About Renaissance Girl

I moved to the Community with my family in 1988 when I was 10 - which gives away my current age! I am now a solemnly professed member - I work at Paraclete Press, the publishing arm of the Community and I love my job! I also sing in the choir Gloriæ Dei Cantores, and am a member of Elements Theatre Company and Spirit of America Band. As a Docent for the Church of the Transfiguration, I get to discover new things about the church every time I share it with someone else. When I'm not doing one of those activities, I love to spend time with my dog or my "extended family". There's a lot of variety in my life which keeps me energized - and I'm learning how to be more in the moment so whether I'm at a rehearsal, or making dinner in the kitchen with 5 girls, they all get 100% of me!

The Ancient Tradition of Bell Ringing

Did you know that bells were first created in ancient China? The earliest example of them appeared some 4,000 years ago, around the 1st Millennium BC. Chinese metal workers forged metal tiles together, leaving an opening at the bottom to release the sound. Because of the volume of the bells, they were used to signal important checkpoints throughout the day, such as the end of work.

As bells become more popular in Asia, they grew to represent a symbol of culture and power. They were decorated elaborately and were among the emperors most prized possessions. The more bells you had, the higher your status. The emperor had four, other royalty had three, ministers and religious priests three, and government officials had 1 bell in their houses.

So if bells were created in Asia for nonreligious purposes, how then did they develop into an integral part of the modern church? Essentially, it was their usefulness in communication that drew, in the 5th century AD, Benedictine monks from Italy to the Campana of Asia. There they learned how to cast the metal and brought the tradition to Italy. From there it spread across Europe. Religious ritual bells first rang to commemorate a funeral service and by the 9th century, were a regular part of various religious ceremonies.

All this to say that we have the ancient Chinese to credit for the beginnings of our beautiful tower bells!


St. Nicholas and The Bells

Recently we celebrated the Feast Day of St. Nicholas, a beloved saint, close to the hearts of all children. He was a kind man, and humble, never wanting to be recognized for his generous giving.

St. Nikola, as the Russians call him, is one of the most significant saints celebrated in Russia. In fact, St. Nikola ‘s Feast Day ranks second to that of Easter, and his icon is often hung near Jesus and the Virgin Mary. Stories of St. Nikola were introduced to Russia by Vladimir the Great when he brought Christianity to Russia. Since then, St. Nikola occupies an important place in the Russian heart.

Since I’m writing a blog about the Community of Jesus Bell Tower, you may wonder how the bells and St. Nicholas relate.  Very closely in fact.

During the rule of Soviet Russia, Christmas was banned, as were many other things religion based. They also banned St. Nikola day, and they made New Year’s Day the big celebratory day. The tradition of Grandfather Christmas replaced St. Nikola. During the Soviet Union Regime ringing of bells was not possible. Stalin needed metal to build trucks and automobiles.  As churches closed across the country, he confiscated all bells and melted them down for metal. Russians loved their church bells, and this was just one of the many hardships they endured. The ringing of bells not only signaled the start of services, but they also held spiritual meaning. The Russian people call them singing icons.

Just imagine their happiness when once again, bells rang out across the land! A story is told that when a hand bell group filled a performance hall with their music, the crowd echoed the joyful sound with deafening shouts of “Kolokol, Kolokol”, the Russian word for bell.

So it only seems fitting that our tower honored Saint Nicholas, Russia’s patron saint, with the joyful ringing of one of Russia’s prized religious treasures, the Kolokol.


The Forerunner

By Renaissance Girl

John the Baptist astounds me. His entire existence was about Jesus. And not just in the way we endeavor to “live for Jesus” — but literally — all about Him, from the moment John leaped in his mother’s womb at the sound of Mary’s voice (perhaps eager to get started on his task), to the moment he submitted to the will of God and baptized Christ (despite his humble protest that it should be the other way around). He was beheaded at the whim of a girl and her mother, because his message to “prepare” threatened their comfortable existence. Everything he did — wild and confronting as it was — was meant to point to Jesus. And then John quietly stepped aside when He arrived.

I am astounded by this, because this is not how I live at all. But what if I could? What if, instead of seeking accolades myself, I was ALL about Jesus? My prayer as we draw closer to Christmas, is for the grace to become a little more like John the Baptist.

The Community of Jesus

When the road takes a sharp turn

By Renaissance Girl

I recently embarked on an adventure. I was starting something new that, actually, made me quite afraid.  It was outside of what seemed logical, and it forced me to ask God at every turn “what do I do?” It took some preparation, and each decision I made felt like I could be making a huge mistake — but it seemed like it was what God was asking, so I tried to do it. I wish I could say that I am familiar with living like this — abandoned to God — but I am not and that made it all the scarier, and yet at the same time, hopeful.

And then, suddenly, just when things were wrapped up, the road took a sharp turn. What I thought I was going to be starting didn’t work out. I find myself asking God what he intended in all of this, and what I should do now. What was the point of the preparation if only to run into a road-block?

I will tell you I don’t have answers yet. What I do know is that every day, every moment, is a choice. A choice to ask the question again and not retreat into anger and disappointment and accusation. A choice to trust, even when “logic” says to be skeptical, because if this didn’t work out, maybe the next thing won’t either. My pride desperately wants to save me from getting excited about something only to see it pass by.

I opened a card yesterday that someone had given me when I was preparing for this adventure. They included a prayer about trust — and in that moment I saw God. He knew I’d need this prayer even more in this moment — when I was most tempted to distrust:

Trust, you say, and so I will.  But at times its thread wears thin, and rubs raw the palms of my hands.  Yet I cling to it, for you have shown that in every circumstance, trust leads to Love eventually. Take the pieces of my life and make them one. Smooth the edges, mold the shapes until, with perfect symmetry, they interlock and become the “me” you long for. I can’t make this “me” puzzle fit, though I often try. Master Craftsman of body, mind, and spirit — let it be so, for I trust in you.”

The Community of Jesus



Circle of Life

By Renaissance Girl

Isn’t it interesting that at the same time we are ending the calendar year, we begin the church year? My type A personality brain says — couldn’t we have coordinated this better?

But as I think about our decorating this past weekend, hanging lights from the huge tree in front of the Convent, stringing garland along the walkways, making baked goods for the gift shop or putting candles in windows, it strikes me that logic and coordination are not what this season is about.

Our human minds tell us the year is closing, things are ending, darkness is prevalent and sleep is the order of the day.  Into this bursts the new Liturgical year, with light enough to illuminate the world, and cries “Sleepers Wake!”  And we leave off endings and begin again.

The Community of Jesus

Risking Advent-ure

By Renaissance Girl 

I was talking with a friend last night, just in passing.  Talking about life, and change, and being afraid of new things. She said that someone had recently pointed out to her that the word adventure has the word advent in it.  I know Advent is still two weeks away, but actually, it really caught my attention. I love words, and I love exploring where they come from and what they mean. Both the root of advent and adventure can be traced back to the Latin advenire — “to come to, reach for, arrive at.” Later uses introduced a sense of risk or danger. One definition that struck me was, “a risky undertaking of unknown outcome.”

Look at the story of Christ, who arrived on earth as a vulnerable baby, forced to flee shortly after his birth, challenged in the desert by the devil himself, betrayed by a friend, nailed to a cross, and raised from the dead…  Talk about risk and unknown outcome!

But here’s what really got my attention — the suffix -ure indicates “act, process or result.”  Start putting these parts together and you get things like — “the act of reaching for, the process of arriving at, the result of coming to.” So of course adventure requires risk, and unknown outcome — but can’t we hang on to the outcome that we do know? That Christ’s “risky undertaking of unknown outcome” resulted in our redemption. And so we reach for the adventure of Advent.

The Community of Jesus



Give Thanks in all Things

By Renaissance Girl

I logged on to Amazon.com the other day and was startled to see, staring back at me, a “countdown to Black Friday” (which, as it turns out, now begins for many stores at 5pm on Thanksgiving Day).

The one day a year that we are actually encouraged as a nation to express gratitude for what we have, is fast becoming another day we are encouraged to aggressively go after what we want.

I felt myself self-righteously puffing up with a rant about lack of gratitude and “where are our values” and then ground to a halt. How often do I live this way myself? Not grateful in the moment for the blessings in my life, but clocking my own personal countdown to the next thing on the horizon that I am sure will make my life perfect.

Perhaps “Thanksgiving Day” could be every day.

The Community of Jesus


Come Wind and Weather!

Sunday we had a “Nor’easter.” Actually, it started Saturday with rain and high winds, and a sudden drop in temperature. I was outside Saturday evening greeting for the choir concert. The cloudy, rainy sky made things seem even darker than they were, and I wondered if people would come out on such a night. At around 7:00 they started to arrive — and they kept arriving straight through until 7:30! There were old people and young people, people with walkers, and a trio of laughing women holding their hoods tight against the wind. There was a blind woman and a deaf man and the proud family of one of the violin players. They hopped on the back of waiting golf carts and clung to the sides, laughing their way up the path to the church. I walked back and forth, offering my arm to people leaning against the wind. Everyone was smiling. One man even commented on how beautiful everything was. And I had to pause. I had started the evening almost apologetically, as if the bad weather was somehow my fault. It was a beautiful sight. The windows of the church and surrounding buildings lit the night with a warm light, almost like a beacon. And inside the church, while the choir, soloist and orchestra filled the space with the breathtaking music of Gerald Finzi, the beauty shone in the faces of the people listening. I forgot about the storm. There, gathered with strangers who somehow felt like friends, I found exactly why one would come out on such a night.


Life and Leaf

By Renaissance Girl

It seems like the cold weather creeps up when I’m not paying attention. Yesterday I sat outside to eat my lunch, and this morning I pulled my scarf closer around my neck. I love this season as we turn towards winter. There is a unique beauty in what happens when the sun sets earlier and the leaves change color.

This morning I took my dog for his morning walk. He is a particular fan of leaves and carries one in his mouth for the duration of the walk. I think it makes him feel useful. Or perhaps, he just likes to hang on to something beautiful. We passed under a tree just as a red leaf, its corners slightly turned up, released itself from its branch. It floated down, turning gently like a lazy Susan. I like to think maybe God releases each one at its own moment with a puff of air just strong enough to free it from the tree it grew on. Such an interesting image for life.

The Community of Jesus


Answers or Faith

By Renaissance Girl

“Faith offers the promise that everything will ultimately be renewed in God. This hardly means that we will, or must, receive an answer from God for every question in our lives.” —Notker Wolf, Faith Can Give Us Wings

I find this meditation challenging. Challenging, I suppose, because I want answers to every question in my life. I suppose the embarrassing truth is that I often treat God as a vending machine for my questions. I want to be able to insert a question and push the right buttons and get an answer. But where does that leave faith?

What need would there be for faith, if every question I asked had an immediate answer? It’s a risky and lively way of life that Jesus beckons us towards.

Maybe sometimes it is about asking the questions, and then continuing to move forward. Perhaps the answer comes as a gentle re-direct on the way, and not a sedentary note of explanation as I sit waiting to be sure that the way I am headed is safe.

Hilly Road