A Practical Beauty

Why do birds sing? And why do they have so many brilliant colors and subtle markings? Take the warblers, for example. Page after page of different kinds in the bird guide; pine warbler, yellow warbler, blackburnian, chestnut-sided, black and white…. Just looking at a single page, I can barely distinguish between them. I am confident that when God created the tiny warblers, He could have given them the ability to find each other, without those bright colors and all that singing every morning. He could have created a generic warbler that would meet up with another generic warbler and raise young.

But God is not just practical. The little warblers do more than live and get their parenting done. When we just amble through the little path in the woods, our minds preoccupied with all the things we need to get done, people to contact, bills to pay, and errands to complete. Then, unexpectedly, He confronts us with the tiny warblers. We are startled by their individual melodies and their pallet of color. We think we are such hot stuff much of the time. If nothing else, we move about in a self-centered way; perhaps even thinking we own some kind of special place at the top of the created order; as if it was something we did, rather than a place we were given.

Let’s pause to reflect on a few facts: Hummingbirds – the tiniest of birds – fly all the way to Central America. Monarch butterflies migrate from Western Massachusetts to a forest of trees near Mexico City. Herring, swimming out deep in the ocean, find their way back to the same stream and pond where they were born. Wood frogs survive the cold winter by slowing their heartbeat. Their blood becomes like antifreeze, so they can almost freeze without dying. Robins have a rear toe with a tendon that locks, so they can sleep on a branch without falling off. Or consider how a frog egg becomes a tadpole breathing underwater, and eventually becomes an adult frog with four legs, that breathes air. Then again, in winter, frogs bury themselves in mud at the bottom of the pond and take in oxygen through their skin. The list is endless. The scroll rolls out, on and on, revealing the intricacy in each creature. And once again, I ask why? Perhaps because God is generous. He enjoys detail and beauty. Let us open our eyes like children, and enjoy a sense of wonder again.

St. Bede the Venerable

This past Monday, May 25th was both Memorial Day this year as well as was the Feast Day of Saint Bede the Venerable. Bede was an outstanding scholar and a man of deep faith. During the Dark Ages of Britain and Europe, he quietly shone as a bright light, as did the many monasteries that spread Christianity and learning. Bede, although a monk, was a man of great learning, a theologian, and a computus, who calculated calendar dates, in particular, that of Easter, whose date was affected by the changing date of the new moon. He also helped establish the practice of dating events from the birth of Christ, using the term, A.D. Anno Domini, in the year of our Lord. This system was observed for centuries in Europe and beyond.

Born in Northern Britain about 673, Bede was only seven when taken to the monastery, a practice of some noble families in that period. His name in Anglo-Saxon, formed on the root of bēodan “to bid, to command,” is significant because it relates to the word, obedience. As a Benedictine monk, at the twin monastery of Wearmouth-Jarrow, Bede certainly learned obedience assisting in menial tasks, so he was naturally able to bid and command others effectively.

A large part of his life included a regular schedule of prayer and singing of psalms, observance of the monastic discipline, and study of the Scriptures. Ordained as a deacon at the early age of nineteen, and as a priest at thirty, he faithfully embraced his calling. Occasionally, he traveled to other abbeys and monasteries across the British Isles. One of these was the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, a tidal island off the northeast coast of England. Established in the 6th century, it was an important center of Celtic Christianity under Saints Aidan and Cuthbert and was a place of inspiration to him.

A skilled linguist who translated the early Church Fathers’ Latin and Greek writings, making them accessible to others, Saint Bede was also an excellent teacher. One of his students was Alcuin, who also became well-known. One of the most learned man of his time in England and Europe, Bede wrote over sixty books. The best known is The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, a fascinating historical account of those who committed themselves wholeheartedly to live a monastic life, as did Venerable Bede, or to spread Christianity among the Anglo-Saxons.

St. Bede Feast Day at the Community of Jesus

A Gift of Listening for the Feast of the Ascension

Yesterday we posted a recording of the “Serene Alleluias” from The Ascension by Olivier Messiaen on the “Gift of Listening” playlist on our YouTube channel.

Paired with beautiful imagery from the Church of the Transfiguration, this piece is a gentle aural rhapsody, depicting a soul longing for return to Heaven. Listen as you read the text which inspired this piece.
Messiaen’s L’Ascension (1932-33), a suite of four meditations on Christ’s return to Heaven, was originally composed for orchestra. Messiaen re-envisioned it for organ the following year.  This recording is the second movement of the suite, and is a true transcription of the orchestral version, calling for the same instrumental voices – flutes, strings, and woodwinds.  Because the instrument in the Church of the Transfiguration is a type of organ known as an “orchestral organ”, it contains all of the sumptuous sounds called for in the score.  This movement was inspired by and is a picture of this text: Serene Alleluias of a Soul Longing for Heaven “We beseech Thee, Almighty God, that we may in mind dwell in Heaven.”(Text from Mass for Ascension Day) Messiaen’s wife once said that his composing was never more beautiful or moving than when he was “before the Eucharist.” How true that is of this movement as we hear Messiaen call upon the sweetest and warmest sounds of the organ to make his vision audible, even employing nature itself with bird calls!

Ascension of Our Lord – May 21

Ascension Day commemorates Jesus’ bodily ascension into heaven. It is celebrated traditionally across the Christian world on the fortieth day after Easter, Holy Thursday, but often as well on the following Sunday. The ascension of Jesus breaches the veil between heaven and earth. This beautiful mystery transcends the finite mind of humankind.

Jesus surprised His disciples and followers by appearing to them in bodily form ten different times following His resurrection from the tomb. He understood how difficult it was for the disciples to comprehend the reality of His resurrection. So He came to them in ways they could understand, preparing a breakfast of fish for them, interpreting scriptures as He so often had before.

The disciples wanted their friend and rabbi to remain with them forever. However, Jesus explained that He must return to heaven so that He could send the Holy Spirit, who would remain with them throughout their earthly pilgrimage. Jesus’ ascension was preparing them for a new experience. The Holy Spirit, as promised, would connect the disciples with the heavenly Jesus in a new way, breaching the veil between heaven and earth. And, all who believe and follow Jesus share a connection through the Holy Spirit.

Our brothers and sisters in Christ who knew Him first, we’re grateful for your struggle to understand the unfathomable. Through your obedience, we too wait for the spirit who descends on Pentecost. Ascension Day breaches and foreshadows our own crossing of the veil between heaven and earth, whether in death or daily life. Ascension in all its mystery and awe is a great comfort and a harbinger of an unimaginable creative connection between heaven and earth.

Ascension Fresco at the Church of the Transfiguration, Community of Jesus on Cape Cod. Painted by Silvestro Pistolesi from Florence, Italy

Ascension Fresco painted by Silvestro Pistolesi – Church of the Transfiguration

Love Conquers Fear

During this time of sheltering in place, I am grateful to be learning new things about how to handle my fear.  I’ve discovered two places in the Bible that help teach me.

The first is the story of Jesus calming the storm in Matthew, Chapter 8. I realize that He has given me authority over those storms that arise in me, whether they manifest themselves as fear, anger, or whatever kind of turmoil.

What an empowering thought that I don’t need to be taken over by my fear! But how do I go about taking authority over my fear? Well, if I take a hint from the disciples, they had to be aggressive! They woke Jesus up. Not that Jesus is ever asleep, but He waits until we come to Him and ask with energy.

The second story in the Bible is found in Matthew 14. Jesus sent His disciples to get in the boat and go on ahead of Him to the other side. It says, “By this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from land for the wind was against them.” That description of their circumstances would be enough to get me anxious! But then they saw Jesus coming towards them, walking on water. They thought He was a ghost, and they cried out in fear. Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

Peter challenged Jesus to command him to come to Him on the water. (Peter must have believed it was Jesus because someone impersonating Jesus could have asked him to come, and he could have drowned!) Peter was able to walk on water towards Jesus until he noticed the strong wind; then, he became frightened and began to sink.

We need to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus when we bring Him our concerns. I recently read that we too often keep our gaze on the problems while only glancing at Him, rather than vice versa.  He wants us to trust in His goodness.  I wonder what miracles could be performed if we kept our eyes on Jesus, knowing that He will take care of our fears.

Feast Day of St. Pachomius – May 15th

Saint Pachomius is a 4th-century saint whose name is barely known. His feast day is May 15th.  St Pachomius is celebrated in the Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Coptic, Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches.

Pachomius was born in Egypt during the era of the desert hermits.  Even as a child, he pursued religious life and fasted rigorously.  Pachomius, when a teenager, was conscripted unwillingly into the Roman Army; he traveled down the Nile arriving at Thebes, where local Christians brought refreshments to the ill-treated Army conscripts. Pachomius met these Christians who did “all manner of good.. treating everyone with love for the sake of the God of heaven.” They made a lasting impression on Pachomius. Upon being released from the army, he was converted and baptized.

In search of a deepening in his faith, Pachomius visited an elderly desert hermit, Palaemon, who turned Pachomius away perfunctorily. It says in the Benedictine Rule, one who wishes entry must knock perseveringly and determinedly. Pachomius did! Palaemon, by then an old monk/hermit, was rewarded at the end of his days with a studious devotee. Pachomius submitted to Paleomon’s teachings and wisdom.

Later, more than 100 monks came to encircle Pachomius and learn from him, prompting Pachomius, drawing on his military experience, to write down a rule for living in community. Both St. Anthony and St. Benedict drew from this cenobitic/communal Rule. The Rule sought to balance prayer with manual work, communal life with solitude. Each of the hermits could order his day within these guidelines. However, the heart and soul of Pachomius’ Rule was compassion and love for the brothers and an endless stream of forgiveness, the central requirements of successful communal life. During Pachomius’ lifetime, nine monasteries and two nunneries were established with hundreds of monks in Palestine, Syria, North Africa, and even Western Europe following his guidance; Pachomius was called Abba, Father from which the present-day word Abbot derives.
A story from this period of Pachomius’ life tells of his friendship with a crocodile. According to tradition, the crocodile ferried Pachomius across the Nile on his back whenever required.

Like Pachomius, let us search determinedly and doggedly for our call and place in the divine order, whatever our station. May our lives be filled with compassion, love, and endless forgiveness. At Pachomius’ death in 346 at age 56, an estimated 5000 monks and nuns had followed his teaching and example.

Feast of Saint Pachomius

Feast of Saint Pachomius


Feast of St. Matthias – May 14

Matthias, just chosen to be an Apostle, was one of a hundred and twenty praying and waiting in the Upper Room in Jerusalem. Then early on the tenth day, great rushing wind filled the house, and tongues of fire appeared among them all, as they were filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke in other languages. Outside were devout Jews from every part of the Roman Empire; they were astounded to hear so many different languages.

Although little is known about Matthias, the New Testament shows he had been with Jesus from the time of His Baptism. Shortly after that, Jesus sent seventy-two disciples, including Matthias, on a mission. They went in pairs – no purse, no bag, no sandals. Entering a house, they stayed there, prayed peace upon it, ate and drank what was given them, healed the sick, and proclaimed the Kingdom of God. Jesus, however, warned them they were like lambs among wolves and would meet some rejection, which was as serious as rejecting Him, so serious that it would be better for Sodom on the Day of Judgement than it would be for their persecutors.

Despite the challenges, Matthias and the others returned with joy! Many had listened to their message; demons were cast out in the name of Jesus, but best of all, Jesus promised that their names were written in heaven. Matthias eagerly followed Christ. Soon after the Ascension, Peter believed God was asking the group of believers, as written in the Scriptures, to find a twelfth man to be an apostle to replace Judas. They considered Matthias and Joseph called Barsabbas because both were faithful, and both had seen the resurrected Jesus. The Apostles then prayed and cast lots. Matthias was chosen.

After the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, in the presence of the other Apostles and believers, Peter preached with boldness and authority in Jerusalem. On that same day, three thousand people joined them, devoting themselves to the Apostles’ teaching. As the Good News spread, many more became believers. Matthias went on to preach and teach in Judea, and according to several sources, took Christianity to Cappadocia, and the Caspian Sea. Here he endured much persecution but worked valiantly among the people. Traditionally, he was crucified near the Caspian Sea in 80 A.D.  Matthias believed that his name was written in heaven just as Jesus had promised him many years earlier. “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Saint Matthias Carved Sculpture at the Church of the Transfiguration on Cape Cod

Saint Matthias at the Church of the Transfiguration

The Time Is Now

During these times of quarantine and shelter in place, I am learning so many new things. I suppose it is because I have been forced to slow down. I’ve known in my head that Jesus won’t come where He hasn’t been invited, but I’ve never realized how much He desires our communication with Him, that He craves our invitation. As I slow my steps, I see more; I hear more.

I’ve read “The Walk to Emmaus” in the Gospel of Luke many times before, but it never had struck me what happened right before Jesus broke bread with them. It reads, “As they came near the village to which they were going, He walked ahead as if He were going on. But they urged Him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ “So, He went in to stay with them.”

  We don’t know if Jesus was really going to leave them when it was almost evening. All it says is that when they came near to the village to which they were going, He walked ahead as if He were going on. The Lord didn’t stay with them until they urged Him strongly, almost begging Him to stay. Are there times when He may “walk on ahead” of me because I don’t take the time to tell Him how much I need His presence in my life?

Directly after the disciples asked Him to stay, “He was at the table with them, He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized Him.” Are there times that I am going so quickly that I, like the disciples, don’t recognize Him, places I don’t hear Him or see Him?

And really, in a way, those disciples had been quarantined together in the Upper Room. Were they more prepared to be with Jesus and ask Him the right questions because they used their time in the Upper Room the way He wanted them to? All these questions give me the motivation to think about how to best make use of this unique situation.

Image: Nicolas Lokhoff


Icon: Nicolas Lokhoff

Spiritual Shelter: Faith, Hope, Charity

Our lives are pared down to essentials. COVID-19 has removed much of the noise and distraction that often fill our thoughts. But even in observing the required precautions, we remain vulnerable to a highly contagious and invisible enemy.

 What stands between this enemy and us? What stands between us and our being consumed by our passions and selfish desires? A daily hymn, a prayer, a scripture, an act of kindness will refocus our hearts on Jesus, our loving savior and protector.

The Earth is slowly taking on the garments of Spring with budding leaves, crocuses, yellow daffodils. The birds are settling in after long migrations. But as lovely as the dawning of Spring, so much fairer is Jesus. Take heart, Christians, He is with us still.

From the hymn Fairest Lord Jesus:

Fair are the meadows, fairer still the woodlands
Robed in the blooming garb of Spring.
Jesus is fairer, Jesus is purer
Who makes the woeful heart to sing.

Words:  German Composite


Praise to God in the Resurrection Season

This poem by the 18th century English poet Christopher Smart seems to capture the all-encompassing awe, beauty and brilliance of the Almighty, which we celebrate in the resurrection season. The text below also speaks of God as a ‘force on which all strength depends’ — a comfort during this time.

From the universal…..

 We sing of God, the mighty source
of all things; the stupendous force
on which all strength depends;
from whose right arm, beneath whose eyes,
all period, power and enterprise
commences, reigns and ends.

To the most intricate beauties…..

For the flowers are great blessings.
For the flowers have their angels,
Even the words of God’s creation.
For the flower glorifies God
And the root parries the adversary.
For there is a language of flowers.
For the flowers are peculiarly
The poetry of Christ.

May the joy of the Easter season fill your hearts with all hope at this time!

[Texts from Christopher Smart’s We sing of God, the mighty source & Jubilate Agno]