High Stakes Teamwork

by Faithful Friar

This year our bell ringing band plans to attempt our first “peal”. This is a big deal. Our tower holds 10 bells and we’re working on learning “Grandsire Caters” for the attempt. The peal must include over 5000 “changes” (a change in the order of bells each round) and typically takes at least 3 hours to ring. Peals are often rung to mark major celebrations. Having the capability within our local band to attempt a peal is significant and cause for celebration.

Grandsire Caters Grid

Grandsire Caters Grid from the Bell Tower at the Church of the Transfiguration at the Community of Jesus

Each ringer will learn the patterns for each colored line above, and a conductor will learn how to “call” and direct the attempt using “Bobs” and “Singles” shown on the right.

It takes years to learn how to ring. Most of the ringers in the peal band began learning in 2009 when the bells were installed. The first stage involves simply understanding how to control the bell, often referred to as “handling”. Next, we begin to learn patterns and methods. Enough of our band is at this stage where we can now attempt a peal in 2017. Attempting a peal will be a significant and exciting milestone.

There is an interesting aspect to the ringing language used in the tower, specifically the word “attempt”. We never say, “we’re going to ring a peal”, always “attempt a peal”. I think it underscores the challenging nature of a peal. If any one of the ringers “gets lost”, makes a mistake in the patterns, over the 3 hours of ringing, we will not have rung a peal. So, the stakes are fairly high for each ringer to stay focused and learn the patterns as best as possible. During the attempt, ringers often help each other stay on track, giving a nod here, a look there. Subtle affirmations point to advanced levels of teamwork and encourage success.  We very much hope our attempt is successful and look forward to hearing a celebratory peal attempt ringing out over Cape Cod Bay.

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

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

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: 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