Sacred Seeing – The Feast of Epiphany

Are you hoping to hear from God in unexpected ways in the New Year?

“Sacred Seeing” with religious art can be a ladder of prayer into God’s presence. As we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany, we offer a meditation on the Epiphany image from the Church of the Transfiguration, which begins the fresco series on the clerestory walls that depict the major events in the life of Christ.

Henri Nouwen once said that it was important for him to look at art with his ‘heart’s eye’ and some images helped him to pray when he had no words of his own.

Contemplating a visual image of a well-known Bible story, like the arrival of the Magi, can bring spiritual truths into your heart in a way that goes beyond words.

Some thoughts and questions to ponder about the image below

Epiphany Fresco at the Church of the Transfiguration at the Community of Jesus

The infant Jesus is radiant, with light emanating from behind him.  The star, almost at the center of the image is the other bright element, shining ten times brighter than any other star in the sky.

What connection does the fresco make between the light of the star and the light of the child?

The Magi bow down and give their treasures to Jesus.  Humble worship is presented here as the antithesis of sin. Perhaps this explains why worship can be such work and why it can bring us such blessing.

Look at the hand gesture of the infant Jesus, who seems to be reaching out like any baby might. But, is he reaching out to touch what is being offered, or is it to touch the hand of the one giving?

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, you sent the Gift of your only Son, infinite love incarnate, descending to dwell among us.

By many and various lights, you have drawn and led me into his presence,

And as I remember each of them, I give you thanks.

Now, here before the radiant grace of your Son, I blow my own heart in humble praise.

What I have, I offer to him in adoring gratitude, And wait for the touch of his hand upon my soul.

 

A WORD FROM THE TRADITION

“He who enriches others becomes poor. He took to himself the poverty of my flesh so that I might obtain the riches of his godhead. He who is full empties himself. He emptied himself of his Godhead for a brief time so that I might share in his fullness. What is this wealth of goodness? What is this mystery that touches me? — Gregory of Nazianzus (330-389)


— From Sacred Seeing – Praying with the Frescoes in the Church of the Transfiguration

Christmas in Cameroon

Christmas in Cameroon this year included a feast for over 100, festive tree decorations, carol singing, but also one very special addition, a beautiful nativity made from banana leaves.

Sr. Hannah created a lovely creche scene and Sr. Victoria and the postulants at the convent made paper chains and paper dolls as well as swags of cypress branches and red coffee beans. The cypress Christmas tree, brought by a Muslim friend had fresh banana leaf and orange ornaments!

Food preparations were extensive and began at 4 am as over 100 people were expected at the convent for a Christmas feast, along with Sr. Jane Mankaa and children from the orphanage.

Click below to see the video of one of the postulants practicing for Christmas. The postulants are learning new carols they have never heard before and playing the piano!

From Sr. Hannah:
We got a real tree, added paper boy and girl cut-outs, paper chains, real oranges and banana leaf flowers. And that would have been OK, for nature lovers. But for children? Wait, yes, the children brought lights and ornaments so the tree became transformed and a really joyful sight for us and all the visitors. 

 

Then the three Postulants, keen to learn music, had just a few days to learn words and chords, and we all sang new (to them) carols at our Christmas Eve service. Songs we know but with much meaning, in the newness of the Birth we were celebrating. 

 

Way back in early summer we saw a felled stump, and designs for possible manger crept in. Then simple creche figures were made from banana leaves. Here in the silence we worshipped and felt close to the real Bethlehem. 

The Feast of the Holy Innocents

The Feast of the Holy Innocents, on just the fourth day after Christmas, commemorates the massacre of  baby boys whose lives were taken by Herod who was frightened by the coming of the Christ.

St. Augustine of Hippo says about this event…We celebrate the heavenly birthday of these children whom the world caused to be born unto an eternally blessed life…for they attained the grace of everlasting life before the enjoyment of the present. The death of these children is precious in the sight of God because of the beatitude they gained so quickly. These then, are justly hailed as “infant martyr flowers”; they were the Church’s first blossoms, matured by the frost of persecution during the cold winter of unbelief.”

— St. Augustine

The text for the chant hymn for the Feast of the Holy Innocents is a beautiful and thoughtful meditation on this tragic event. The author is Prudentius, a 4th century Roman Christian poet whose elegant texts were set to Gregorian chant melodies in medieval times, and can also be found in hymns and carols sung today.

Hail, flowers of the martyrs, whom, at the very threshold of the light of life, the pursuer of Christ destroyed, as a whirlwind would roses in bud.

You are the first victims of Christ, the tender flock of the sacrificers; pure ones before the altar itself, you play with palms and crosses.

Glory be to you, O Lord, who are born of a virgin, with the Father, and the Holy Spirit, for everlasting ages. Amen.

A Prayer to the Holy Innocents

Holy Innocents, you died before you were old enough to know what life means, pray for all children who die young that God may gather them into His loving arms.

Holy Innocents, you were killed because one many was filled with hatred, pray for those who hate that God may touch their hearts and fill them with love.

Holy Innocents, you experience a violent death, pray for all who are affected by violence that they may find peace and love.

Holy Innocents, your parents grieved for you with a deep and lasting sorrow, pray for all parents who have lost young children that God may wrap a warm blanket of comfort around them.

Holy Innocents, those around you certainly felt helpless to prevent your deaths, pray for all who feel helpless in their circumstances that they may cling to God for courage and hope.

Holy Innocents, you who are now in Heaven, pray for all of us that one day we may join you there to bask in God’s love forever.

Amen.

I heard the bells on Christmas Day. . .

As Christmas approaches this year, the following carol began to play in my head.  I decided to find out more about it this year.  The poem was written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in 1863, during the time that his son left to fight in the Civil War.  Included in the lyrics one can hear a Father’s worry about the well being of his far away son.  As Longfellow was a professor at Harvard and lived in Cambridge, I imagine that the bells he is hearing are from one or all of the following towers in Boston:  Old North Church had their 8 change ringing bells, Fanueil Hall had one bell, and King’s Chapel downtown also had the largest bell ever cast by the Revere foundry.  One would imagine them all to be ringing on Christmas Day, and perhaps being the inspiration for one of the more popular carols of our time.  What a wonderful legacy – the sound of bells brings joy and stirs the imagination and those of us who ring them are privileged indeed.

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said:
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Come Together

Just recently while visiting the Emmanuel sisters in Bafut, I had the opportunity to attend a “Come Together ” along with our 3 postulants. The event was a gathering of people with disabilities for a time of sharing, singing and enjoying a meal provided by the Agape Unity Program. This program, started by Sr. Judith, also bound to a wheelchair most of her life, has taken on their care as best as they are able to raise funds.

Our postulants were able to take part to help distribute food items for each one to take home, truly a good experience for them.

As it turned out, lunch was late in arriving (as in very late) and all waited patiently using the time to sing praises. I confess here I was with my faculties intact , guilty of annoyance at the late lunch and here these people were, not giving in to grumbling or complaints. They were simply grateful for those who were giving of themselves to see that they were taken care of, something rare in Cameroon.

I went away from there knowing that I must make more of an effort to be grateful, no matter what.

 

A word from Enzo Bianchi

Today’s post comes from the archives — a valuable word for this time!

Morning sunlight in the sanctuary, Church of the TransfigurationOur human freedom depends on knowing ourselves! Those who know themselves are truly free because they are able to maintain well-balanced relationships with others and with reality, and because they are able to discover reasons to hope and trust in the future.

We need to take a step back from our daily life that threatens to numb us with its repetitiveness or overwhelm us with its frantic pace…. Knowing ourselves requires attention and inner vigilance, which is the ability to concentrate and to listen to silence that, with the help of solitude, helps us rediscover what is essential. Self-knowledge also means recognizing our limitations and what is negative and incomplete in us—in other words, the aspects of ourselves we usually tend to repress so that we will not have to confront them. Our knowledge of our poverty, together with our knowledge of God, can then become an experience of God’s grace, mercy, forgiveness, and love. What we previously knew because we had been told about it now becomes a personal experience. For this to happen, we need to remember never to separate these two aspects of the spiritual itinerary: knowing ourselves and knowing God. Knowing ourselves without knowing God leads to desperation, and knowing God without knowing ourselves produces arrogance. —Enzo Bianchi, Echoes of the Word

 

Prayer in Song

by Sister Hannah

We are with the Emmanuel Sisters and just came from Vespers.

Towards the end of the service there is opportunity for extemporaneous prayers. Very quietly, the Sister in front of me started to sing, “Go down Moses, way down in Egypt land,” and slowly and prayerfully others joined in this prayer for deliverance from oppression.

We know the historical/Biblical pain and suffering of the Hebrews. And in the American southern states this was reiterated as the slaves longed for their freedom.

In today’s conflict situation in the Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon, the prayers continue. These Sisters know God is faithful and they pray earnestly, in the words of this song. The need for stability is fairly urgent and our prayers joined with theirs will surely touch the Father’s heart.

Music is Catchy!

by Sister Victoria

After a long stretch in Kuvlu, we have returned to Bafut and are spending a short time visiting again with our wonderful friends at the Emmanuel sisterhood, now our Cameroon family.

Word of our progress with the postulants in Kuvlu, both in piano lessons and psalm singing has preceded us, and now the sisters are undertaking piano lessons. They also asked if I would help them with singing their daily offices.

So, classes are underway! What a joy it is to witness their eagerness and delight in learning music for the first time, and a pleasure for me to do what I can to help them.

To be light

Another gem today from the archives.

Lord Christ,
Help us to have the courage and humility to name our burdens
and lay them down
so that we are light to walk across the water
to where you beckon us. . . .
The memory of hurts and insults,
driving us to lash out,
to strike back
We name it
and we lay it down. . . .

Our antagonism against those
whose actions, differences, presence,
threaten our comfort or security
We name it
and we lay it down. . . .

We do not need these burdens,
but we have grown used to carrying them,
have forgotten what it is like to be light.
Beckon us to lightness of being,
for you show us it is not unbearable.
Only so we can close the distance.
Only so we can walk upon the water.
Blessed are you, Lord Christ, who makes heavy burdens light.

Kathy Galloway, Iona Community

walkonwater

A Reading from a Homily of John Chrysostom

We rediscovered this treasure from last year — especially appropriate in the middle of this season of hurricanes, when so many are suffering, and are now preparing for the next storm. We continue to pray for God’s protection for all of those in the path of the storm.

The waters have risen and severe storms are upon us, but we do not fear drowning, for we stand firmly upon a rock. Let the sea rage, it cannot break the rock. Let the waves rise, they cannot sink the boat of Jesus. What are we to fear? Death? Life to me means Christ, and death is gain. Exile? The earth and its fullness belong to the Lord. The confiscation of our goods? We brought nothing into this world, and we shall surely take nothing from it. I have only contempt for the world’s threats; I find its blessings laughable. I have no fear of poverty, no desire for wealth. I am not afraid of death nor do I long to live, except for your good.

I have his promise; I am surely not going to rely on my own strength! I have what he has written; that is my staff, my security, my peaceful harbor.

The Feast of John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople