March turns toward April. The temperature still swings below freezing at night.
On sunny days, I catch a hint of imminent Spring. The salamanders in the woods
have not yet crawled from their earthen homes in search of vernal pools. The
winter birds, buffleheads, mergansers, and eiders still swim the unfrozen pools in
the harbor. And the sun, somewhat a stranger these past few months moves
across the morning sky at a sharp angle, never quite reaching overhead. Last night
it snowed. It lilted down in the darkness and left the yard clothed in gold and lace.
In some ways, the passage of seasons corresponds to the ebb and flow of our
inner life as followers of Christ. We head into Lent this week. We are tired of
winter. It echoes the struggle with darkness in our lives, and hearts that forget
and grow cold. Again and again, we return and make a conscious effort to seek
His Light in our lives; to have our hearts rekindled by prayer, reading, silence.
The flame will glow again just as surely as our place on earth will lean into the sun
with the arrival of Spring.
I walk the path through the snow today. It’s soft under my shoes. Somewhat mysterious how it drifts down to cover the earth. I’m reminded of the verse:
Though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.
There are many times when God catches my attention through nature. The other day I was dashing around cooking dinner in the late afternoon. I was planning on steak tips, and I thought I would grill them since the weather seemed to be cooperating. I left the grilling to the last minute since it usually doesn’t take very long. I went outside, removed the grill’s cloth cover and started to turn on the propane tank. To my great surprise, I discovered a large round nest of leaves sitting on the grill rack. The leaves had been trimmed down to size and the nest carefully constructed into a thick, cozy mound. I leaned down and quickly shut off the propane. A little mouse suddenly poked out of the nest, looked me over, then promptly fled to the edge of the rack. There it hung upside down by its back feet as it scrambled to exit.
I had a decision to make. Do I sweep away the leaves, clean the grill surface and cook my steak? Or do I accept that the little mouse, perhaps a mother raising young, needed protection for a few weeks.
Frankly, I was amazed at her considerable ingenuity. This tiny creature had created a warm dwelling as a home for her young, and a place of safety against predators and the bitter cold. Needless to say, I did not have the heart to sweep her away. I closed the lid, and put the cover over the grill, but not without taking a quick picture of those little beady eyes saying thank you.
The contrasts in the Christmas season are painful to contemplate. On the one hand, we see Jesus laying down His relationship with His Father, taking off his mantle of authority and power, and being born into our humanity as a helpless, vulnerable infant. Jesus, who was with His Father at the creation of the world enters into that creation and finds that He has no home. Joseph, anxious to find a place where Mary can give birth, must settle for a stable filled with hay and the warming breath of sheep and cow.
A few days after celebrating this birth, we hear the story of Herod. Herod was also vulnerable in that he had power but was susceptible to every threat to that power. And so the news of a special boy being born spawned a plot to kill all the newborn male children in the region. The abhorrent image of soldiers ripping children from their mother’s arms, and piercing them with swords lingers in our hearts and minds.
In reflecting on the slaughter of the innocents, I realize that I’m not so different from the repulsive Herod, and his lust for power. Power over others, enough power to change circumstances that frighten or displease me. And we all yearn for things that make us seem better than we are: an expensive car, a dream vacation, designer clothing. Or perhaps we choose a more subtle form of power. How do we feel about other people’s ideas, suggestions, and opinions? Do we value them, or do we prefer our own?
On this day of remembrance of the truly innocent, let us honor them with an honest evaluation of who we are without Jesus. Let us welcome others into the inner core of our lives and lay aside our differences. Let us be grateful for their gifts and presence in our lives.
Hold fast to this one thing: the simple and profound mystery of Jesus coming to us as a helpless child without wealth, power or position.
I thought it would be helpful to do a little historical research before writing about the Feast of Christ the King. I was surprised to see that it was Pope Piux X who established the feast in the 1920’s. It was first set as the day before All Saints Day, and later on moved to the last Sunday in Advent. Pope Pius was moved to establish the feast because of the tremendous turmoil in the world between nations. Setting Christ the King certainly establishes God the Father as the One we need to look to, if we are ever to settle the strife between men.
And so we still look at the larger world and see the desperate condition we are in; wars, famines, natural disasters, terrorists, drug epidemics. In one sense there is no person who is not vulnerable to the disaster and evil that surrounds us. And so we gather to celebrate, and to clear again that Christ is King; despite all cries and screams of the hurting world around us and in us. And the term “in us” I do not take lightly. Yes, the struggle, and conflict against evil does not just happen in the world around us. It is going on inside us. In the part of our nature that is lured into sin, and haunted by fears and cemented in harboring unforgiveness. And thus we need to declare for ourselves that this Christ is King over all that territory of our inner life that is not fully surrendered.
Christ is King in the big sense of Time. What he accomplished in his life among us, and through his death on the cross decided our outcome for all time. But somehow we are working it all out still in our time. We have the short view and cannot see beyond our immediate horizon. We also carry around a lot of warped ideas that take time for the Holy Spirit to straighten out and within us.
So for me, when I look at our apse and the Church of the Transfiguration, I see Jesus coming from a place of all time, Time Eternal, into our time. He is breaking into our world. And he comes with penetrating, welcoming eyes, and with outstretched arms. His intention is love. This is what I can look to as promise.
For now I am caught inbetween. This does not diminish the reality of the Truth. It just says I am very much still on the way.
They caught my eye as I walked through the room. I paused to look at the bright red contrasted with the soft cushions on the couch. Flowers fresh cut that morning, already leaning in toward the sun.
How is it that flowers cut off from their roots continue to move in a vase? As if swaying to the music, they all danced as one toward their source of light.
There are times when I feel cut off, roots amputated, turned away from my source of life and refreshment. Today is a reminder that I need to lean toward the light. I am leaning toward you, Lord, listening for your direction, longing to feel your warmth again.
Each year in June, we set aside a Sunday to commemorate the Dedication of the Church of the Transfiguration. The planning and vision for the church began in the early 1990’s. Our desire was to build a church to the “glory of God.” We wanted the building itself to speak through design, art, and music. The design committees sought artists who would be willing to train some of our membership in fresco and mosaic work, so that we could participate in those installations. Many of our young people helped lay the floor of the church and the atrium. Some of the column capitals were designed by Community members. And many of us helped with the building and finishing of wood for such things as organ pipes and choir stalls.
I remember our prioress telling us that through the process of building the church, God would do a work of building in us as well. It didn’t take long to see what she meant. It required sacrificial giving far beyond what we could understand at the outset. We had to throw ourselves on the mercy and goodness of God to accomplish such a task, and there were so many miracles along the way. We worked days, weekends, and late into the evenings. We worked in teams, which drew us closer together and kept our spirit strong. It was indeed true that we were under construction just as much as the church!
On the day of dedication, the building was basically a shell of mortar and limestone. The art installations of fresco, mosaic, and glass would happen during the ten years that followed. But the plan was well underway. We could look into the future and know God would bring it to completion.
Sometimes I sit in the church and just enjoy the beauty of the art, especially the image of Jesus in the apse. We wanted the church to be a beautiful work for God, and in the process, we came to experience the immensity of God: His Generosity, His Mercy for each of us, and the largeness of what He wants for the world beyond our walls. There are, in fact, no walls that could contain the Love He has for us. And so here we are in Orleans, Massachusetts. Just one group of people in the body of Christ, trying to do as God asks, trying to become His hands and feet in this place. Dedication Day is a remembrance of the past and a commitment to the future.
Church of the Transfiguration, Community of Jesus
Where does spirituality make itself visible in my daily life? It seems that from the moment I wake — I am planning, making lists of what I hope to accomplish in the day ahead. That is followed by the ding of my phone with messages, interruptions, all clamoring for my attention. I am now running headlong into the needs of others. Legitimate requests that stifle my plans, or at least challenge me to postpone or rearrange my set agenda.
I find myself in a standoff between what I would want to do, and what is needful. What will I decide to do with this looming conflict? If I can pause for a moment to pray, I often find myself softening the possibility of yielding. I whisper yes somewhere inside myself, and begin stepping out into a plan wider than my own designing. Somehow in this mix of pushing back and letting go, I find adventure; the aliveness of a life with Jesus.
too soon the sun’s rays slide
over earth’s edge
leaving me orphaned,
slumped in darkness
beside my window.
Deep into December, darkness drags me
into the abyss,
like Jonah in the belly of the whale, I wrap my arms
around myself, and shiver. My memory scans a litany
Into this bleakness came light
birthed in a stable .
So lowly he came to an unsuspecting world.
That one infant, the cure for aloneness;
the joy of wounded hearts.
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.
by Blue Heron
A whole day outside in the yard; moving gravel, transplanting flowers, recutting the border of a garden. Around noontime, my back was trying to get a word in edgewise about maybe taking it easy. I was having too much fun to give heed. So after lunch I mowed half the lawn, moved rocks, washed the deck. I have no regrets, even though I move about slowly in the evening hours.
The newly opened leaves in June unravel in such delicate greens. The vegetables planted in tidy rows, standing tall and reaching into the sunlight. First fruits are still more than a month away, but if I didn’t know better, I would say they look happy as they await a future harvest.
What a wonder that green things can take in the light form the sun and convert it to food. is it any wonder that I make the analogy to Jesus the Son as the only real source of my own nourishment? If I could just plant myself each morning, in the awareness of His presence. Just take it in like sunlight, instead of running around with anxiety trying to “make food” on my own; fill in spaces that only He can satisfy.
Evening is approaching, birds are swooping around the yard, singing some final evening choruses. A chipmunk sprints across the yard with his tail straight up in the air. Oh God, may my mouth open with your praise at this close of the day. May I exhale with thankful heart, having inhaled the joys of Your creation.