A Word from Thomas Merton

My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me
nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this,
you will lead me by the right road
thought I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always
through I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my struggles alone.
Amen.

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

When We Were Born, and When We Die

By Faithful Finch

I recently had the gift to care for my Mom as she was dying. It was amazing to go through the experience with her, that she went about with such faith, grace and trust. The process of dying and preparing for heaven unfolded before my very eyes.

As I was clipping her fingernails, the memory of her clipping my fingernails as a little child came rushing into my head and overwhelmed me. Yes, roles certainly do reverse. I realized in that and other simple acts, she was letting go, and beginning the process of looking toward her journey home. As she continued in that journey, her trust in God and in others grew. Gradually she lost her ability to walk, and talk clearly, and if she said a word or a sentence, we would be listening with baited breath, as a parent would with its baby’s first words. It was almost like she was gradually changing to be more child-like so she could be “born into heaven” on the other side. It seems like death is something that we struggle with because we are so afraid of the unknown and of letting go. When I thought of that, I remembered I had filed a poem my Dad had written twenty-six years ago that was similar to that very thought:

When We were Born, and When We Die

When we were born, we also died
To life, as seen and lived inside
Our mother’s womb, where safe and warm
We’d lain protected from the storm,
And from the threat of living life outside.
When we were born, we kicked and cried,
Resisting change and terrified
Of life, unknown, upon this earth.
To us, ’twas death instead of birth,
We could not see a door was opening wide.
As so it is, that when we die,
We’re also born to life on high.
No foe is death, a friend is she:
Opening the door, she sets us free.
Gone fear and pain, as to our Lord we fly.

Detail, mosaic apse of Christ in Glory, Church of the Transfiguration at the Community of Jesus

Lemonade Delayed

lemonsWhen life hands you lemons, tread water. Presumptive lemonade could be a mistake. When I read the Psalms, I’m intrigued by the amount of waiting the writer describes. Usually, he’s made a mess of his life, lost his way, or been defeated in battle. Out of innovative ideas, he hides away and says to God, “Okay, it’s your turn. I’m ready for help.”

Now it isn’t easy to tread water, in fact, it’s hard work. Experts tell us to remain upright in a vertical position, head high, breathing slow and regulated, making use of all four limbs at once.  We’re in a state of readiness, prepared for rescue, but not the one in charge.

Sometimes life is just about waiting. Waiting for answers, waiting for direction, waiting for God to gather the pieces and make us whole again.

The Net Will Not Break

During a very busy weekend , the  phrase “the net did not break” jumped out at me from Sunday’s Gospel reading. .   [John 21:11] It’s a familiar story, although I had never noticed this phrase before.  Jesus appeared to Peter after the Resurrection, when he was fishing and not catching anything, and Jesus told him to try again.  This time, there were more fish than the disciples could handle, but the net did not break.

I find this very encouraging.  Fishing is hard work.  And when God is doing big things, it can also be hard work. But no matter how hard, or how exhausted we might feel for a time, this scripture assures me, it will never be too much—“the net will not break.”

Fishing with Jesus

Miraculous Draught by James Tissot

Keep the Change

By Sr. Nun Other

Someone wants to trade a handful of change for a dollar bill. You say yes and he hands you 100 pennies. Or 4 quarters, 10 dimes, 20 nickels. Doesn’t really matter. Although the value is equal, it’s not the same and never will be. Maybe you loved that dollar bill. It was the first you ever made or a gift from your grandmother. You know it’s too late but you want it back. Now.

How do we reconcile the feelings that come with change? Especially when it’s an uninvited addition to our journey. I humbly offer some still-working-on thoughts: Step 1, admit you’ve lost something comfortable and familiar; Step 2, face that the present is now the past; Step 3, don’t pretend to like it; Step 4, accept its necessity and inevitability; Step 5, acknowledge God loves you and pray for an infusion of hope. Whatever your change is, it needs time to unfold and define itself. Be patient, be kind to yourself and others, and grateful to God for forward motion.

change

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

Advent’s Thief

Jesus is coming as a thief in the night – “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven…” (Matthew 24:36)

“But how the heck can you be ready for something you don’t know is coming? How can we be ready for the unexpected? Well, we can’t.

“So maybe being awake and alert and expectant—all themes of Advent—has nothing to do with knowing or certainty or prediction, but has a lot to do with being in a state of unknowing. My instinct is always to use my knowingness—my certainty I’m right….—as a sort of loss-prevention program, a system by which I protect myself from the unknown and the unexpected. Which works approximately none of the time.

     “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” (Matthew 24:42-44)

“Here’s the thing; like the house owner, knowing what to look for as a way of avoiding being robbed is only advantageous if we assume being robbed is a bad thing. But perhaps having an unknowing brain allows us to be taken unaware by the grace of God, which is like a thief in the night. Maybe it’s good news that Jesus has been staking the joint and there will be a break-in. The promise of Advent is that in the absence of knowing everything, we get robbed. There was and is and will be a break-in because God is not interested in our loss-prevention programs but in saving us from ourselves and saving us from our culture and saving us even from our certainties about God’s story itself.

“This holy thief wants to steal from us, and maybe that is literal and metaphoric at the same time. Perhaps, during Advent, a season with pornographic levels of consumption in which our credit card debts rise and our waistbands expand, the idea that Jesus wants to break in and jack some of our stuff is really good news. There’s just a whole lot of crap in my house—again, both literally and metaphorically—that I could well do without.”

I pray that we are caught unaware by the grace of God this Advent—that this thief be allowed to rip into our houses, and steal from us the hurts, fears, jealousy and wants, and replace these with love, peace, and Joy.

Scripture from NIV; other all other quotations from Accidental Saints by Nadia Bolz-Weber, Copyright 2015, Crown Publishing/Convergent Books.

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Choosing Beauty

By Sister Spero

God created flowers. Each species, fully developed, is beautiful. A flower cannot choose its own beauty. It begins with the seed, containing the nature of the parent plant. If the seed drops, or is placed, in soil with the right nutrients, it will grow. Development depends on water, good soil, and protection from predators. A plant cannot arrange this on its own. It cannot make itself produce flowers.

We are the same, but, unlike flowers, we can choose our own beauty. (I’m not thinking of make-up and exercise). We can cultivate spiritual beauty. We can ask for living water (John 4:14), avoid rocks and thorns (Matthew 13), and protect ourselves from predators. For me, the predators are stray thoughts that I can choose to embrace or ignore.

I cannot choose what type of flower I am to become, but I can be a co-worker with God in his garden—to blossom into the person God originally created me to be.

Rose - Choosing Beauty

Arms that welcome

By Sister Nun Other

I have a friend who considers the Bible the world’s greatest encyclopedia. She reads it in search of answers and is never disappointed! Recently, she told me of a verse, for her and me at least, newly discovered. That verse was Isaiah 50:10, which reads: 

Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the word of His servant? Let the one who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord. This morning I woke up anxious, not quite sure of my way. Then words from an eighteenth century hymn writer, Joseph Hart, cut a path through my musings.  He wrote, “Come, ye sinners, poor and needy, weak and wounded, sick and sore; Jesus ready stands to save you, full of pity, love and power. The hymn goes on to call the thirsty, weary, and heavy laden, and ends, “All the fitness he requireth is to feel your need of Him. Essentially, it’s a parallel message to the one from Isaiah, both coming within a single week! For those of us who sometimes wander (and wonder), it’s a recommendation well-worth considering.