About Blue Heron

My wife and I became members of the Community in 1975. We had come to the Community prior to that time on various retreats from our church in Connecticut. I landed an elementary teaching career in 1976 and taught in that same school until 1999. We raised two sons (now married) who are both now professed members of the Community. We have three grandchildren and three granddogs. I continue to work in the public school teaching science on a part time basis, and also serve as advisor and part time teacher for a group of parents who homeschool in the Community. My wife works as a dental assistant. Life in the Community has expanded my borders far beyond what I would have imagined. Over the years I have sung with the choir, participated in Gregorian Chant, served as chalice bearer, made stained glass, been part of a writing group, built sets for Gilbert and Sullivan productions and sung in them. The list goes on. I cannot think of a better environment to raise a child. And I cannot think of any place that would have challenged more, and kept me moving forward as a Christian father and husband. I have been over my head and lifted above the waters. I am looking back in gratitude, and forward in hope.

Feast Day of the Holy Innocents — December 28th

The story of the Holy Innocents originates in the time of Herod, or as he was sometimes called “the Great Herod.”  In his younger years, he was a skillful administrator who lived a balancing act between the Romans and the people of Judea. He was able to undertake and accomplish large building projects, including a harbor on the Mediterranean. In contrast, during his lifetime, he had ten wives and several sons. While his political savvy was considerable, his home life was a growing disaster. His sons grew up competing with each other for the future throne. Herod killed three of his sons, put to death one of his wives and one of his mothers-in-law, and some cousins. At one point he planned to fill an entire stadium (the Hippodrome ) with Jews and put them to death. As Herod aged, he became increasingly paranoid and removed from reality. He struggled with several illnesses, all the while afraid no one would mourn his death.

Herod learned about the birth of a future king from Wise Men traveling from the East. Deceitfully, he told them that he wanted to know the location of the child so that he, too, could come and celebrate the royal birth. The wise men, however, were warned by an angel to depart by another way, after worshipping the baby Jesus. They never returned to Herod, which infuriated him. In his rage, Herod ordered that all male children two years and younger be slaughtered in Bethlehem and “in all the region.”

Scholars have argued about the number of murdered infants; some traditions say hundreds and some thousands, perhaps between ten and twenty, by estimating the population in the area. Whatever the number, the helpless infants became the first martyrs.

Afterward, Herod became completely paranoid in his determination to hold on to his throne. Even his own family were not safe. His jealousy ruled him and eliminated anyone and anything he perceived as a threat.

We could take a look around the world today and see any number of leaders who have acted in similar ways. We see dictators and regimes, where killings and poisonings occur.

It’s easy to scan the surface of world politics. But what about our personal politics? How do we move and function in the group of people with whom we live and work? What are the ways we hold on to a particular position, or territory, or a certain way of performing our duties? How many innocents fall prey to our tyranny? I think of Jesus, who laid down His rightful claim as the Son of God, born as a helpless baby into our hands. He did not hold on but let go so that God’s promises might be fulfilled. 

To the thousands of innocents who gave their lives, tiny peacemakers, soldiers of righteousness, Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.  Matthew 5:8

Bronze sculpture by Daphne du Barry, depicting Mary and Innocents

Feast Day of Saint Hilda of Whitby, Abbess November 18

Much of what we know about the intricacies of early English history comes from the writings of the Venerable Bede. Bede was born during the end of St. Hilda’s life. Much of what you’ll read here has come through Bede’s work.

Hilda was born in 614. She was baptized on Easter Day at age 13 near the present site of York Minster. Her birth and early years are somewhat complicated to follow, but in short, she was brought up in the court of King Edward. Her father died when she was young, and she was taken into the care of Edwin, who married Aerthelbuch of Kent. She was a practicing Roman Catholic and brought Hilda under her Christian influence.

At age 33, Hilda answered the call of Bishop Aidan of Lindisfarne in North Umbria to become a nun. She first resided at a convent on the Weir River, where she learned many of the Celtic traditions. She had not been there long when she was appointed abbess at Hartlepool Abbey. In 657, Hilda became abbess of Whitby Abbey and remained there until her death at age 66.

Bede describes Hilda as a woman of high energy and a skilled administrator and teacher. She was a landowner and employed many people to care for the sheep and cattle.  Woodcutters cared for the surrounding forest. Hilda gained a reputation for wisdom, and kings and princes sought her advice. She was also concerned and caring for the common folk. Hilda, a custodian and advocate of the beauty of words, is considered a patron saint of learning and culture, including poetry.

On a personal note, when I graduated from college, I taught at a Montessori school in Connecticut called Whitby. The school was founded by a group of Catholic women in the 1950s. They derived their inspiration from Whitby in England. At their opening ceremonies, they were presented with a stone from the Whiteby grounds (the stones surrounding the abbey contain unique fossils called ammorites; they look like little curled up snakes in the rock.) After a number of years, the stone was placed in storage and eventually lost.

One day I was out in the woods near my classroom. I was working with some students to convert an old dilapidated shed into a rabbit hutch. As we cleaned out the hutch, we found a strange-looking stone. I took it to the Headmaster, and lo and behold, it was the Whitby Stone. I was the hero of the day.

Feast Day of Saint Francis, October 4

Saint Francis was born in 1182 in Assissi, Italy. His father was a wealthy cloth merchant and therefore, Francis grew up in a privileged environment. He had some schooling in Latin and French literature, and was fond of the tradition of troubadours (those who traveled the countryside singing love ballads.) As a teenager, Francis would walk about the city in the evenings singing and partying.  He had a definite love for life and exhibited a natural leadership with his friends. But Francis grew weary of his carefree existence and began searching “for a love that was above all other loves.” (from the biography, The Perfect Joy of Saint Francis.)

In 1202 a war developed between Assissi and the nearby town of Perugia. Francis paraded off to battle with grand ideas of heroism. But the reality of war quickly dampened his enthusiasm. Many of his comrades were killed or seriously wounded. Francis was spared, only to be imprisoned and held for ransom. He spent a year in a prison dungeon and suffered sickness that followed him throughout his life. He returned to his home city spent and humiliated.

Francis then turned to solitude and prayer in the nearby countryside. He was drawn to the poor and destitute, and found joy in providing them with food and money.  On one of his wanderings, he met an old priest who watched over a dilapidated church called St. Damian’s. The priest encouraged him to rebuild the church. Francis entered, and as he prayed before the crucifix, God spoke to him and asked him to rebuild His Church, with a capital “C”.

From that point on, Francis dedicated himself to a life of poverty and charity. He wore a simple robe and learned to beg with the beggars. In return he experienced inner joy and a deep love for God as his Father. He was discovering the love above all other loves.

He composed poems and songs about the beauty of creation, including The Canticle of the Sun. Francis communed with the birds and animals and shared a special connection with them. When he spoke, they actually seemed to understand.

 His humility and love for God attracted a group of followers who would become the Friars Minor. At La Verna, in the forests of Italy, he received the stigmata. He suffered great weakness in his later years, and died in 1226 at the age of forty-four. He left behind over 5,000 Friars Minor. Today he is considered the patron saint of animals and the ecology.

A Personal Reflection

What was there about Francis that appealed to so many? Even today his life speaks to the empty spaces in our hearts. I remember as a teenager reading “The Perfect Joy of Saint Francis” and feeling somewhat “shell shocked.” This one small book changed the course of my life. I knew that I sought the love that Francis discovered and that no amount of success, money, or human love would ever fill its void. Francis found a love that was whole hearted, emotional, and devoted to his Maker. He shed the world, put on poverty, and experienced the greatest treasure available to man: the Beauty of Creation and the Love of Jesus.  — Written by  Blue Heron

 

The Approach of Lent: Ash Wednesday

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.

 

His Eye is on the Sparrow (and a Few Others)

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.

 

Feast Day of The Holy Innocents – December 28th

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.

Feast Day of Christ the King

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.

 

Toward the Son

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.

 

Feast of the Dedication of the Church of the Transfiguration – June 17

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

Church of the Transfiguration, Community of Jesus

A Whispered Yes to a Divine Plan

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.