An Advent Poem

too soon the sun’s rays slide
over earth’s edge
leaving me orphaned,
slumped in darkness
beside my window.

Deep into December, darkness drags me
into the abyss,
like Jonah in the belly of the whale, I wrap my arms
around myself, and shiver. My memory scans a litany
of shortcomings.
Into this bleakness came light
birthed in a stable .
So lowly he came to an unsuspecting world.
That one infant, the cure for aloneness;
the joy of wounded hearts.

Great Advent | The “O Antiphons”

Tomorrow we begin Great Advent, the final week of Advent. The centerpiece of Great Advent is the “O Antiphons”, special Magnificat antiphons sung only at this time. 

The history of the “Great” or “O Antiphons” stretch back to as early as the 6th century. By the 8th century they are known in Rome, and are being sung in other regions as well.  Their use in the closing week of Advent is both solemn and celebratory. In cathedrals and monasteries their intonation was assigned to the bishop, dean and clergy or to the abbot, prior and other monastic officers—after which some kind of repast was hosted by the intoning official. The Community has carried on this annual festive tradition. The intonation of the antiphons can be assigned to any of the members, who understand that a part of the responsibility includes hosting a small party afterwards which could include cookies, cakes, sweets or finger foods and possibly a shot of sherry, spiked cider or egg nog!

In centuries past, to lend further solemnity to the occasion, the largest bell in the tower was tolled as the antiphon and Magnificat were sung. For miles around, there would be no question as to what was taking place during Vespers of “Great Advent.”


Advent Shadows and Light

During this time of Advent, we’ve been having an opportunity to have personal conversations with the Lord about Light.

There is so much to learn about light and darkness, places they come up in the Bible, and places they are present in our lives.

Today, the words came to me, “without a shadow of a doubt”, and I asked the Lord what He had to show me. He taught me that when I allow my doubts to linger in the shadows, they grow and become fears. If I will expose those doubts to the light, the shadows will dissipate, and I will be able to trust.

Rejoice! (in peace….)

by Cantor

Let me start by saying that when I see the word “rejoice,” or the Latin “Gaudete,” I do not expect the opening of this Introit chant that opens the third week of Advent. My natural inclination to expect something more instantly declamatory and “trumpeting” such as the opening of last week’s introit, “Populus Sion.” This is one of the reasons I love the chant—it shines with so many different colors of the scriptures.

Upon further study of the text, an attitude of quiet and peace is really quite perfect because this text is telling us to rejoice in the Lord, letting our modesty be seen before all men. Indeed, it carries on even further to tell us to worry for nothing—to make all of our petitions to the Lord. Truly, one can almost see the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the heart of this chant.

In fact, I do not  believe a more perfect example of chant reflecting the text exists in the repertoire. Much of the chant is in the lower to middle range of the mode, with multiple indications in the ancient Einsedeln notation for lingerings over the entire first phrase. Most amazing to me is where this chant actually does rise to the top of the range—“Nihil soliciti sitis”—“Be anxious for nothing!” Finally, the chant returns gently to the lower part of the mode, highlighting the text “…but in all things, bring your petitions before God.”  What better message leading to the final week of Advent.

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!”

Blind Noel

Our region saw the first snowflakes of the year this weekend. Small heavy wet flakes as it was just cold enough in the sky above to see snow crystallize.  The snow fall spins my mind to a short Christmas poem by R.S. Thomas that I’d read earlier in the week.  The poem is titled, Blind Noel.

Christmas; the themes are exhausted.

Yet there is always room
on the heart for another
snowflake to reveal a pattern.
Love knocks with such frosted fingers.

I look out. In the shadow

of so vast a God I shiver, unable
to detect the child for the whiteness.

Isn’t it both distressing and hopeful that love has to knock with such frosted fingers?

When this knocking comes, and it always comes, will I be able to hear it? Will I have the courage to open its door, the courage to extend, even slightly, into the unknown vastness of God?

I long for love but am scared to open the door to those frosted fingers. Perhaps they are my own, longing to be let into my heart. Longing to have God reveal to me who I am and who he has created me to be; to find and have revealed to me what of Himself God has planted in me. And I thank God for His Blind Noel that will undoubtedly come.


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.


The Feast of Saint Nicholas

by Sister Spero

Who was St. Nicholas, whose feast is celebrated on December 6?

Very little is known about St. Nicholas, the inspiration for Sinterklaas, Santa Claus, Kris Kringle, and “jolly ole St. Nick.” The real St. Nicholas was a bishop in Myra (now in modern Turkey) in the 300’s during the Roman persecutions of Christians. He was imprisoned, and then released when the Emperor Constantine embraced the Christian faith. He was present at the Councils of Nicea, which affirmed Christian doctrine and gave us the Nicene Creed. Early images and icons of St. Nicholas look ascetic and severe, nothing like “jolly ole St. Nick.”

So where did the legend begin? Bishop Nicholas was thought to have been a wealthy young man who gave his money away secretly. A well-known story in the Middle Ages was about three sisters (destitute and without a dowry, so they could not be married), who were about to be sold as slaves. One of them put her stocking out at night, and in the morning found it filled with gold, enough for a dowry. The same thing happened to another sister the second night. The third night, the girls’ father stayed up to discover the secret visitor and found it was Nicholas. All three girls were saved.

St. Nicholas is one of the most popular saints in the world. It is ironic that a secret act of mercy would be the inspiration for so much gift-giving today, and make the anonymous giver a household name nearly 1,700 years later.

Populus Sion

by a Cantor

As we enter Advent, it seems as though the scriptures are calling us to wake up, look up and prepare! No doubt, the lessons are pointing to the coming of Christ, growing with intensity in each passing week. One only need take the briefest of looks at the Introit for Week 2 of Advent to instantly see the chant reflect this same message!

The opening melody quickly leaps up a fourth and then another step underscoring this “theme of announcement” that the Lord is coming to save His people. However, what I find most moving and exciting is that it keeps right on rising as the text speaks of “hearing the Lord’s glorious voice!” Indeed, the chant sails up in the “stratosphere” for a relatively long time, before coming to rest on the phrase “in the joy of your hearts.”

Sometimes, when looking through these gems in the chant repertoire, I am amazed at the directness and simplicity of the chant and its ability to highlight a central message of the given scripture. But then, I remembered Dom Cardine’s famous statement: “The tones of the chant are drawn directly from the tones of the words.” I don’t believe there is better example than this message which we will hear next Sunday!


People of Sion, behold the Lord shall come to save the nations: and the Lord shall make the glory of His voice to be heard, in the joy of your heart.

First frost

Today was the first real hard frost, the kind where the frost coats everything thick enough to last past the first rays of light. In fact, it was still sparkling when I loaded the kids up for carpool to elementary school. For them, it was magical. They ran around, shuffling their feet through the icy grass, shrieking about Jack Frost until I had to yell at them to get in the car.

It reminded me how quick kids are to believe in the magical and miraculous. They don’t just believe it, they look for it. There is so much in the world they don’t understand yet, and they leap to explain it through fairies, Santa, Jack Frost and general miraculous wonder.

Then they get older, and learn that Old Saint Nick and his reindeer aren’t real and frost is just frozen condensation. . . and they (or, we) stop looking. Instead of finding the magical and miraculous, we look for explanations—and we think we do a pretty good job.

But there are still miracles all around us. The miracle of forgiveness, of grace, of the Incarnation, and the tiny gifts God gives us that don’t mean anything to anyone but us. This Advent, I’m going to try to remember to look for those, and believe.