Bon appetit

by Sister Hannah

Most meals in our experience in Cameroon are a large portion of starch with a sauce or gravy. These are traditional inherited combinations. Also, we are wished ‘bon appetit’ at the beginning of meals, another tradition.

The other day we were out of vegetables. So the postulants mentioned picking pumpkin leaves from the garden. Should we try them? Why not?

From their bag full of dewy tender leaves I took out four for the two of us. This might work as a green sauce on spaghetti.

Cooked in a little oil and water with onion, garlic and salt it didn’t look like a sauce at all! But we stirred it into the cooked spaghetti and felt like pioneers in the gourmet field — not a bad combination. God’s resources continue to bless us. We marvel at His care for us time after time.

Ave maris stella

by Sister Fidelis

 

Tuesday we celebrate the feast of the Dormition or Assumption of Mary. This is a feast rich with beautiful Marian antiphons, hymns, and propers – many well-known pieces which I always enjoy chanting.

One of my favorites is the hymn for Lauds, Ave maris stella, Hail star of the ocean. This 8th century, mode I hymn is essentially a simple piece – mainly syllabic composition with just a couple small bursts of melismatic ornamentation. It has a lilting quality and to my ear sounds like the song of a girl, young, pure, not without difficulties but still full of hope and joy.   

The poem has a lovely text:
Hail, star of the ocean, kind mother of God,
And also ever-virgin, happy gate of heaven.
Receiving that “Hail” from the mouth of Gabriel,
Establish us in peace, reversing the name of Eve.

Loosen the chains of things; offer light to the blind;
Drive away our evils; plead for all good.
Show yourself to be a mother; may he take up the prayer sent through you,
He who, born for us, allowed himself to be yours.

One and only Virgin, among all others meek,
Released from our faults, make us gentle and chaste.
Grant a pure life; prepare a safe road,
That, seeing Jesus, we may forever rejoice together.

Praise be to God the Father, glory to Christ the most high,
Honor to the Holy Spirit, alike to all three. Amen.

 

 

Whitechapel

by Faithful Friar

We will always be grateful for the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, who cast our ten change-ringing bells at the Church of the Transfiguration! We count ourselves blessed to have  had our bells so excellently fabricated before the foundry closed, earlier this year. We would like to pay our tribute to Whitechapel Bell Foundry and all those who worked with us from there by sharing a little about the foundry.

Whitechapel was the oldest continually-operating business in the United Kingdom, at least to 1570, but research indicates more likely they were established around 1420 (more than a century before Shakespeare was born)!

Their history spans 27 English monarchs and many Royal visitors including the Queen in 2009 and Prince Charles in 2012.

Bells were needed in communicating basic information to a largely illiterate population to warn of invading armies.

We are grateful for their purpose now in being part of worship!

Some of the bells cast by Whitechapel have included:

Big Ben — the largest cast at Whitechapel, weighing 13 and 1/2 tons, 7’ tall, 9’ wide

The Original Liberty Bell

The changeringing bells at Christ Church in Philadelphia in 1754

The changeringing bells in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1774

Replacements of many bells lost or damaged by fires in bombing raids across London after the war

The “Bell of Hope” — A Tribute Bell following 9/11, as a gift from the people of London to the City of NY. It is rung at 8:46 am each year on the anniversary of the tragedy to commemorate the first attack. It was first hung at Trinity Church and is now at St. Paul’s.

The last bell cast on 3/22/17 was given to the Museum of London

Thank you Whitechapel Bell Foundry!

Enjoy these photos of our bells being cast at Whitechapel!

 

Transfiguration Sunday

by Sister Fidelis

The Alleluia for the Feast of Transfiguration dates back to the XIth century, the first written record coming from Einsiedeln, Switzerland. The text of this Alleluia is so full of imagery, and helps us catch a glimpse of what must have been an incredible moment of awe and mystery: “For she [wisdom] is the brightness of eternal light, and the unspotted mirror of God’s majesty, and the image of his goodness.” Wisdom 7:26

The music in this piece also paints a picture, full of melismas and sweeping phrases. The range is extremely full – an octave plus a fourth – and the musical lines follow a pattern: moving steadily upwards, then suddenly peaking and flowing quickly downwards. The outline of the melody traces a mountainous shape. In the middle of the piece we see one spot where the notes hover in the upper range highlighting the words unspotted mirror, or perfect mirror.

The sense of energy and exuberance in this piece is tangible and makes me think for a moment about how the disciples must have felt witnessing the Transfiguration of Jesus that day. The scriptures really just tell us about their shock and fear and then Jesus’ reassurance to them. We can only imagine how their emotions played out in the days following, but the feeling I experience with this piece seems to have gone beyond their terror to a sense of awe and excitement of the reality of Christ.

The Divine Office — Vespers

by Sister Fidelis

The service of Vespers, along with Lauds is one of the oldest of the Daily Offices, and can be traced back to Jewish tradition. The word comes from the Greek hespera or Latin vesper, meaning “evening.”

Two unique elements of this service are the chanting of the Magnificat, from Luke, and also a Reading of scripture (this was introduced with Vatican II). In addition we sing a hymn, a responsory, and three or four Psalms with their corresponding antiphons. It seems in many ways that we recount the goodness and graciousness of God in this service. Traditionally we chant the higher numbered Psalms, various ones from 110–144. This includes some that are probably very familiar to most of us: 121, 127, 130,  144, and others. Not all, but many of them recount God’s goodness to us over history.

Maybe it’s the time of day, the setting of the sun, or the fact that much of the workday is through, I don’t know, but to me there is a peaceful quality about Vespers. One element particularly highlights this theme – the responsory– a short piece sung first by the Cantor and repeated by the rest of the choir. There is a different text for each day – here are a few, each with an uplifting message:

Monday
The Lord shepherds me and I will lack nothing,
He has set me in green pastures,
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

Wednesday
Keep us O Lord, as the apple of your eye,
Under the shadow of your wings protect us
Glory be….

Thursday
Let my prayer be directed to you, O Lord,
As incense in your sight,
Glory be…

Courage Brothers!

by Sister Victoria

Two weeks of intense music lessons for the postulants in Kuvlu, Cameroon has proven both fun and fruitful. They have practiced hard and last Sunday we sang “Courage Brothers” in Church, accompanied by one of the girls. Just a few weeks ago some of them had never before set eyes on a piano, let alone imagined playing one. They were thrilled! These girls are very bright and the joy they feel learning something so unusual in Cameroon is giving them the impetus to learn!

Kuvlu is actually known to be a place steeped in dark arts and religious practices and it seems evident to us that God has specifically chosen this place for the new Convent to flourish and bring light to this village. Already we sense that God is at work through music and especially in the chanting of the Psalms.

The Divine Office — Lauds

by Sister Fidelis

Here at the Community of Jesus we chant the Divine Office, which for us includes: Lauds, Midday, Vespers, and Compline. Anyone who has experienced the chanting of these Hours will know that each service has its own character, which together create a rhythm to the flow of the day.

We start with the morning service of Lauds, from Latin laudare, to praise. As Dr. Mary Berry wrote: “Lauds was the hour that sanctified the moment of sunrise.” One of the traditions of this service is the recitation of the “Praise Psalms” (148, 149, 150) as the last Psalms of each morning. Another element particular to this service is the Benedictus, the “Canticle of Zechariah” from the Gospel of Luke, chanted while standing as is customary for a text from the Gospels. The “Invitatory Psalm” is also a unique element, dating back to the time of Benedict. This is the first Psalm of the service, traditionally set apart as the time during which any monk who may have overslept could still run in, prostrate himself in penance and take his place in the choir!

Looking back in history Lauds is one of the most ancient Offices, borrowing from the Jewish tradition of praying three times a day. In our Christian history we trace our current form of worship back to Apostolic times. Early writers such as St. Cyprian, John Cassian, Etheria, St. John Chrystostum all mention it in their writings, and of course St. Benedict gives a lot of detail about this service in his Rule.

Starting my day with this service can be an exercise in will-power to focus on the words before me and not to let my mind wander to my own plans or worries. Or it can be the perfect launching platform for the day if I let myself be affected by the words I am saying–inspiring Psalms and the beautiful poetry of hymns dating back to early centuries. I can find myself uplifted and changed as I repeat the praises that thousands of Christians have recited each morning for thousands of years…

Text of hymn from Sunday Lauds
Behold, already the shadow of night is diminishing, the dawn of light is gleaming red:
Let us all keep on with every effort beseeching the Almighty.

May our compassionate God drive away all our anguish, bestow health,
And give us, by the lovingkindness of the Father, the kingdom of the heavens.

Grant us this, O blessed Godhead of the Father, and of the son, and also of the Holy Spirit,
Whose glory resounds in all the world. Amen.

From the Archives

by Melodius Monk

“I would like to beg you….as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday, far into the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

I read this letter by Rainer Maria Rilke and it reminded me of one of the founders of our Community, Mother Cay Anderson. I was only 6 when Mother Cay died, so what I know of her is mostly through other people’s stories.

Sometimes I’m discouraged in my walk as a young Christian, feeling like I still wrestle with many of the same questions, doubts, and unbelief that I had when I first became a Christian. When I feel this way, a Brother likes to remind me of a saying that he had been taught by Mother Cay. She would encourage him by saying “it takes a lifetime to come into Christ.”

I find the combination of these two ideas comforting. Rilke’s notion of living your heart’s questions now, and Mother Cay’s encouragement to not be too impatient with yourself.

Each of our lifetimes is vastly unique, but I dare say that each phase of our lives is equally necessary, the good times as well as the difficult times. Hopefully in the end, each question we wrestle with will come together to make the whole person we are becoming.

Birthday cake in Cameroon

by Sister Hannah

Can you make a cake? Sister Jane asked, and I said we could try. I had made bread in a make-shift double boiler here so the same might work for a cake. This was to celebrate Ben’s 13th birthday. Ben and God’s Plan are two boys from the orphanage who have been helping cook and do chores here at the convent for a couple of months.

We gathered ingredients (no recipe) buttered the pot and launched in. No mixing bowl, no beater — a fork works — and no measuring cups or spoons, but a lot of trust in the Lord.

All dry ingredients stirred together.  Now a lesson on separating eggs, three whites to whip and fold in last, so Bee started beating with a fork. We added  oil, eggs, water, orange juice and grated rind and mixed it all. The whites soon formed beautiful peaks and got folded in.

The batter looked great and the girls said it tasted good. We took it to the outside kitchen and lowered the cake into the larger pot of boiling water over an open wood fire. Sometime later I tested for doneness, on the concrete floor — done!

Eager to celebrate, we didn’t wait til the cake was cool. We quickly adorned it with a little marmalade and lots of toasted coconut. Yum! We sang, clapped and prayed for this special young man. Ben was the first baby to come to the orphanage and has grown up with Sister Jane as Mama Jane.

Words from the masters

by Sister Fidelis

A group of Cantors at our community have been researching the history and roots of Gregorian Chant: a broad subject full of variety and many interesting angles. In reviewing this project I am reminded about the real purpose behind the centuries-old tradition and what has kept it alive and pertinent even today. I think we all know but sometimes forget the simple answer: to proclaim the Word.

It is easy to get caught up in minutia, rhetoric, and opinions and turn the subject of this form of worship into some sort of heady, scientific study. There is much to delve into in the learning of Gregorian chant, but in doing so let’s not forget its Life and simple purpose! This is really why it captures our hearts and has endured the test of time.

To share a few quotes from some of the Masters…

Chant is a question of bringing forth the music which the words already contain.
—Dom Jacques Hourlier (1910-1984, Solesmes monk)

The predominance of vocal music as a tool grew out of the attitude of using music to convey ideas. The vocal song of the Temple drew from folksongs of the day. People would learn the melodies and text and bring them back to their homes (thus spreading the word).
—A.Z. Idelsohn (1882-1938, Jewish musicologist and composer)

Gregorian chant presents itself as an art which continually undergoes change because it is alive.
Dom Eugene Cardine (1905-1988, Solesmes monk & Gregorian chant specialist)

Chant is like a garden….you visit it dozens of times, but always see something new and fresh!
—Dr. Mary Berry  (1917-2008, Augustinian canoness regular, choral conductor & musicologist)