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

From the Bell Tower: Facing Fears with Friends

By Faithful Finch

“For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you.'” Isaiah 41:13

I find it so interesting that ringing bells can be a spiritual exercise!

The other day, some of us were learning the process of “ringing the bells up.” This can be a frightening experience because if you don’t do it properly, you can have an accident. As the Lord is accustomed to doing, he taught me a lesson in the process.

I was so stuck in my fear, that I was doing things that blocked me from going forward in the process. I wasn’t breathing, my knees were locked rigid, and I couldn’t even hear Br. Matthew’s instructions he was giving me to help me. I had been quietly saying out loud, “Jesus, I trust in You. Jesus, I trust in You.”

To my surprise, all of a sudden, I found myself saying, “Br. Matthew, I trust in you.” When we stopped ringing, I had a good laugh with those ringing with me, but realized, sometimes my lack of trust isn’t just a lack of trusting Jesus. It’s not trusting my friends around me that want to help and that the Lord has put there for me. I realized I allow my fear to block myself from going forward. Things don’t always have to be as difficult as I allow my own sin to make them.

What a great lesson!

Ringers at the bell tower, 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

Pruning

By Sr. Spero

Anyone who grows roses knows that the way to get beautiful roses is to prune mercilessly. I tested this out recently, but not on purpose. I was deadheading and got carried away. It wasn’t the right time to prune, but I turned a beautiful bush into a bunch of sticks. So I was more cautious with the second one, leaving as much as I could. Now, several weeks later, the first one is budding, and the second has nothing but leaves. There’s a lesson here. Deep pruning gets results. And if you feel like God is taking you through some deep pruning, don’t worry. He’s growing roses.

Roses

The Difference of a Comma

By Sr. Spero

I was checking the title of a book about John Henry Newman, with the same title as his poem which became a popular hymn. The three words are Lead, Kindly, and Light, but there was also a comma, and I didn’t know where the comma should go. If it went after Lead, the title had one meaning, and if after Kindly, an entirely different meaning and attitude toward the Light, which represents God. I frequently go back and forth between these two attitudes myself. If I say “Lead Kindly, Light,” it means I have to remind God to be kindly, and don’t really trust him. If I say, “Lead, Kindly Light,” I’m recognizing him as kindly (trustworthy), and I’ll follow him wherever he leads. Sometimes I put the comma in my life in one place, and sometimes in another.

I looked up Cardinal Newman’s original title, and shouldn’t have been surprised. He put the comma after Lead. He trusted God. Now if I could only figure out what the comma represents to me, so I can learn to trust him more.

Apple blossoms at the Community of Jesus

More Than Cliché

By Sr. Nun Other

I wish that I could learn to “leave well enough alone.” It’s a beautiful thing for those who can do it. Unfortunately, I’m not one of them. I’m the type that must add one more, adjust just a little, and pull the thread that unravels the sleeve. Let’s just say I’ve ruined more than I’ve improved. What to do with me? How do I transform my compulsion to make everything okay?

The Apostle Paul put it this way: Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand.  Philippians 4:6-7

And may I add, if you’re like me, say to thyself, “DON’T TOUCH THE CROOKED PICTURE.”

unravelling_1

Image courtesy of cityexile dot wordpress dot com

Pennies from Heaven

By Faithful Finch

I believe that if you listen to God, He’ll speak to you through little things. One of my good friends told me to always pay attention to pennies. They have “In God We trust” inscribed on them, and are a good reminder to trust in Him!
Ever since then, when I really need to be reminded that I can trust Him, inevitability, a penny will show up. Then there was the time God demonstrated His sense of humor (which I definitely needed right then!), by leading me to a restaurant that had a bathroom floor made of pennies!

Pennies

Parting the Red Sea

By Sunset Septuagint

As I was thanking God for his miraculous protection after Winter Storm Jonas, I realized once again that we sit on a fragile piece of land. Although we may be more removed from some of the riots occurring in the large American cities, Cape Cod has its own threat of destruction.

This made me think of one of my favorite frescoes in our Church – Moses and the parting of the Red Sea. Moses looks pretty small standing between the gigantic waves on either side. The bottom of the waves where he is standing are almost black in color…..and yet he has both arms up stretching to God. His face is turned upward toward the large beautiful light in the blue sky beyond.

I wonder if Moses felt like he was tightrope walking, similar to the man going over Niagara Falls – if a lot of his energy had to go into keeping his arms uplifted – what if he looked down even for a second….

As a young person one of my favorite hymns was How firm a Foundation: ”When through the deep waters I call thee to go, the rivers of woe shall not thee overflow; I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand, upheld by my righteous omnipotent hand.” (based on Isaiah 43:2)

CapeCod

Courage to Surrender

By Hummingbird

My dog continues to teach me about the love of God.

The latest lesson came one day when he was displaying the customary surrender a dog gives its pack leader or the human he loves: roll over and expose the soft underbelly. This is where he is most unprotected: death could come quickly with the inner organs perforated or destroyed by exposure. There is no hard bone here between victim and predator. This is also the spot he most likes scratched and petted when we have “love-in” moments.

As I watched this small creature display his trust and dependence on me, I felt such a yearning to be this trusting of Jesus Christ—opening to Him the soft vulnerable places of my life. I thought about how many times I try to put hard bone over these places, hardening my heart to God and everyone. In so doing, I deny myself the experience of the tenderest of loves. Here in the vulnerable hidden parts of my life, love of my savior would bring security, comfort and a strong foundation of peace. If God loves these parts of me, then I will know I am truly loved. If I can trust him in the risk of rejection, then I am truly forever safe in the heaven of His arms. May I have the spiritual courage to greet you, as your small creature greets me.

small_brown_dog

Desert Beauty

By Sunset Septuagint

Last week, we had a funeral for one of our earliest religious Sisters.  At the burial site, someone mentioned her love for the desert. That struck a chord with me, because I have had a love for the desert ever since I traveled one day over the desert from Amman, Jordan to Cairo, Egypt, and then another time from the North to the South of Israel. I felt the power of the desert, the force of shifting sands, the strength to survive that only God can give, I also saw the beauty in the desert, often in small and hidden plants dependent on God for their blooming. I was reminded of several scriptures from Isaiah: the wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom. . . . they shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God. . . I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

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