Vine and Branches

by Sister Spero

The vines we grow to make Communion wine are teaching me more about Jesus. He said to his disciples that he is the vine, and his followers are the branches. I’ve always understood this as a statement of how powerful God is, and how inconsequential we are, unless we connect to the vine. Walking by the grape vines, I’m beginning to see this differently.

The only time I notice either the vine or the branches is during the winter, when they look like dead sticks. As the green leaves appear, they hide everything else. And when the clusters of grapes are out, they are all I notice. If Jesus is the vine, and we are the branches, where are they? Hidden. The fruit is what we admire. Calling himself the vine is a statement of Jesus’s great humility. Jesus said, “If you remain in me and I in you, you [not “we”] will bear much fruit.” (John 15:5) The Creator does not take credit for the fruit, but gives the credit to the branches. By nature, I want to be the cluster of grapes. Lord, help me to be more like the vine that supports and sustains, and the branches—abiding in God’s humility, as well as his strength.

 

A reading from a work of Clement of Alexandria

In our sickness, we need a savior, in our wanderings a guide, in our blindness someone to show us the light, in our thirst the fountain of living water, which quenches forever the thirst of those who drink from it. We dead people need life, we sheep need a shepherd, we children need a teacher, the whole world needs Jesus!

The ruler of the universe and the Word of the Father calls himself the shepherd of the sheep. Pasture us children like sheep, Lord. Fill us with your own food, the food of righteousness. As our guide, we pray you to lead us to your holy mountain, the church on high, touching the heavens. “I will be their shepherd,” he says. We who are passing over into immortality shall not fall into corruption, for he will preserve us. He has said he would, and to do so is his own wish. Such is our Teacher, both good and just. He said he had not come to be served but to serve.

 

Adapted from Journey with the Fathers

Have a seat

by Melodius Monk

“We as followers of Christ don’t have some kind of special super power. We are not the spiritually elite. We just have the authority to show up. To show up and proclaim the nearness of God that scatters the darkness. And we can show up for life and for each other and for the world because what we need for healing and sustenance is always the same as the simple, ordinary things right in front of us—that’s just the way God works.“     -Nadia Bolz Weber

Early this morning, I was reading the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 and already knowing the end, I started losing focus when surprisingly the story grabbed my imagination—as if to say, “don’t be so bored”—I have more to teach you. Jesus then took the loaves and gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted.”

And I started thinking of Nadia’s quote in relation to being seated. Being seated is simple un-profound, and not hard to do. The people with Jesus that day simply had to show up, sit, and Jesus did the rest.

Daily I’m crying out to Jesus, where are you?  What are you saying to me? Why can’t I find more answers? I want more assuredness from God, more peace, more answers, less doubt. I assume I must need to do more of “something” to gain access to God.

Sitting can be challenging. It feels unproductive, a little boring, vulnerable and uncomfortable. Yet I need not run, hide, or try to produce, but simply sit and take in what God puts right in front of me today.

Perhaps in the rootedness of staying put, we open ourselves to the possibility to receive from a God who wishes to give us as much goodness as we dare to want.

Sacred Seeing: The Ascension

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 Ascension

AscensionFresco
Spend a few moments looking at the fresco image.
What is your first impression of this fresco?
What immediate thoughts does it evoke about the Ascension?

Read the Scripture: Acts 1:1-11
In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While staying[a] with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with[b] the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

The Ascension of Jesus

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

Some thoughts and questions to ponder
If you were standing among the eleven, what would you have been feeling? What thoughts and questions would have gone through your mind?

Imagine yourself as one of the apostles in the image. Which one would it be? Why?

Who is the central figure in the fresco? Why is he pictured in this location?

Both the fresco image and Luke’s account tell us that the apostles were looking into the sky. Why? And why does the angel challenge them about this? What does this mean in your own life?

Directly across the nave is the fresco of the Baptism. How are these two events – our Lord’s Baptism and Ascension – related? What do they tell you about how God works in the world? About how he works in your life?

The Ascension speaks to us of heaven, as do the stories depicted on the spandrels below it – Elijah and the fiery chariot, and Jacob’s ladder. In connection with these images, what do St. Paul’s words mean to you when he says that, “our Commonwealth is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ”? Philippians 3:19-21

Prayer
“I go to prepare a place for you.” Lord, sometimes it feels like I am carrying sandbags. My soul feels as heavy as my feet, which never leave the ground. I cannot imagine being lighter than air. It’s true – I am a child of the earth, and dust is my destiny. But dust and clay and the ground are not the full story. So, today, I look up. I look for you. I look to Heaven. And I wait for the day… anticipating… when I will fly. Until then, prepare me for the place where you are.

O Christ our God, when you had fulfilled your work for us, and united things on earth with things in heaven, you were taken up in glory, in no way parted, but remaining inseparable, you cried to those who loved you, “I am with you and there is no one against you.”
—an Eastern Orthodox hymn for the Feast of the Ascension

A Word from the Tradition
We are commemorating the day on which our poor human nature was carried up in Christ, above all the hosts of heaven, above all the ranks of angels, beyond the highest heavenly powers to the very throne of God the Father. Today we have been made possessors of paradise, having gained more through Christ’s unspeakable grace than we had lost to the devil’s malice. Our enemy drove us out of the bliss of our first abode, but the Son of God has placed us at the right hand of the Father, with whom he lives and reigns in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
—From a sermon on the Ascension of Leo the Great (c.400–461)

Image: © The Ascension by Silvestro Pistolesi at the Church of the Transfiguration

Sacred Seeing: The Crucifixion

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 Crucifixion

Crucifixion fresco, Silvestro Pistolesi, Church of the Transfiguration

Spend a few moments looking at the fresco image.
What is the general feeling you get from this fresco?
What questions does this image raise for you?

Read the Scripture: John 19:25-34
25 Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

28 After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Jesus’ Side Is Pierced

31 Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the sabbath, especially because that sabbath was a day of great solemnity. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed. 32 Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him. 33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out.

THE INSTITUTION OF THE LORD’S SUPPER

26 While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is my blood of the[b]covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

Some thoughts and questions to ponder
What details do you see in this image? Choose one, and spend some time prayerfully considering its meaning.

Consider the stark contrast between light and dark in this fresco. What is the artist saying?

What does the position of Jesus’ body say to you?

Often, the two thieves are pictured side-by-side with Jesus, but in this fresco they are some distance away, and with their backs to the viewer. We cannot make our their faces. Consider what meaning this might have.

In the image, and according to John’s record, there are four people at Jesus’ feet. By what you see in the fresco, what is each one of them feeling and thinking? Now, imagine yourself as one of them. Which one would you be? Why?

Jesus said, “It is finished.” What has God done in your life that remains unfinished? What is finished?

Prayer
Lord, once you asked if I would value – in the way of your cross – and I said, (how, I do not know,) “Yes, I will.” You knew then how my heart would faint and my will with falter, once I followed you this far, once we got to this awful hill. Here, where darkness gathers, and the birds start to circle, and the Father’s voice falls silent, you bend. You look at me. Now you ask again, if I will follow you – in the way of my cross – and I say, (how, I do not know,) “Yes, your will.”

We are adore you, O Christ,
And we praise you,
For by your holy cross,
You have redeemed of the world.

A Word from the Tradition
What God promises us for the future is great, but what God has already done for us in Christ is greater still. Who can doubt that he will give us his life, since he has already given us his death? Why is human weakness so slow to believe that we will one day live with God? After all, a much more incredible thing has already happened: God died for us. –From a sermon by Augustine (354–430)

Image: © The Crucifixion by Silvestro Pistolesi at the Church of the Transfiguration

Sacred Seeing: The Last Supper

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 Last Supper

TheLastSupper

Spend a few moments looking at the fresco image.
Write down any first impressions you have.
What questions does this image raise for you?

Read the Scripture: Matthew 26:20-29
20 When it was evening, he took his place with the twelve;21 and while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.” 22 And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, “Surely not I, Lord?” 23 He answered, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.” 25 Judas, who betrayed him, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” He replied, “You have said so.”

The Institution of the Lord’s Supper

26 While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is my blood of the[b]covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

Some thoughts and questions to ponder
The scripture reference for this image records two major events taking place at the table in the Upper Room – the betrayal and the institution of the Lord’s Supper. How does the fresco express them both?

If you were to imagine yourself as one of these disciples, which one would it be? Why?

Judas is unmistakable in this image. How does the artist depicted the characteristics of his betrayal? What details does he include? What message do you draw from this?

In the Gospel, Jesus refers to everyone at the table sharing from the same dish. Why is this significant?

What does this image tell you about the Eucharist?

The brilliant light around Jesus – radiating from Jesus – is not unlike the light that shone at the Transfiguration. How are these two events related and what does this say about every celebration of the Eucharist?

 

Prayer
Which side of the table in my sitting on today, Lord?
I want to be close by your side,
but if these men didn’t have the strength to stay with you,
how can I?
I can at least sit with you today,
in the wash of your light,
even if I am afraid my choices may someday betray you…
will someday betray you.
I can at least come to the Meal.
Whenever you serve it, I can come.
And I will keep on coming, Lord,
until your side of the table
becomes the only place for me to sit.

O sacrum convivium
O sacred banquet!
In which Christ is received,
the memory of his passion is renewed,
the mind is filled with grace,
and a pledge a future glory to us is given.
Alleluia.
– Thomas Aquinas

A Word from the Tradition
With complete confidence let us all partake of the body and blood of Christ. For in the type of bread his body is given to you, and in the type of wine his blood, that by partaking of the body and blood of Christ you may become one body and one blood with him. Thus, when his body and blood or imparted to our bodies, we become Christ bears. As the blessed Peter himself said: we become partakers of the divine nature. (2 Peter 1:4)
– From instructions to the Newly Baptized, Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 313–386)

Image: © The Lord’s Supper by Silvestro Pistolesi at the Church of the Transfiguration

Sacred Seeing: Stilling the Storm

A few years ago, the Community of Jesus published a little book, Sacred Seeing: Praying with the Frescoes in the Church of the Transfiguration. As we approached the New Year, it seemed like a good opportunity to share this simple guide to praying with the art here in the church, especially for those of you who aren’t able to come and see it for yourselves. Over the next several weeks, we will be sharing the meditations from the book. We hope that it helps to enrich your prayer life in 2017!

Stilling the Storm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EASTER: For He Has Triumphed Gloriously

The re-telling of the salvation story is essential in keeping our faith alive. Paul’s epistle reminds us that we are called to be witnesses of these great events and to pass them on.

I find echoes of the Exodus story in Mary Magdalene’s frantic response to discovering that the body of Jesus is no longer in the tomb. She runs off to alert the disciples. During times of uncertainty, we often want to get busy, doing something, rather than nothing. It is only when Mary returns to the tomb, standing still and weeping helplessly, that she encounters Jesus.  At first, she is preoccupied with grief, and she does not recognize him. Only when He speaks to her does she realize it is the teacher himself, somehow risen from the dead. Mary returns to the disciples to announce that she has seen the Lord, thus earning the title bestowed on her by the ancient church, “apostle to the apostles”.

Mary’s telling of the good news is a task she has passed on to us. How do we recognize  that we have seen the Lord, and how do we reveal this glorious truth to others? How do we dare speak of salvation and hope in a world so full of injustice, hatred, violence, and deadly accident?

This is the challenge and the mystery of Easter. For me it helps to remember that the victory song of Miriam is one of the most ancient in our scriptures. For many thousands of years the faithful have been able to stand tall and sing; “Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously.”

By Kathleen Norris

Excerpted from God For Us, Paraclete Press

The Community of Jesus

Good Friday

By Il Fratello

Today is good
Friday
And the hands of the church
Hold me
As I walk over these stones
We cannot do much
But make our way
Like the blind
Feeling texts written in raised letters

In fits and starts
I align myself with Christ
heroically
And tragically
Failing
To comprehend it all
I am most successful in slumber
Under the cloaks of the apostles

All of you in pain,
All of you suffering,
All of us,
Stop in our tracks
At the mystery
Of his willingness

The mystery of his blood rimmed eyes
That find me, you, each
Hidden in the crowd–
The only one who knows what I have done
And what of his inflicted pain was mine alone–
To say spirit to spirit
I forgive you
All.