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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
by Sister Spero
The “Epiphany” we celebrate is that God revealed himself through a star. (Epiphany is from the Greek word for “reveal.”) God could have chosen any way at any time, but he chose a massive ball of gas millions of light years away to show the world that something strange and wonderful was happening. Scientists today speculate that the bright star could have been a supernova, or a conjunction—meaning that 2 or 3 stars crossed paths. Whatever caused the great light, it was so unusual that wise men (probably astronomers) traveled to find the cause. Their epiphany became the revelation of God himself.
Lord Jesus, help us all to find our own epiphanies, revelations of you, today.
By Sister Spero
Some of the sisters in my Convent are members of a choir. I’ve noticed that they hear things that I don’t—the singing of a bird in the distance, the vibrations of a jackhammer, someone clearing his throat. It’s not that I am hard of hearing; it’s that my ear is not trained to listen in the same way. One choir member told me, “We have to listen acutely to the other singers so we can blend.” Listening is part of the spiritual life, too. It takes practice to listen interiorly for God’s direction. This explains to me why some people seem to hear so clearly. They have trained their inner ear through habitual prayer. I find this encouraging. No one (including me) can really say, “I can’t hear God,” and stop there. But we can say, “I haven’t listened hard enough, and I’m going to keep listening until my ear is trained.”
by Sr. Spero
“…keep knocking at the innermost place of the heavens…”
I was stuck by this phrase from the hymn for Sunday Vespers (attributed to Gregory the Great, 7th century). It’s so simple. It reminds me of Jesus’s words, “Knock, and it shall be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7).
Knocking is not usually difficult. It doesn’t take great effort—like running, or leaping or holding back floods. Whether blind, deaf, or lame (physically or spiritually), most of us can still knock. Gregory says, “keep knocking.” Even if you don’t feel like it, keep knocking.
The next phrase of his hymn tells us the reward: “then you shall receive the prize of life.” I find this very encouraging. With a little effort on my part, knocking—even tentatively—God will do the rest. He opens the door.