The Paraclete

Before Jesus left his disciples, he told them he would not leave them comfortless, but would send a Comforter, the Holy Spirit (John 14:18, 26). The Greek word that’s translated “Comforter” in the King James Version  is also translated as Counselor,  Helper, Companion, Friend, Advocate, Helper in Court. The Amplified Bible adds Intercessor, Strengthener, Standby.  The word is “Paraclete” and means literally “one who comes alongside to help.” Amazingly, Jesus said to his disciples that it was better for their sakes that he himself leave them, so he could send the Holy Spirit.

So here’s my confession.  This verse is telling me I have a constant companion who is looking out for me, who “has my back” in all situations.  With such a great Comforter and Advocate (and I am reminded of this every year in the Scriptures before Pentecost), you would think that the Paraclete would be the first place I turn when I’m in distress.  I don’t. I try to figure everything out on my own. If that doesn’t work, I go to friends.   I might ask them to pray for me, but then try to Google the answer. All the while, the Source of Comfort is right in front of me, waiting for me to ask.   I’m a slow learner, but this year, Jesus, help me to learn!

Stillness of Mind

“We must pray to maintain stillness of mind even in the midst of struggle.”

This sentence from a reading in Lauds this week caught my attention, sounding like contemporary advice. I had never heard of the author, Diadochus of Photiki, who, I discovered, was a bishop in the 5th century in what is now the northwestern section of Greece.

The 5th century was a time of great instability throughout Europe.  The Roman Empire, a powerful military force for centuries, was falling apart, leaving cities vulnerable to marauding invaders. Diadochus himself was most likely captured by Vandals when he was in his 60’s and taken to Northern Africa, never to return to Greece again.  The Vandals were a Germanic tribe with a reputation for sacking and looting—the origin of the term vandalism.  Diadochus’s “stillness of mind” was no doubt tested, and I suspect he was in constant prayer.  My struggles seem very minor compared to what Diadochus of Photiki faced, but I appreciate his wisdom—stillness of mind is important in all situations, and prayer is the way to receive it.

A “New Commandment” – A Meditation for Holy Saturday

I am surprised by the same thing each year as we approach Easter: Jesus’s statement that “by this all men will know you are my disciples.” If I filled in the blank of what “thisis, I would say it must be serving others—feeding the poor, visiting the sick, remembering the prisoners. Or “this” must be an attitude toward life and death, being willing to jump in the flames (of whatever kind) knowing that God will take care of you. Or surely “this” is loving your enemies. These are the marks of a disciple. But that’s not what Jesus said. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). That’s a revolutionary statement – it’s not the doing, it’s the being. And you will be known as a disciple by how you love those who are closest to you. Jesus is interested in changing hearts, so that everything we do flows from love.

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal” (Corinthians 13:1).

Feast of Saint Hilda, Abbess of Whitby

by Sister Spero

One of my favorite stories is told by the Venerable Bede about Hilda (Abbess of Whitby from 657–680) and the servant Caedmon, who herded the monastery’s cows. Caedmon kept to himself, and usually left a room when “the harp was passed” for singing and reciting poetry. One night he fell asleep among the animals and dreamt that a man told him to get up and sing a poem about “the beginning of created things.” He told Abbess Hilda, who was as amazed as Caedmon was himself with the poem. The Abbess brought him into the monastery, where he continued to sing and write poetry for the rest of his life. His poem is the oldest in the English language, and he is now considered the “Father of English poetry.”

I think of Hilda as a very wise woman, Abbess of several monasteries of men and women, who nurtured the gifts of all that were under her care.

The Feast of All Saints

by Sister Spero

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints. (Psalm 116:15)

All Saints Day is a celebration of the communion of saints—all those who have died in Christ, known and unknown. Like the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, this feast honors everyone who has served.

The commemoration of saints began with the early Christian martyrs.  Wanting to remember their slain brothers and sisters, churches began to celebrate a yearly remembrance of a martyr’s death. As Roman persecutions continued, and the numbers of martyrs increased, it became impossible to grant a feast day for each of them. So, as early as the fourth century, the church celebrated one day for all the martyrs, to ensure that all were properly honored. In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III consecrated a chapel “to all the martyrs” in Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome on November 1st.  Since that day, November 1st has been the day that the western church celebrates “All Saints Day”—a celebratory and inclusive memorial, in thanksgiving for all the Christians who have gone before us.

 

John, the Golden-Mouthed

“If you cannot find Christ in the beggar at the church door, you will not find him in the chalice.”

“Not to share our own wealth with the poor is theft from the poor and deprivation of their means of life; we do not possess our own wealth, but theirs.”

“We must not mind insulting men, if by respecting them, we offend God.”

The saint we know as John Chrysostom, was not called Chrysostom (which means “golden-mouthed) until after his death.  It was his golden-mouthed preaching and writing that made him a great teacher of the early church, but also caused him great personal grief. His feast day is celebrated on September 13.

As a result of his reputation as an orator, John was kidnapped from his church in Antioch in 398 and made the Archbishop of Constantinople, the center of the Roman Empire at the time.  He accepted the position as the will of God, but denounced many important leaders (including clergy) in the city for their extreme wealth and corruption. His denouncements of Roman citizens by name led to his banishment more than once, the last resulting in his sickness and death in 407.

To put John Chrysostom’s life in perspective:  Emperor Constantine issued his edict decriminalizing Christianity (the Edict of Milan) in 313.  John was born in 349, just 36 years later. It was not until 380, when he was 31, that Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire.  He became a deacon in Antioch the following year.

Vine and Branches

by Sister Spero

The vines we grow to make Communion wine are teaching me more about Jesus. He said to his disciples that he is the vine, and his followers are the branches. I’ve always understood this as a statement of how powerful God is, and how inconsequential we are, unless we connect to the vine. Walking by the grape vines, I’m beginning to see this differently.

The only time I notice either the vine or the branches is during the winter, when they look like dead sticks. As the green leaves appear, they hide everything else. And when the clusters of grapes are out, they are all I notice. If Jesus is the vine, and we are the branches, where are they? Hidden. The fruit is what we admire. Calling himself the vine is a statement of Jesus’s great humility. Jesus said, “If you remain in me and I in you, you [not “we”] will bear much fruit.” (John 15:5) The Creator does not take credit for the fruit, but gives the credit to the branches. By nature, I want to be the cluster of grapes. Lord, help me to be more like the vine that supports and sustains, and the branches—abiding in God’s humility, as well as his strength.

 

Composting

by Sister Spero

I’m learning about composting, and it’s reminding me about how God works with us to build spiritual maturity. The composter takes kitchen scraps, discarded hair, shredded newspaper, lawn clippings, (and more!),  and lets them sit together, sometimes passively (which takes longer), and sometimes aggressively—using plenty of rotation and heat—to break down the discards (which most of us send to the dump) into soil-enriching organic matter that will make a garden thrive.

God does the same thing. He chooses “the lowly and despised things of this world” (1 Corinthians 1:28).  He takes our weaknesses, our failures, the parts we want to hide, and transforms them into something precious. Sometimes, as in composting, it’s the “cold method”—our lives are proceeding smoothly with little interference. At other times (speeding up the process), heat and turbulence may make us feel like we’re living in the middle of a revolving compost bin. But it’s okay. Either way, we are being transformed into the likeness of Jesus, who is love, and, eventually, all around us will thrive.

Time

By Sister Spero

Over the years, I’ve heard a number of people say that when they visit the site of an old monastery that is no longer active (it may have become a ruin, or even a museum), they still sense the presence of God. This is true of old church sites as well. Today, I read a verse from the Psalms that confirms this idea as something more than active imagination. The second half of Psalm 93:5 says, “Holiness adorns your house for endless days.”

My prayers may feel weak and ineffective, but, according to this scripture, prayer (“holiness”) in God’s house has the power to transcend time. Our collective prayers—the collective prayers of any church or community—will adorn His house “for endless days.” This is a powerful encouragement for me to persevere in prayer, whether or not I ever see its result. Who knows if, in a future generation, someone at the site of our prayers could experience God’s love because of what we pray and how we worship today.  

Apse of the Church of the Transfiguration, Community of Jesus

Seeing

by Sister Spero

I recently had eye surgery to correct my vision, and the change is remarkable. Colors are brighter, lines are sharper—I see intricate patterns in tree bark I didn’t notice before. At the same time, I am aware of more cobwebs and dirt in corners that need my attention. This has started me thinking about vision—both physical and spiritual. I am sometimes envious of those who have spiritual vision, awed by their capacity to see truth and beauty. I realize now that this gift is as much a capacity to see ugliness, and comes with the responsibility to do something about it, so I should be praying for them, not envying them. I also judge others for not “seeing” something I think is obvious. Now that my physical vision is clearer, I realize how much I haven’t been able to see, without being aware of it. So next time I’m tempted to judge, I’m hoping to remember we all have different eyes, and to choose compassion instead.

Droplets