This side of heaven

by Blue Heron

Mourning dove, your call so full of sadness. Of all birds, yours is the one that reminds me that all is longing this side of heaven. Not to say that many things aren’t beautiful, and that some things may even approach perfection. But there always is that falling short; that last brush stroke which never quite reaches the canvas.

If perfection were possible, I would probably set up my hammock and sleep away warm summer afternoons. By my good Lord seems to have left me with restlessness, a little mosquito that buzzes around my head to keep me moving. This is not a sad longing, it is a striving after something that really does exist. It it did not exist, then it really would be sad. But we have this longing inside us for fulfillment, and beauty that is real, and will not be satisfied with anything other than the real thing.

And so I find my heart still leaps when a child walks by, or when I see an osprey fly.

Winter is Waning

by Blue Heron

Winter is waning, and we see it in longer days, dew rather than frost on car windshields in the morning, and birds beginning to sing morning melodies. I sighed this morning as I walked out the front door and saw the lawn under cedar tress carpeted in crocuses. More a promise of Spring, because I am sure we will have another cough of winter before it decides to retire.

It is not the cold of winter that I find hard; but the lack of light. Winter has such a limited vocabulary; gray and grayer. I feel a little like the groundhog awakened from his winter nap, squinting in the sunlight. Part of me has been underground for a long time. Spring ushers in a renewal of energy. The sap in me is flowing stronger. I start planning projects for the yard, and even enjoying the morning alarm announcing a new day. I am not so sophisticated. It is foolish for me to thinking myself above other living creatures who are at the mercy o the seasons. We are all together cradled in a rhythm of season that touches our moods and longings.

It is in deep December, near the shortest of days, that we celebrate his birth. Often he comes at my lowest point bringing hope, with promises of a time when things will be better. The darkness of a winter season makes us realize the value of light.

Croci

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

Stones

By Sr. Spero

Recently a sister wrote about learning to leave well enough alone—learning not to straighten the crooked picture. That’s not my bent. My struggle is careless inattention to detail. I’m more apt to say: “crooked picture? what picture?” We are all different, and we all need help.

Scripture calls us “living stones” (1 Peter 2:5). Some are smooth, others rough. Some are perfectly round, others have interesting shapes. We are all needed, and this is what makes community.

Building stone walls at the Community of Jesus

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

Thorny Weather

By Sr. Nun Other

Sometimes I clear my thought collection by writing poetry. I un-jumble the jumbled mess by sorting, eliminating, and re-arranging words on paper. Recently, I captured the words thistle thorns and placed them in my reject section. However, they persisted and insisted on space in my poem.

I’m of Scottish descent and somewhere in Scotland, there’s a clan chief and a run-down castle that bears my name. Enter the lowly thistle, scorned by gardeners, despised by children in bare feet, and just below dandelion on the least wanted list. It also happens to be Scotland’s oldest recorded National Flower. A 13th century legend tells of Viking invaders, who hoped to capture the Scots as they slept. Their plan failed when a barefooted soldier tromped on a thistle, cried out in pain, and woke the sleeping Scots. If I’m any example, Scots are not morning people, and the Vikings were quickly overcome by enraged clansmen.

The thistle is a symbol of tenacity. It’s both a humble weed and a complex entity composed of soft downy flower and sharp thorns. Its roots reach deep, it keeps a stubborn grip on the land, and flourishes in adversity. I’m aware that God hands me flowers with thorns now and then. The beauty of the flower is a blessing, but it’s the thorns that make me strong.

thistle

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

LENT II: God is a Storm

God is a storm. That is what leaps out at me from the psalmist’s imagery: God’s stormy thundering voice breaks the cedars. During the rest of the week, we will be encountering images in the Psalms of God as a refuge from the storms. Those are more appealing images. I prefer them to images of God’s storminess.

Yet, somehow both are true. God is a refuge from the storm, and God is the storm.

I’d rather skip the stormy images altogether. But Lent is an apt time to encounter the psalmist’s insistence on the God who is not just a harbor, but also a storm.

For Lent is a journey into unprotectedness. Lent is being willing to expose ourselves to storminess. Jesus moves from seeming unprotectedness in the wilderness to utter vulnerability on the cross. And Lent is an opportunity to ask how much energy we pour into protecting ourselves — from the storms we encounter on the path to true self-knowledge, from the storms we encounter when we genuinely love our neighbor, from the storms that are God, and the storms that God protects us from.

By Lauren Winner

Excerpted from God For Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Lent and Easter, Edited by Greg Pennoyer and Gregory Wolfe (Paraclete Press)

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Inside Out

By Sr. Nun Other

The earth is composed of layers: surface, crust, mantle, outer core and inner core. And so are we. I have a surface-self, carefully constructed of what I want others to see. Successive layers, less in my control, lead to the heart of the matter. Psalm 51:10 petitions, Create in me a pure heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. God promises in Ezekiel 36:26-27, A new heart I will give you; and a new spirit I will put within you. While I’m busy trying, God is busy transforming. And I hope He finds my heart, fallow ground, plowed and waiting for the essence of Christ to grow.

Inside Out

Unto Us

By Sr. Nun Other

I recently helped remove strands of Christmas lights from a forty-four foot fir tree. I had the simple job of plugging in each strand – close to one hundred of them – to test and eliminate any that were defective. The tree climbers expertly coiled ropes of light, then piled them beneath the tree. As I retrieved them, I noticed how much each circle resembled a crown of thorns. It was a fascinating physical transformation and conveyed a distinct change in emotion that I wasn’t expecting. We rightfully honor and proclaim Christ’s birth with our best attempts at majesty and beauty. But look closely. Tucked within the ancient story are reality reminders. His life was rugged, filled with conflict, rejection, and suffering.  All for us.

CrownofLightsandThorns