Angels in the Belfry

English style change ringing is an unusual activity. The basic mechanics of ringing a large bell are daunting but mastered with perseverance. However, placing oneself on the avenue of learning bell patterns – known as methods – and then agreeing to learn to ring them correctly can become a “down the rabbit hole” experience, causing one to exclaim with Alice: “curiouser and curioser!” Perfection in ringing is especially challenging in the presence of others attempting the same thing.

One simple “curious” example is that we are operating possibly the loudest musical instruments on the planet, but the degree of constant focus requires absolute silence both amongst the ringers and also the area around the ringing chamber. Signs reading “silence please” are quite common in change-ringing belfries, and in our particular case of a ground-floor level ringing room, there’s the phenomenon of passers-by tiptoeing by the tower during special rings (our Community of Jesus family have become very good sports in all of this.)

With all the oddities and difficulties, it can be a source of comfort and inspiration to recollect that our tower connects with God’s angels. The obvious visible connection is the hovering massive hovering presence of the Angel of the Church of the Transfiguration sculpted in bronze at the pinnacle. Just as important for us ringers, is the annual Feast of St. Michael and All Angels at the end of September. Ten years ago, this feast day was selected for our first public bell ringing. In honor of the decade remembrance this year, a group of us were able (with angels’ help!) to ring our first full peal in commemoration. Many of our family, well-versed in bell listening requirements (silence please!), crept up near the tower to support us.

Feast Day of Saint Luke Evangelist, October 18th

Born in Antioch, Syria, Roman Empire, some scholars maintain Saint Luke was of Greek descent. Others say Luke was a Hellenic Jew; that is, his beliefs and approach combine Jewish religious traditions with elements of Greek culture and language.  Tradition presents him as the only Gentile Christian among the four Gospel writers.

The Gospel of Luke has considerable appeal to Gentile readers.  His writing style is narrative and conveys a perspective that we share – he views the events, not as an eyewitness, but as someone searching and transformed by what he hears.  Of the four Gospel writers, only Luke talks of shepherds and angels and an inn with no room. Only his Gospel incorporates the personal testimony of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and the importance of her example.  Saint Luke’s Gospel has been referred to as The Gospel of Mercy, Gospel of the Poor, and the Gospel of Joy – a reflection of a heart tuned by God.

Saint Luke is also credited with writing The Acts of the Apostles. When Combined with his Gospel, Luke contributed over a quarter of the New Testament text.  In Paul’s Letter to the Colossians, he refers to Luke as a physician (a Greek word meaning one who heals), and from that reference, we infer he was both a disciple of Paul and a physician by trade. We also have Paul’s word that Luke was in Rome with him near the end of his life.

An 8th Century Christian tradition proclaimed Saint Luke to be the first icon painter.  Iconic works of Jesus, Mary, Peter, and Paul, as well as an illustrated gospel book are attributed to him, unproven but worthy of consideration. 

Saint Luke is honored as Patron Saint of Artists, Physicians, Bachelors, Surgeons, and Students. 

St. Luke the Evangelist, Community of Jesus

Feast Day of St. Ignatius of Antioch, Bishop and Martyr — October 17

Today we remember Saint Ignatius of Antioch, born May 15, 35 A.D., in the Province of Syria, then part of the Roman Empire.  He called himself Theophorus, meaning God-Bearer. We know him as the writer of seven letters, each one a treasure of encouragement, instruction and inspiration to young Christian communities. 

Amount those receiving letters were the Ephesians, Magnesians, Romans, Philadelphians and Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna. Ignatius stressed the concepts of the deity of Christ, ecclesiology, the value of the Eucharist, and the theology of salvation. Many believe the epistles, which contain multiple grammatical errors, were composed in haste as Ignatius journeyed to Rome as a prisoner, marching to his death.

There is little written history concerning Ignatius, but many traditions surround this exemplary servant of God. One such tradition is that he was among the children that Jesus took in his arms and blessed (Luke, Chapter 18.) He was said to be a disciple of the beloved Apostle John, and some scholars claim that he was consecrated Bishop of Antioch by the Apostle Peter.

Trajan, Emperor of Rome, issued the order for Ignatius’ arrest and subsequent death.  Trajan, a blood-thirsty tyrant, was said to have sacrificed 10,000 gladiators and 11,000 wild beasts to entertain one equally blood-thirsty crowd.  While the exact date of Ignatius’ martyrdom is unknown, he died circa 108 A.D., at the age of 83. Condemned for nothing more than loving Christ and refusing to renounce his faith, he was cruelly attacked and devoured by wild beasts in a public display.  Upon hearing the roar of the lions in Rome’s Coliseum, the saint proclaimed, “I am a kernel of wheat for Christ that must be ground by the teeth of beasts to be found bread wholly pure.” 

St. Ignatius of Antioch, Icon — Community of Jesus

 

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.