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.

Looking Back – Dedication of the Church of the Transfiguration, June, 2000

Each year in June we acknowledge the Dedication of the Church of the
Transfiguration that took place on June 17, 2000. We posted earlier this month to honor that day specifically, but as this is the 20th anniversary year of the Church, some additional meditation seemed appropriate.

The Church was the culmination of a vision that had sprouted at least ten years earlier. There were years of planning and research that emerged in the final design. There were meetings with architects, sound and lighting engineers, and landscape architects. There were artists to be interviewed and employed for the fresco and mosaic work. Much of the carving and sculpture work had already been completed by Dedication. But the Church was virtually a solid framework of stone and bronze when it was dedicated.

When I thought about celebrating Dedication this year, my thoughts went back to the Dedication of the original Temple in Jerusalem. I dug back into the chapters in 1st Kings, which describe the event. It struck me that David, as great as he was, did not build the Temple. It was Solomon to whom the task was given:

“Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the assembly of Israel and spread out his hands to heaven. He said,” Oh Lord God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on the earth beneath, keeping covenant and steadfast love for your servants who walk before you with all their heart, the covenant that you kept for your servant my father David as you declared to him; you promised with your mouth and have this day fulfilled with your hand…” I Kings 8:22-24 NRSV

Solomon continues on in a long set of prayers and requests. He could have asked for many things. Here are a few of the openings to his prayers: “If someone sins against a neighbor,” “When the people Israel, having sinned against you”; “When heaven is shut up, and there is no rain because they have sinned against you….”  I Kings 8 NRSV

Notice that Solomon does not say if they sin, but when they sin. He prays that when the people stumble, and repent and turn from their sin, God will be merciful and forgive them; that he will restore the relationship that was broken.

Recently we have all been living through difficult days. The corona-virus and social unrest have brought the entire population to a place of reflection. Our foundations are shaken but not destroyed. And what do all the events of recent months have to do with Dedication? I believe many of us as Christians have been part of this shaking. I have had to look at areas in my own life where I fall short and need forgiveness and the Living Jesus. But through it all, the Church stands firm.

In some mysterious way, I think we need to appropriate the solidness of the “temple”.  As a forgiven people (with a continual need of forgiveness), we need to find ways to reach into the surrounding culture. Not to insulate ourselves and hunker-down, but just the opposite. Stand up and move with conviction and dedication into our confused nation. God has given each of us some way, some voice to demonstrate that He is alive. We need to be fully alive to Jesus for ourselves and the world around us.

So as I recall the Dedication of the Church of the Transfiguration,  I pray to wholeheartedly dedicate myself to all that Jesus desires.

Spiritual Shelter: Faith, Hope, Charity

Our lives are pared down to essentials. COVID-19 has removed much of the noise and distraction that often fill our thoughts. But even in observing the required precautions, we remain vulnerable to a highly contagious and invisible enemy.

 What stands between this enemy and us? What stands between us and our being consumed by our passions and selfish desires? A daily hymn, a prayer, a scripture, an act of kindness will refocus our hearts on Jesus, our loving savior and protector.

The Earth is slowly taking on the garments of Spring with budding leaves, crocuses, yellow daffodils. The birds are settling in after long migrations. But as lovely as the dawning of Spring, so much fairer is Jesus. Take heart, Christians, He is with us still.

From the hymn Fairest Lord Jesus:

Fair are the meadows, fairer still the woodlands
Robed in the blooming garb of Spring.
Jesus is fairer, Jesus is purer
Who makes the woeful heart to sing.

Words:  German Composite

 

He Slumbers Not

There is panic in the air, on the news, and in the faces of strangers we pass in the streets. I make a conscious effort to keep this sense of fear at bay and not allow it to invade my heart and dominate my thoughts.

What active things can I do? Certainly there are the outward directives provided by health professionals, our President, and his task force. But as a follower of Jesus, I need to do inward work.

Here are my notes to self:

Believe God is in charge.
Protect my mind with a mantle of trust and praise.
Remember others and offer to help where I can.

Allow life’s essentials to be enough.
Let my regular routine be “crossed out.”
Know that God’s goodness will prevail.

I was walking in the woods this morning and saw lichen growing on a tree. I had this thought, ‘don’t let the moss grow on your mind. Keep moving forward with trust in the One who is our only true anchor in times like these.’

I pray this beautiful Psalm for all of us, Psalm 121:

I will life up my eyes to the hills,
From where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved:
He who keeps you will not slumber.
He who keeps Israel
Will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is your keeper;
The Lord is your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
Nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all evil;
He will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
Your going out and your coming in
From this time on and forevermore.

Natural Solitude

A few courageous crocuses are poking their heads out of the ground (our New England version of Ground Hog Day!) It’s been a snowless winter on the Cape, and we remain bewildered about when winter will end because it never really began.  A flicker, equally confused, tapped on a tree the other day. He tapped aggressively and then suddenly stopped to look around, almost as if he wasn’t sure it was time to engage in springtime behavior. A few more vigorous pecks, and then he vanished into the treetops.

Lent is a little like the end of winter.  It’s not my favorite season, but certainly a necessary one.  I’m encouraged to prayerfully “pull back” from scheduled responsibilities, and curl up with devotional reading and make intentional solitude. 

This morning I walked along the border of the ocean: no particular time limit or destination. Just following the waves as they encroach with little fingers on the expanse of sand, the only sound, the rhythmic and persistent rise and fall of waves against the shore.  Tall dunes rise on my right, over eighty feet in some places. Winter tides have sliced them like a sharp knife cutting cake, exposing distinct layers. The layers are in chronological order: first grass and stunted trees, then organic soil of different colored sand deposited by glaciers, a black sheet of ancient marsh, and finally, a layer of blue clay formed some 20,000 years ago.  I’m reminded again of Lent, standing here, looking back on the biography of Earth in this place. Lent, reflective, pausing to look back, to look honestly at actions, motivations, and results.

I walk along the edge of the land, feet touching wave-washed beach stones glimmering in the sun. Each stone owns a unique color and shape. Together they make a lovely ribbon. I keep walking and will follow until I arrive at the end of winter to discover a new Easter.

 

Image by Scottslm from Pixabay

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.