward beauty, and all of the risks and rewards that accompany that vocation. After training as a photographer, between 1973 and 1978 Gabriele Wilpers studied free painting at the Folkwang Hochschule in Essen, Germany. Since then she has lived and worked in Essen as a freelance visual artist. In recent years she has taken first prize in competitions for art in the public domain, and she has designed entire church interiors for several parishes in the archidocese of Freiburg im Breisgau. Wilpers uses a variety of artistic methods in her artwork – painting, installation objects, film, and architectural glass – to reflect and describe the human existence. Her interventions in an existing space, which can be both sacred and profane in nature, question the context in which modern man lives today.

Back in July of 2005, Ms. Wilpers was invited by the Munster Chapter of the Catholic Women’s Organization to contribute to the 1200th anniversary of the diocese of Munster. The discovery of a medieval thimble, excavated from the ruins of the Uberwasser Convent, inspired Ms. Wilpers to create an installation for the nearby Uberwasser Gothic church. Entitled “As Numerous as the Stars in the Sky” Ms. Wilpers’ installation was comprised of thousands of thimbles gathered from the women of the diocese, and became a sort of memorial to the myriad, nameless women of Munster through the ages, who faithfully lived out their vocations. Upon entering the church, the viewer’s gaze was immediately drawn upward to a sparkling, starry canopy made up of these now almost meaningless, outdated objects, each suspended from different colored threads, and given new meaning by Ms. Wilpers for this occasion. As one journalist put it, “Each individual thimble—the protector of sensitive fingertips—hence becomes a symbol of that which women have experienced and achieved. They become centuries-old witnesses to female stories and histories, trigger many associations in connection with women’s lives and, taken out of their original context, artfully perform their story-telling role. The sparkling firmament speaks of the hard work of women, of suffering and poverty, but also of joy, and inside the church represents a symbolic space for the histories of uncounted women in the diocese.”[1]

Ms. Wilpers’ installation in the Munster Church was only temporary, but her art has found many other permanent homes, one of which is the Church of the Transfiguration in Orleans, Massachusetts on Cape Cod. Gabriele Wilpers designed the glass sculpture on the West Wall of the Church of the Transfiguration, connecting the oculus window and lintel (over the main doors) in a seamless design portraying Christ’s Transfiguration. In Wilpers‘ studio at Essen and at the Derix Glasstudios in Taunusstein, Germany, she and glass fabricators collaborated on the modern abstract sculpture. The sculpture features sixty-four individually cast glass panels covered with gold-leaf paint, which was partially removed with an acid wash.The varying intensity of the gold and the pattern of ridges and valleys evoke elements of the reflected light from sunsets over the Cape Cod sand flats and combine to gather, reflect, and refract light, becoming a glistening and shimmering wall of Transfiguration splendor.

This week, artists, art-lovers and all seekers of beauty have an opportunity to encounter and hear from Gabriele Wilpers first-hand here at the Community of Jesus. Lumen Christi: Easter Encounters with Art will be held April 5th through 9th. Ms. Wilpers is joined by Monsignor Timothy Verdon, a renowned Art Historian and prolific author, for this five-day series of illuminating lectures on Easter themes of light, resurrection and rebirth in sacred art. All are invited to come and be inspired by these beautifully illustrated lectures on art and architecture, from the baroque to the contemporary, hosted by the Mount Tabor Ecumenical Centre for Art and Spirituality. In a time when so many Christian women and artists suffer from isolation, lack of support and understanding, and a market-driven secular environment, Lumen Christi: Easter Encounters with Art offers an alternate experience of contemplation and creativity, focusing on the artists‘ vital contribution to the faith conversation. For more information visit www.mounttabor.it or call 508-240-7090.

04 Muenster 2005

02 Thimbles 200505 Muenster 2005All photos courtesy of Herbert Wilpers

[1] Frank Joachim Schmitz, Berichte, Das Munster,

GlassWallMarch 2005

In the river of grace

By Faithful Finch

I love it when things fall into place when I’ve been trying to figure something out. That happened for me today.
I haven’t been able to get the central work of Frammenti, our present art exhibit, out of my mind. It was like it was trying to tell me something, and I wasn’t hearing it. I knew that the cross was a traditional form that was associated with baptistries, and that there were bands of gold and red to suggest steps descending and ascending.
When I would go into church, I would look at our baptismal font and think about the steps going in and out of the baptismal water and associate it with the cross.
Last night, I went back and read the Frammenti book that explains the pieces in the exhibit. It says, “the baptismal experience itself evokes both a descent into the tomb and the triumph of resurrection,” and “that the resurrection is a daily movement as the confession of sin and the desire for renewal are met by the mercy of God.”

I think I forget to climb back up the steps and come out of the tomb sometimes. Above the cross are fragments that hold such beauty and joy; beauty and joy that I forget are part of the process.
I had no idea that Sunday was the “Feast of the Baptism of our Lord” until I got to church. It felt like a real celebration — a celebration that if we will stay in that “river of grace”, He will bring us home.

A cross, part of the Frammenti exhibit by artists Susan Kanaga and Filippo Rossi

A cross, part of the Frammenti exhibit by artists Susan Kanaga and Filippo Rossi