So Many Ways to Praise Him

I now contemplate Lent from a distance and the perspective of Holy Week. Lent, that season we set aside time from busy lives to seek the solace of quiet, prayer, reading and reflection. This simpler life is also part of our simpler ringing. During Holy Week our bell tower is silent as we await the single tolling bell on Good Friday.

In contrast, on Palm Sunday we rang our bells with gusto as the congregation waved palm branches and we processed to church, singing ancient Gregorian chants written primarily for this festival day.

At 3:00 PM on Good Friday, we rang a single bell, one with a heavy, sonorous sound to signify Christ’s final breath on the cross. That lonely tolling bell also rings when one of our Community members passes, as we pause to remember our loved one, whatever the day, a toll for each year of their life.

Holy Saturday is quiet at our Bell Tower. However, on Easter Sunday, we pull out all the stops! Our Easter ringing plays a significant role in the triumphant joy of the Resurrection. With brass fanfares, full organ, choir and congregation singing and bells ringing, we worship, celebrating the risen Christ with joyful alleluias.


There is a rhythm to life, and our bells play a particular part in the rhythm of our Community life. Bells call us to worship, and they ring out for all to hear when the clergy make their final acclamation, “Let us go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” We chime in with “Thanks be to God,” as the bells add their jubilant Amen!








Feast Day of Saint Polycarp, Martyr and Bishop – February 23rd

St. Polycarp, Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna

There are few churches named after Polycarp (compared to other saints), and, although a celebrated martyr, he was not a subject of medieval art in the same way as Agnes or Laurence. However, Polycarp (a name meaning “much fruit” in Greek), may be one of the most important figures in the history of Christianity.

Born in 69 AD, as a young man he was a disciple of the Apostle John. Jerome tells us, John, before his death around the year 98 AD, ordained Polycarp as Bishop of Smyrna. Polycarp’s relationship with John makes him a valuable link to one of the last eyewitnesses to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

He wrote one letter that still exists—to the church in Philippi. In it, he urges his readers to keep the true faith, citing other writings that are now in the New Testament.  He also warns against heresy, saying that “Everyone who does not believe that Jesus Christ came in the flesh is of the antichrist,” a direct reference to Gnosticism, which appeared in the church during his lifetime.

We know Polycarp was a man of great faith. When commanded to burn incense to the Roman Emperor (and renounce his Christianity), he said, “Eighty-six years have I served him, and he has done me no wrong. I will not deny my King now.” He willingly offered himself to be burned at the stake, letting the Roman officials know there was no need to strap him down, as he would submit to the fire. The story of Polycarp’s martyrdom was widely circulated among the early Christians and referred to by both Jerome and Ignatius.

Recently, the Biblical scholar David Trobisch has suggested that Polycarp was responsible for compiling the New Testament as it is today, as a response to the heresies in the church in the 2nd century. (This is much earlier than has been generally thought). The theory is still new, but it makes sense that a man of faith with access to the Gospels, the writings of Paul, and the Book of Revelation (as a disciple of John), would want to ensure the true faith, by compiling them into a “New Testament” for future generations.

Freely Sing

Have you ever wondered about the origin of the solfege syllables do, re, me, fa, sol, la, ti, do? These are syllables that singers have used for centuries as aids to reading a piece of music for the first time, as well as other reasons. I want to tell you a story about Guido d’Arezzo, a gifted teacher of music and an 11th-century monk in a monastery in Pomposa, Italy. When he taught choir boys Gregorian chant, he realized they took a very long time to learn a piece of music by rote, which was the traditional method. He looked for ways to shorten the time. He chose “Ut queant laxis,” the hymn from the Feast of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist. This was a chant all choristers would need to memorize. He saw that the first syllable of each of the six phrases was a new note based on the rising degree of the major scale. Medieval monks thought in terms of a six-note scale. The first syllables of these six phrases were UT, RE, MI, FA, SOL, LA (Later UT was changed to DO and a seventh step named SI – in some countries TI – was added). This system made clear to the boys where the half steps occurred in a particular chant.

So the text for Saint John’s hymn read:

UT queant laxis

REsonare fibris

MIra gestorum

FAmuli tuorum

SOlve pulluti

LAbii reatum

Sancte Joannes


English Poetic Translation:

So that we may freely sing thy marvelous deeds, cleanse thy servants’ lips from all the stains of guilt, Oh Holy John. 

The solfege system of singing, invented by the monk Guido d’Arezzo, has been used by singers for over a thousand years.


The Creation Doors

I have the pleasure of writing about the exciting and wonderfully executed art program on the main doors of the Church of the Transfiguration. The doors were designed in a different art style from the interior program. This is a deliberate choice, pointing toward the Fall of humankind from Grace and underscoring the iconographic program within the church as God’s saving answer.

On the doors are the parents of the human race, our parents Adam and Eve. They are pictured enjoying the great loveliness of God’s garden, peaceful in it’s order. Eve holds a simple rose and is breathing in its beauty and aroma. All of this peace is contained in a simple frame. They are both partially covered with vegetation from the garden. The artist designed them in such a manner that when the doors are opened (into the church), Adam is looking up at God; and Eve, our mother, is looking down lovingly at us as we enter.

But we know that all is not well in this garden paradise. Our parents are about to reject God’s fatherhood. They choose to become their own gods, to know good and evil, to make their own decisions; the loss of all peace and fellowship with God is the result. Chaos now reigns. We see the prophetic coming of chaos in the wild dune grass at the bottom of the doors and the beginning of disorder in the vegetation covering Adam and Eve. This choice cast us all on the mercy, love and saving grace of God the Father, Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We must enter through the doors now, driven by our need to learn to love again.

Creation Doors Romolo Del Deo ©2000

Creation Doors at the Church of the Transfiguration

@Robert Benson Photography

Close up of Eve from the Creation Doors

Love Overcomes All

By Hummingbird

My little four-legged friend has upbraided me for not heeding him, and tells me that I have been far too serious for too long. He wants to say that love overcomes all.

Indeed it is true, and he is right. Love is the only unconquerable power and the all-conquering power. I try to imagine, as I look at him, how small a world his eyes see in comparison to mine, and yet it is his whole world. I see his short four legs and how little of the world he could experience on his own. Heights of any greatness are denied him under his own power; closed doors are a barrier to any progress. Water or snow more than six inches deep could mean death. Yet he has traveled far, gone high, passed through many doors, seen much, and endured great depths of water and snow. How? I carry him. He goes with me. Why? Because I love him.

So it is with our Savior. It is his love that carries us in much the same way. Our small world, our littleness—the closed doors, the great heights—are available to us because we go with him. His love overcomes our lack. He show us that loving others with his love is a conquering power over all troubles, all darkness. No barrier exists to his love. In the end, we must succumb to his love. He waits for us to be a vessel for his love to others.


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.


All Things Bright and Beautiful

By Hummingbird

Genesis and several of the Psalms remind us that God created our animal friends and gave us dominion (responsibility) over (for) them. This carries a serious understanding to care for them as God cares for us. In Matthew, Jesus speaks of how God has lovingly and carefully planned in the creation of the world for each of his creatures to be fed. How much more does he carefully supply our needs in all things. We so often forget, believing ourselves to be our own providers and producers.

Like many of you have experienced, my animal friends have taught me so many things about Jesus and God our Father: loyalty, steadfastness, sensitivity, joy, trust, availability, never changing love, patience, longsuffering, and dependence are but a few. They are always fully themselves, live in the moment, trust me to love and keep them and intuitively respond to God’s presence and direction, leaving many of us breathless at some of their seemingly wise actions and tender responses to us. With a full heart, I thank God for his provision for me through the animals he has put in my care.

Resting (Un)Comfortably

By Hummingbird

As I sit at my desk to write to you, a small dog is peacefully resting in my lap hemmed in by the arms of the desk chair and the top of the desk. I am heart warmed by the small weight of his warm little body and relaxed by the soft sound of his breathing.

I gently realize that God is speaking again through my four footed friend. Resting is the foundation for action; and who we rest on, the secret source of our actions.

I am touched that he has chosen my uncomfortable lap and the confines of arm chair and desk top when he has a warm bed available or a soft piece of rug warmed by the sun. But he has chosen my lap as safe and secure, telling me he prefers being in touch with me to comfortable spaces where he is his own boss. He sleeps, telling me he trusts me. Rather than be out of touch he has chosen the confines of my lap so he will know instantly if I move. My decisions in life will be the source of his action. He will be touching so he will be ready. Because he rests on me, I will see to him.

Oh, Lord Jesus, help me to rest on your lap. Help me to want you over more comfortable circumstances that I may be alert to your every move. I want you to be the well-spring of all my actions.




By Hummingbird

I have noticed a curious hold my four legged friend has on me. I have long puzzled over it. He comes and fixes me with his eyes and is communicating something. If I am slow to respond, he may punctuate his look with a sharp bark. He is obviously telling me his need is urgent in his opinion! The hold is this; as I turn my attention to him I am ever aware –he has no hands to open doors, or get his food. His needs are ever before me. He has utter unfailing confidence that I will see to his needs. He is not passive but takes his job as actively informing me of his status and presenting himself in my presence as if reminding me, “Remember I have no arms and you are my chosen sole provider.” He is never embarrassed at his need but accepts and seems to joy in this dependence—even at times seems to show me off with pride. His need and that he depends totally on me lead me to never fail to respond.

Then I am struck to the heart. O, God, am I proud of my dependence on you? Do I joy in being actively involved in presenting myself before you? Do I have utter confidence that you never fail me and always meet my needs? Do I accept that I can’t change my heart anymore than my little friend can grow “arms”? Do I rest in the knowledge that my need excites the love of my Savior who gave his life for me, of my Father who never sleeps, and my Comforter who flies to my side?

Dear God, help me to be so proud of your relationship to me. May I ever be constantly active to present myself before you,  and to joy in my love and need of you.
Puppy with bowl

Never Out of Sight

By Hummingbird

While traveling with my four-pawed brown-eyed friend I learned an important lesson about my relationship with Jesus. His favorite place to be was curled up on my lap like a cat, if I was seated. If was standing, he desperately wanted to be carried but would stand close by my feet with his eye pinned on me.If we separated, he would come, nose to the ground and eyes searching all the feet, to find my feet. If tending to his “own business” outdoors were to take him any distance from me, the corners of white-rimmed eyes would always be curled around to see where I was, no matter what!

He suffered thousands of feet, strange places, uncomfortable beds, food at any hour, being stuffed in a bag at my feet on a plane; not understanding and yet following any place, any time, into any circumstance.

He convinced me that I was his master and the only master in the world he wanted. His constant work and joy was to be with me, wherever I sent him, his face told me I would be in the center  of his thoughts ‘til he was by my side or in my lap again. He moved and strangely warmed my heart, and I longed to tend to his needs and have him always by my side. His love blessed me. My greeting became always a caress and a special personal word.

Suddenly, I understood—Oh, Jesus. It is so easy to have You with me if only I would take You to my heart as I am in his.