Untethered Gifts

My friend Toby is a singer of extraordinary range and volume. What he lacks in finesse, he makes up for in enthusiastic participation. He only sings by himself, though, with bells as accompaniment. Or maybe it’s the other way around. You’ll find him parked outside the Convent front door each Sunday morning, a large – very large – golden retriever yowling his heart out. I mention this because Toby is a giver, demonstrated by his dedication to the bells and his soloistic adventures. 

I recently celebrated a birthday and was determined to avoid self-centeredness. At breakfast, Toby strolled over to my table and presented me with a gift: a slobbered on toy duck, which he had skillfully deprived of its stuffing. I thanked him for his thoughtfulness, sincerely hoping a dilapidated mallard wasn’t my omen for the day. But Toby wanted me to have that duck, his favorite toy and continued to approach the table. I gave him adequate attention; however, there’s only so much one can say in response to a golden retriever. He finally gave up, or so I thought. At the end of breakfast, I looked down, and there at my feet was the well-chewed mallard. Toby had given me his best, his favorite, his one true love. It was mine for the day, apparently. 

The scripture for the day mentioned the widow’s mite, that tiny piece of heart more significant than all the gold of Ophir. I believe we have unlimited opportunities to give (or to withhold.) Here are some that occur to me: a prayer, a smile, a kind word, the truth, our time, our resources, half a cookie, moral support, a conversation, a visit, attentive listening, and sometimes a good idea.  Or in Toby’s case, the trusting sacrifice of a beloved toy. (I returned it to him, eventually, along with a handful of his favorite kibbles!) When our gifts come from a place of love and sacrifice, without strings or expectations, they spread joy and transform an ordinary day into a memorable one. 


No Sorrow Too Great

The other day, I was chatting with a gal who was telling me she was on a special journey to bury her sister’s and her brother’s ashes. Although it had been a challenging year for her, she was sharing with me that she had learned a lot as she embraced her sorrows and confronted some critical life and death issues.

 Our conversation was both inspiring and convicting. I’ve been contemplating the meaning of, “The New Jerusalem,” the subject of the upcoming Mount Tabor Ecumenical Centre symposium that will be taking place in Florence this coming spring. Although aware the New Jerusalem is heaven when I recently re-read Revelation 21, I found it refreshingly hopeful and alive!

 That the “holy city will come down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” is a beautiful promise. As is the further assurance that “the dwelling place of God is with man, God himself will be with them as their God, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Our Lord wants Christians to live as a citizen of two countries, Earth and Heaven. The New Jerusalem is essential to remember now in this world, the Old Jerusalem, to give us hope in a dark world and promise of the reality of where we are going.

 I was blessed in church the next day as I studied the Pentecost fresco in our church and saw Jerusalem in the background. I only had to shift my eyes slightly to look up and see the New Jerusalem depicted the apse. And then we sang a hymn describing the Cities splendid glory:

O holy city, seen of John, where Christ, the Lamb doth reign
within whose four-square walls shall come no night, nor need, nor pain,
and where the tears are wiped from eyes that shall not weep again!

O shame to us, who rest content while lust and greed for gain
in street and shop and tenement wring gold from human pain,
and bitter lips in blind despair cry, “Christ hath died in vain!”

Give us, O God, the strength to build the city that hath stood
too long a dream, whose laws are love, whose crown is servant-hood,
and where the sun that shineth is God’s grace for human good.

Already in the mind of God that city riseth fair:
lo, how its splendor challenges the souls that greatly dare-
 yea, bids us seize the whole of life and built its glory there.

        Composer William Russell Bowie, 1882-1969

Feast of Simeon the God-receiver

Luke, Chapter 2:25-35 recalls the story of Simeon, a devout and holy man who believed in and waited for the consolation of Israel. Simeon, whose name in Hebrew means “obedient, listening,” was the recipient of a promise. The Holy Spirit assured him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Christ. When Mary and Joseph presented Jesus in the temple, as the custom of the Law required, it was Simeon who, with an old man’s gentleness, took the baby in his arms.

His beautiful canticle, known today as the Nunc Dimittis, reminds us of God’s faithfulness to the obedience of love. In awe and gratitude, Simeon declared, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word. For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; to be a light to lighten the Gentiles and to be the glory of thy people Israel.”

Simeon, a quiet man of faith and obedience, held a baby in his arms and sang a lullaby to the Son of God.

Feast Day of Saint Francis, October 4

Saint Francis was born in 1182 in Assissi, Italy. His father was a wealthy cloth merchant and therefore, Francis grew up in a privileged environment. He had some schooling in Latin and French literature, and was fond of the tradition of troubadours (those who traveled the countryside singing love ballads.) As a teenager, Francis would walk about the city in the evenings singing and partying.  He had a definite love for life and exhibited a natural leadership with his friends. But Francis grew weary of his carefree existence and began searching “for a love that was above all other loves.” (from the biography, The Perfect Joy of Saint Francis.)

In 1202 a war developed between Assissi and the nearby town of Perugia. Francis paraded off to battle with grand ideas of heroism. But the reality of war quickly dampened his enthusiasm. Many of his comrades were killed or seriously wounded. Francis was spared, only to be imprisoned and held for ransom. He spent a year in a prison dungeon and suffered sickness that followed him throughout his life. He returned to his home city spent and humiliated.

Francis then turned to solitude and prayer in the nearby countryside. He was drawn to the poor and destitute, and found joy in providing them with food and money.  On one of his wanderings, he met an old priest who watched over a dilapidated church called St. Damian’s. The priest encouraged him to rebuild the church. Francis entered, and as he prayed before the crucifix, God spoke to him and asked him to rebuild His Church, with a capital “C”.

From that point on, Francis dedicated himself to a life of poverty and charity. He wore a simple robe and learned to beg with the beggars. In return he experienced inner joy and a deep love for God as his Father. He was discovering the love above all other loves.

He composed poems and songs about the beauty of creation, including The Canticle of the Sun. Francis communed with the birds and animals and shared a special connection with them. When he spoke, they actually seemed to understand.

 His humility and love for God attracted a group of followers who would become the Friars Minor. At La Verna, in the forests of Italy, he received the stigmata. He suffered great weakness in his later years, and died in 1226 at the age of forty-four. He left behind over 5,000 Friars Minor. Today he is considered the patron saint of animals and the ecology.

A Personal Reflection

What was there about Francis that appealed to so many? Even today his life speaks to the empty spaces in our hearts. I remember as a teenager reading “The Perfect Joy of Saint Francis” and feeling somewhat “shell shocked.” This one small book changed the course of my life. I knew that I sought the love that Francis discovered and that no amount of success, money, or human love would ever fill its void. Francis found a love that was whole hearted, emotional, and devoted to his Maker. He shed the world, put on poverty, and experienced the greatest treasure available to man: the Beauty of Creation and the Love of Jesus.  — Written by  Blue Heron


Feast Day of Michael and All Angels

We praise thee, O God, we acknowledge thee to be the Lord.
All the earth doth worship thee, the Father everlasting.
To thee, all Angels cry aloud, the Heavens and all the Powers therein.
To thee, Cherubin and Seraphin continually do cry:
Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabaoth.
Heaven and earth are full of the Majesty of thy glory.
     — Excerpt from the Medieval Hymn, Te Deum
    Traditional Authorship:  Saint Ambrose (d. 397)

Angels guide, protect, and encourage us, inviting us to join them in loving and praising God.  How often we forget, how often the Angels remember! They are mysterious messengers, elusive guardians, sometimes appearing as light, sometimes in human form. They befriend

and watch over us, benevolent and yet fiercely protective.  We call four by name: Michael, “Who is like God”; Gabriel, “God is my Champion”; Raphael, “God heals”; and Uriel, “God is my light.”  Let’s not forget the “All Angels”, the myriad of heavenly beings that work on our behalf before the throne of God and along our earthly pilgrimage.

Today, as we celebrate Michael and All Angels, let our hearts be glad and grateful for their continual praise of our Heavenly Father. Let us rejoice with them and join their song of Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of Sabaoth!

Community of Jesus St. Michael

True Nuggets of Gold

I recently heard that to see your sin is like finding a nugget of gold because it is there that we begin to learn wisdom. I mentally noted that I needed to remember this, and looked forward to the opportunity to practice looking at sin this way. It sounded so good, but then, a few days later, the reality felt so much more difficult and painful.

Seeing who I am doesn’t need to be difficult or painful if I remember who I am, a sinner, and if I remember who Jesus is, my Savior. It’s my pride that doesn’t let me look at who I am, and keeps me from that nugget of wisdom, the gratitude of knowing that I am saved, and the opportunity for change. 

  Later, I was reading about when Jesus cursed the fig tree four days before His crucifixion. I had never put together the symbolism of God’s cursing the soil because of Adam and Eve’s sin, and Jesus’s cursing the fig tree because He was about to break the power of the curse of sin. I had never thought about it being fig leaves that Adam and Eve had used to sew together to cover themselves, trying to hide their sin from God.

Jesus cursing the fig tree that didn’t bear fruit is of great hope to us because in trying to look good, defending ourselves, hiding, or being ashamed, there is no fruit, only death. The only hope of abundant life is through the cross and the freedom it brings.

Feast of the Holy Cross, September 14

Today we venerate the Holy Cross upon which our Savior died to redeem us from sin.  We recognize this intended instrument of torture as the blessed instrument of our salvation, a simple, wooden cross made triumphant by an outpouring of innocent Love.

Good Friday cross on the Common outside the Church of the Transfiguration on Cape Cod

The Feast of the Holy Cross, sometimes referred to as The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, honors three events. The first and most significant is the discovery of the True Cross by Saint Helena, mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine. Saint Helena traveled to Jerusalem in the early fourth century to search for the holy places of Christ’s earthly mission. Tradition held that a Temple to Aphrodite was built over the Savior’s tomb.  Helena had the temple razed, and Constantine construct the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher in its place. Three crosses were found during the excavation believed to be the Cross of Christ and those of the two thieves crucified with Him. All three appeared much the same; however, legend tells us that the True Cross was identified when a dying woman touched it and was instantly healed.

The cross remains the universal symbol of our Christian faith.  May we find grace in its shadow and draw strength from the One who died upon its outstretched arms.

 –From the Hymn Beneath the cross of Jesus , words by Elizabeth Clephane
Scotland, 1872

        I take, O cross, thy shadow

             For my abiding place;

                     I ask no other sunshine than

             The sunshine of His face;

                    Content to let the world go by,

                                         To know no gain nor loss,

                                         My sinful self my only shame,

                                    My glory all the cross.    


The Feast of St. John Chrysostom, September 13th

To the Eastern Church, Saint John is known as Great Hierarch and Ecumenical Teacher, to the West, Bishop, and Doctor of the Church. To all, he is Chrystosom, meaning “golden-mouthed,” the great preacher.  

Saint John was born c. 349 in the ancient Greek city of Antioch, near what is now Antakya, Turkey. His father, a high-ranking military officer, died shortly after his son’s birth. He was raised by his mother, Anthusa, sometimes referred to as a pagan but known to many as a devout Christian. Anthusa had many influential contacts, and John studied under Libanius, a gifted teacher from whom he learned skills in rhetoric as well as a great love for Greek language and literature.  John then turned to the study of theology, was baptized, and tonsured as a reader (considered the first step in becoming a priest.)

In about the year 375, Saint John became a hermit and lived a life of extreme asceticism.  It is said he spent the next two years continually standing with little sleep and committed the Bible to memory.  His health deteriorated as a result of such practices, and of necessity, he returned to Antioch, his body permanently weakened.

Here is the progression of St. John’s rise (and fall) through the church
hierarchy after his return to Antioch:
Ordained as a deacon in 381
Ordained as a presbyter (priest) in 386
Appointed against his will as Archbishop of Constantinople in 397
Banished from his archbishopric in 403
Exiled to the town of Cucusus in Cappadocia  404 to 407
Sent into further exile in 407 and died during the journey

St. John was a highly educated man from a wealthy background who preferred a modest life.   He emphasized care for the poor and used his considerable rhetorical skills to admonish excess found in the Church and the secular world.

He was beloved by the common folk for his deep and uncompromising understanding of scripture.  His speech was eloquent and beautiful in its simplicity. Accusations of aloofness, tactlessness, and lack of political skill, were counterbalanced by his honesty, courage and sensitive heart.

Icon at the Community of Jesus

St. John Chrysostom Icon

Inside Out

Bored and in need of adventure? Try searching for a hypoallergenic face cream. I made multiple trips to a local pharmacy and stared at tubes, jars, and spray bottles screaming such words as rapid wrinkle reduction, firm sculpting, multi-action, age-defying, revitalizing, age-arresting, wrinkle reducer and (perhaps my favorite) repair and release. I also stared at hefty price tags.

On one foray, as I stood perplexed and indecisive, my Great Grandma B. came to mind.   She was a kind, incredible, wrinkle machine. Kissing her cheek was like kissing a length of hand-made lace, tissue-paper soft and rippling with years of hard work and the sorrows of a long life. By the time I was born, she was my only surviving grandparent and remained part of my child and adulthood until her death at ninety-nine. She lived on a sprawling farm many miles from our home. Get-togethers were infrequent and cherished.

She was greeted as an honored guest and a respected member of our family. My mother allowed my sisters and me to do pre-arrival Grandma shopping. We went to the W.T. Grant Company to purchase her favorite slippers, made of pliable felt, in ravishing colors such as maroon and dark purple. We bought her favorite peppermints, a nightgown or two, and lavender talc.  It was also our task to get those slippers on her swollen feet each morning. We loved doing it because Grandma always woke up in a happy mood and made us feel loved and sort of important.

Usually dressed in navy or black crepe dresses with starched, white collars, she would pin her hair up into a tidy bun to complete the ensemble.  Her day included knitting, soap operas, and at least twice during a stay, she baked old fashioned ginger, sugar, and oatmeal cookies. We each selected our favorite yarn and design for new mittens, perfect for Pennsylvania snow-packed winters.

One time she sent me a birthday card with a dollar in it. I was a child and loved candy and other kid things a dollar could buy. But by some spark of ancient wisdom, I knew that dollar was for keeping. It was worth all the dollars in the world because it came from someone with little money and had love written all over it.

Grandma B. was comfortably herself, busy, and creative until her hands could no longer grasp her knitting needles. I held those hands, delicate, wrinkled hands, and felt the throb of her heart as it worked its last magic on a life of true beauty.

Ringing in Our Hearts

On a recent bell-ringing trip to England, a group of us had the privilege of seeing the outside of the famous White Chapel Bell Foundry. The building was closed, but we wanted to see where our church bells were cast. One could almost touch the history surrounding this place! The Foundry was established in 1570. In 1752, the original casting of our Liberty Bell took place there. In 1858, Big Ben made its debut! It is a 13 1/2 ton bell that rings every hour at the Palace of Westminster. In 1976, a Bicentennial Bell was commissioned by the British Government, cast, and presented as a gift to the United States. After the 9/11/2001 terrorist attack, the City of London gave a bell to the City of New York. That bell resides at Trinity Church on Wall Street.

While reading from “Thoughts in Solitude” by Thomas Merton this morning, I was amazed to read a passage about bells in a chapter entitled, “Aspects of the Spiritual Life.”

The chapter begins:

“Bells are meant to remind us that God alone is good, that we belong to Him, that we are not living for this world. They break in upon our cares to remind us that all things pass away and that our preoccupations are not important. They speak to us of our freedom, which responsibilities and transient cares make us forget. They are the voice of our alliance with the God of Heaven. They tell us that we are His true temple. They call us to peace with Him within ourselves.”


The Gospel story of Mary and Martha is read at the end of the blessing of a church bell. The bells say, “Business does not matter. Rest in God and rejoice, for this world is only the figure and the promise of a world to come, and only those who are detached from transient things can possess the substance of eternal hope.” The bells say, “We have spoken for centuries from the towers of great churches. We have spoken to the Saints your Fathers, in their land. We called them, as we call you, to sanctity.”

The reading continues on a bit but ends with this: “Our song is perfect as the Father in Heaven is perfect, and we pour our charity out upon all.”

Wow! I kept re-reading this message! It is not what I was expecting to read during my quiet time! There is a lot to think about!

This reminds me of being told that bells have lives of their own. They are named. They have history, and they have a call just like us.