Angels in the Belfry

English style change ringing is an unusual activity. The basic mechanics of ringing a large bell are daunting but mastered with perseverance. However, placing oneself on the avenue of learning bell patterns – known as methods – and then agreeing to learn to ring them correctly can become a “down the rabbit hole” experience, causing one to exclaim with Alice: “curiouser and curioser!” Perfection in ringing is especially challenging in the presence of others attempting the same thing.

One simple “curious” example is that we are operating possibly the loudest musical instruments on the planet, but the degree of constant focus requires absolute silence both amongst the ringers and also the area around the ringing chamber. Signs reading “silence please” are quite common in change-ringing belfries, and in our particular case of a ground-floor level ringing room, there’s the phenomenon of passers-by tiptoeing by the tower during special rings (our Community of Jesus family have become very good sports in all of this.)

With all the oddities and difficulties, it can be a source of comfort and inspiration to recollect that our tower connects with God’s angels. The obvious visible connection is the hovering massive hovering presence of the Angel of the Church of the Transfiguration sculpted in bronze at the pinnacle. Just as important for us ringers, is the annual Feast of St. Michael and All Angels at the end of September. Ten years ago, this feast day was selected for our first public bell ringing. In honor of the decade remembrance this year, a group of us were able (with angels’ help!) to ring our first full peal in commemoration. Many of our family, well-versed in bell listening requirements (silence please!), crept up near the tower to support us.

Feast Day of Saint Luke Evangelist, October 18th

Born in Antioch, Syria, Roman Empire, some scholars maintain Saint Luke was of Greek descent. Others say Luke was a Hellenic Jew; that is, his beliefs and approach combine Jewish religious traditions with elements of Greek culture and language.  Tradition presents him as the only Gentile Christian among the four Gospel writers.

The Gospel of Luke has considerable appeal to Gentile readers.  His writing style is narrative and conveys a perspective that we share – he views the events, not as an eyewitness, but as someone searching and transformed by what he hears.  Of the four Gospel writers, only Luke talks of shepherds and angels and an inn with no room. Only his Gospel incorporates the personal testimony of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and the importance of her example.  Saint Luke’s Gospel has been referred to as The Gospel of Mercy, Gospel of the Poor, and the Gospel of Joy – a reflection of a heart tuned by God.

Saint Luke is also credited with writing The Acts of the Apostles. When Combined with his Gospel, Luke contributed over a quarter of the New Testament text.  In Paul’s Letter to the Colossians, he refers to Luke as a physician (a Greek word meaning one who heals), and from that reference, we infer he was both a disciple of Paul and a physician by trade. We also have Paul’s word that Luke was in Rome with him near the end of his life.

An 8th Century Christian tradition proclaimed Saint Luke to be the first icon painter.  Iconic works of Jesus, Mary, Peter, and Paul, as well as an illustrated gospel book are attributed to him, unproven but worthy of consideration. 

Saint Luke is honored as Patron Saint of Artists, Physicians, Bachelors, Surgeons, and Students. 

St. Luke the Evangelist, Community of Jesus

Feast Day of Michael and All Angels

We praise thee, O God, we acknowledge thee to be the Lord.
All the earth doth worship thee, the Father everlasting.
To thee, all Angels cry aloud, the Heavens and all the Powers therein.
To thee, Cherubin and Seraphin continually do cry:
Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabaoth.
Heaven and earth are full of the Majesty of thy glory.
     — Excerpt from the Medieval Hymn, Te Deum
    Traditional Authorship:  Saint Ambrose (d. 397)

Angels guide, protect, and encourage us, inviting us to join them in loving and praising God.  How often we forget, how often the Angels remember! They are mysterious messengers, elusive guardians, sometimes appearing as light, sometimes in human form. They befriend

and watch over us, benevolent and yet fiercely protective.  We call four by name: Michael, “Who is like God”; Gabriel, “God is my Champion”; Raphael, “God heals”; and Uriel, “God is my light.”  Let’s not forget the “All Angels”, the myriad of heavenly beings that work on our behalf before the throne of God and along our earthly pilgrimage.

Today, as we celebrate Michael and All Angels, let our hearts be glad and grateful for their continual praise of our Heavenly Father. Let us rejoice with them and join their song of Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of Sabaoth!

Community of Jesus St. Michael

True Nuggets of Gold

I recently heard that to see your sin is like finding a nugget of gold because it is there that we begin to learn wisdom. I mentally noted that I needed to remember this, and looked forward to the opportunity to practice looking at sin this way. It sounded so good, but then, a few days later, the reality felt so much more difficult and painful.

Seeing who I am doesn’t need to be difficult or painful if I remember who I am, a sinner, and if I remember who Jesus is, my Savior. It’s my pride that doesn’t let me look at who I am, and keeps me from that nugget of wisdom, the gratitude of knowing that I am saved, and the opportunity for change. 

  Later, I was reading about when Jesus cursed the fig tree four days before His crucifixion. I had never put together the symbolism of God’s cursing the soil because of Adam and Eve’s sin, and Jesus’s cursing the fig tree because He was about to break the power of the curse of sin. I had never thought about it being fig leaves that Adam and Eve had used to sew together to cover themselves, trying to hide their sin from God.

Jesus cursing the fig tree that didn’t bear fruit is of great hope to us because in trying to look good, defending ourselves, hiding, or being ashamed, there is no fruit, only death. The only hope of abundant life is through the cross and the freedom it brings.

The Feast of St. John Chrysostom, September 13th

To the Eastern Church, Saint John is known as Great Hierarch and Ecumenical Teacher, to the West, Bishop, and Doctor of the Church. To all, he is Chrystosom, meaning “golden-mouthed,” the great preacher.  

Saint John was born c. 349 in the ancient Greek city of Antioch, near what is now Antakya, Turkey. His father, a high-ranking military officer, died shortly after his son’s birth. He was raised by his mother, Anthusa, sometimes referred to as a pagan but known to many as a devout Christian. Anthusa had many influential contacts, and John studied under Libanius, a gifted teacher from whom he learned skills in rhetoric as well as a great love for Greek language and literature.  John then turned to the study of theology, was baptized, and tonsured as a reader (considered the first step in becoming a priest.)

In about the year 375, Saint John became a hermit and lived a life of extreme asceticism.  It is said he spent the next two years continually standing with little sleep and committed the Bible to memory.  His health deteriorated as a result of such practices, and of necessity, he returned to Antioch, his body permanently weakened.

Here is the progression of St. John’s rise (and fall) through the church
hierarchy after his return to Antioch:
Ordained as a deacon in 381
Ordained as a presbyter (priest) in 386
Appointed against his will as Archbishop of Constantinople in 397
Banished from his archbishopric in 403
Exiled to the town of Cucusus in Cappadocia  404 to 407
Sent into further exile in 407 and died during the journey

St. John was a highly educated man from a wealthy background who preferred a modest life.   He emphasized care for the poor and used his considerable rhetorical skills to admonish excess found in the Church and the secular world.

He was beloved by the common folk for his deep and uncompromising understanding of scripture.  His speech was eloquent and beautiful in its simplicity. Accusations of aloofness, tactlessness, and lack of political skill, were counterbalanced by his honesty, courage and sensitive heart.

Icon at the Community of Jesus

St. John Chrysostom Icon

Inside Out

Bored and in need of adventure? Try searching for a hypoallergenic face cream. I made multiple trips to a local pharmacy and stared at tubes, jars, and spray bottles screaming such words as rapid wrinkle reduction, firm sculpting, multi-action, age-defying, revitalizing, age-arresting, wrinkle reducer and (perhaps my favorite) repair and release. I also stared at hefty price tags.

On one foray, as I stood perplexed and indecisive, my Great Grandma B. came to mind.   She was a kind, incredible, wrinkle machine. Kissing her cheek was like kissing a length of hand-made lace, tissue-paper soft and rippling with years of hard work and the sorrows of a long life. By the time I was born, she was my only surviving grandparent and remained part of my child and adulthood until her death at ninety-nine. She lived on a sprawling farm many miles from our home. Get-togethers were infrequent and cherished.

She was greeted as an honored guest and a respected member of our family. My mother allowed my sisters and me to do pre-arrival Grandma shopping. We went to the W.T. Grant Company to purchase her favorite slippers, made of pliable felt, in ravishing colors such as maroon and dark purple. We bought her favorite peppermints, a nightgown or two, and lavender talc.  It was also our task to get those slippers on her swollen feet each morning. We loved doing it because Grandma always woke up in a happy mood and made us feel loved and sort of important.

Usually dressed in navy or black crepe dresses with starched, white collars, she would pin her hair up into a tidy bun to complete the ensemble.  Her day included knitting, soap operas, and at least twice during a stay, she baked old fashioned ginger, sugar, and oatmeal cookies. We each selected our favorite yarn and design for new mittens, perfect for Pennsylvania snow-packed winters.

One time she sent me a birthday card with a dollar in it. I was a child and loved candy and other kid things a dollar could buy. But by some spark of ancient wisdom, I knew that dollar was for keeping. It was worth all the dollars in the world because it came from someone with little money and had love written all over it.

Grandma B. was comfortably herself, busy, and creative until her hands could no longer grasp her knitting needles. I held those hands, delicate, wrinkled hands, and felt the throb of her heart as it worked its last magic on a life of true beauty.

Ringing in Our Hearts

On a recent bell-ringing trip to England, a group of us had the privilege of seeing the outside of the famous White Chapel Bell Foundry. The building was closed, but we wanted to see where our church bells were cast. One could almost touch the history surrounding this place! The Foundry was established in 1570. In 1752, the original casting of our Liberty Bell took place there. In 1858, Big Ben made its debut! It is a 13 1/2 ton bell that rings every hour at the Palace of Westminster. In 1976, a Bicentennial Bell was commissioned by the British Government, cast, and presented as a gift to the United States. After the 9/11/2001 terrorist attack, the City of London gave a bell to the City of New York. That bell resides at Trinity Church on Wall Street.

While reading from “Thoughts in Solitude” by Thomas Merton this morning, I was amazed to read a passage about bells in a chapter entitled, “Aspects of the Spiritual Life.”

The chapter begins:

“Bells are meant to remind us that God alone is good, that we belong to Him, that we are not living for this world. They break in upon our cares to remind us that all things pass away and that our preoccupations are not important. They speak to us of our freedom, which responsibilities and transient cares make us forget. They are the voice of our alliance with the God of Heaven. They tell us that we are His true temple. They call us to peace with Him within ourselves.”

 

The Gospel story of Mary and Martha is read at the end of the blessing of a church bell. The bells say, “Business does not matter. Rest in God and rejoice, for this world is only the figure and the promise of a world to come, and only those who are detached from transient things can possess the substance of eternal hope.” The bells say, “We have spoken for centuries from the towers of great churches. We have spoken to the Saints your Fathers, in their land. We called them, as we call you, to sanctity.”

The reading continues on a bit but ends with this: “Our song is perfect as the Father in Heaven is perfect, and we pour our charity out upon all.”

Wow! I kept re-reading this message! It is not what I was expecting to read during my quiet time! There is a lot to think about!

This reminds me of being told that bells have lives of their own. They are named. They have history, and they have a call just like us.

 

 

Feast of the Beheading of John the Baptist, August 29

Today is a holy day on which we pay honor to the martyrdom of St. John the Baptist.  Beheaded at the drunken whim of Herod Antipas, St. John was forerunner not only of Christ’s birth but also His innocent death at the hand of human wickedness.

Many followed John and looked to him for hope.  He was to prepare the way and was not himself the Way.  John gave his life and death to fulfill his call, and to lead others to Jesus, his Savior. John’s persecutor, Herod, demanded not that he should deny Christ, but only that he should keep silent about the truth. Regardless of threat and imprisonment, confident of God’s love and grace, John courageously spoke truth, repentance, and salvation in the face of Herod’s disgraceful actions.

May we, like John, answer our call with all our hearts. May others see in our lives the joy of knowing and serving Jesus.

Community of Jesus icon

Feast Day of St. Augustine of Hippo

A Roman-African, Saint Augustine was born on November 13, 354, in the town of Tagaste (renamed Souk-Ahras, in modern-day Algeria.) His mother was Monica, a devout Christian and his father Patricius, a Pagan who on his deathbed converted to Christianity.  Augustine considered his mother integral to his life, and his father a stranger. His family were Berbers, an ethnic group indigenous to North Africa, but were Romanized and spoke only Latin in their home. 

 Augustine was a typical youth of his time and led a hedonistic lifestyle. He was the father of a son born out of wedlock, and eventually abandoned the mother and in so doing, the son. His attraction to “wine, women, and song,” led him from the church of his mother and his childhood. He, however, maintains that the name of Christ never left the recesses of his heart.

 In 386 he traveled to Rome and Milan, where he met St. Ambrose, Bishop and Doctor of the Church. St. Ambrose was an inspiration to Augustine and instrumental in his baptism. St. Monica found great peace and consolation in Augustine’s baptism and return to the church, both of which happened before her death.

 St. Augustine was a man of brilliant mind and considerable rhetorical skills. He considered a career as an orator or lawyer, but then found a greater love of philosophy which he pursued with great fervor. Eventually, Augustine returned to Africa to live for God and hoped for a simple life of prayer, fasting, good works and meditation. However, the African town of Hippo called him as priest and bishop, and he reluctantly accepted. On the wall of his room there, written in large letters, were these wise words: Here we do not speak evil of anyone. He was devout, charitable, and friend of the poor.

St. Augustine lived until the age of seventy-five. He left us with Confessions, an account of his life and the nature of the times in which he lived. In his humility he declares, “Late have I loved Thee, O Lord; and behold, Thou wast within and I without, and there I sought Thee.”

Light’s Pull

Our copier has had a recent string of break downs. Nearly every week over the past few months, the machine prints about ½ of the weekend’s bulletins before lines once again start streaking the pages. We call the repairman, and he returns. This past week, as Dan fixed the machine, I was given a layman’s explanation about it works:

 Some time ago, an inventor noticed that as his curtains where being drawn open and the room filling with sunlight, the dust in the room started heading towards the light. On the copy machine, the light which scans the page creates a charge which attracts the toner to the drum in all the places where light is absent. The light is instantly attracted to all the “black” or negative spaces, and in essence, the areas on the page to be copied that are without light, tell the machine where to print the ink.

 Light attracting things, like dust or ink in our physical world, is true in our spiritual lives as well. Jesus’ light is always charged toward our negative spaces. If I were to run myself through the copy machine, undoubtedly there would be a lot of toner rushing to fill the places in my life with a shortfall of light! Light is always searching out our darkness so we can be healed. I find it extremely hopeful to learn yet another example of how the created laws of nature are so in tune with the nature of God. His foundational love for us is always streaming forth, especially and dare I say even more abundantly, even most emphatically, towards our darkest places most in need of healing.

Sunset overlooking Cape Cod Bay at the Community of Jesus on Cape Cod

Sunset overlooking Cape Cod Bay