Sacred Seeing: The Baptism of the Lord

A few years ago, the Community of Jesus published a little book, Sacred Seeing: Praying with the Frescoes in the Church of the Transfiguration. As we approached the New Year, it seemed like a good opportunity to share this simple guide to praying with the art here in the church, especially for those of you who aren’t able to come and see it for yourselves. Over the next several weeks, we will be sharing the meditations from the book. We hope that it helps to enrich your prayer life as 2017 begins!

The Baptism of the Lord

The Baptism of Jesus

Spend a few moments looking at the fresco image
What are you first impressions of this fresco panel?
What do you notice about this fresco that sets it apart form all the others?

Read the Scripture: Matthew 3:13-17
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me? But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, he went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him; and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Some thoughts and questions to ponder
Jesus is flanked by John the Baptist and by a rock. What is their role as they are pictured this way? Perhaps the spandrels below give us some insight — Joshua 24:25-27 and Ezekiel 47:1,9

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A single staff stands leaning, perhaps against a rock. Whose is it, Jesus’ or John’s? In either case, what is its purpose; why is it there?

What does John’s kneeling posture tell us? What does Jesus’ standing posture tell us?

The artist has presented Jesus wearing a simple white robe. Why?

Why, at this event, did the Holy Spirit appear in the form of a dove? (e.g. it could have been fire, as on the day of Pentecost).

Why do you suppose there is so much sky in this fresco? It almost looks like Jesus is standing on a mountain top rather than in a river valley.

What does this image say to you about your own baptism?

Prayer
Lord, I don’t think enough about heaven,
about the ultimate end of my life…and its eternal purpose.
But here, looking up at you as John did,
I believe again that you are doing something unimaginable with me.
Before I leave this place,
I will sign myself once again with the waters of the font.
— a reminder of my own baptism
— a reminder that you have sealed me within your own heart, and stamped my heart with heaven’s address
— a reminder that, whether or not I can hear it right now, your (and my) Father’s voice has declared of me, “This is my beloved child;”
— a reminder that all the coarse fabric of my life will someday fall away, and I will exchange these garments of sorrow for robes of joy.
Until then, I will believe that you are doing something unimaginable with me.

Lord, in every way you have gone before me.
My steps were your steps, not so very long ago.
You descended to the Jordan valley,
and now your staff leads me there, too.
The descent is rough, sometimes slippery, and often lonely.
But the valley is where the river runs,
and the promise of new beginnings.
So, because you went there first, Lord, I will follow.
I will step into the healing stream,
bow my head under its rushing waters,
and look to see how you will come to me, again.

A Word from the Tradition
There is a mystery here. The pillar of fire went first through the Red Sea so that the children of Israel might follow without fear; it went first through the waters to open a way for those who were following. That event, then, was a symbol of baptism, as Paul tells us. Moreover, it is the same Christ who was at work then and now. Then he went through the sea, ahead of the Israelites, in the form of a pillar of fire; now he goes through the baptismal waters, ahead of the Christian people, in the pillar of his own body.
— Maximus of Turin, Sermons on the Epiphany (D.C. 466)

Image: ©2003 The Baptism of the Lord by Silvestro Pistolesi at the Church of the Transfiguration

In the river of grace

By Faithful Finch

I love it when things fall into place when I’ve been trying to figure something out. That happened for me today.
I haven’t been able to get the central work of Frammenti, our present art exhibit, out of my mind. It was like it was trying to tell me something, and I wasn’t hearing it. I knew that the cross was a traditional form that was associated with baptistries, and that there were bands of gold and red to suggest steps descending and ascending.
When I would go into church, I would look at our baptismal font and think about the steps going in and out of the baptismal water and associate it with the cross.
Last night, I went back and read the Frammenti book that explains the pieces in the exhibit. It says, “the baptismal experience itself evokes both a descent into the tomb and the triumph of resurrection,” and “that the resurrection is a daily movement as the confession of sin and the desire for renewal are met by the mercy of God.”

I think I forget to climb back up the steps and come out of the tomb sometimes. Above the cross are fragments that hold such beauty and joy; beauty and joy that I forget are part of the process.
I had no idea that Sunday was the “Feast of the Baptism of our Lord” until I got to church. It felt like a real celebration — a celebration that if we will stay in that “river of grace”, He will bring us home.

A cross, part of the Frammenti exhibit by artists Susan Kanaga and Filippo Rossi

A cross, part of the Frammenti exhibit by artists Susan Kanaga and Filippo Rossi

In the Form of a Dove

By Sr. Fidelis

*Please scroll to bottom of this post for an exciting announcement!

The Advent/Christmas Season came to a close yesterday with the celebration of the Solemn Feast of the Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ. This feast marks the beginning of his public ministry.

One of the loveliest Responsories for the octave of Epiphany brings us right to the scene of the Baptism of Jesus. The text is as follows: “In the form of a dove the holy Spirit was seen;  the Father’s voice was heard: ‘This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.’ V. The heavens opened over him and the voice of the Father thundered.”

The Responsory follows a particular pattern: the first section of the piece is chanted, after which a verse is sung, usually by a single voice. Then all begin at a point halfway through the first section, and chant to the end.

This Mode 2 Responsory has an almost plaintive quality to it. You’ll notice the FA clef, so often used with Mode 2 chants. The high point of the chant comes on the text  paterna vox — the voice of the Father. If you look closely at the chant below while listening to the recording, you’ll notice that in some instances, the notes differ from what is written in square notation. This particular piece was chanted and recorded according to the ancient neumes, taken from the Hartker Antiphoner — a manuscript from around the early 11th century! Listen to it a second time, while looking at the ancient neumes written above the square notation, and you’ll “see” what you are hearing!  It is fascinating to note the slight variation in the melody and how it has changed over the centuries.

 

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*The Season of Lent is rapidly approaching, with Ash Wednesday falling on February 10th.  We are offering a three and a half day Chant Workshop at the Community of Jesus, February 17th-20th,featuring the Chants of Holy Week and the Triduum, to which all are welcome to attend! We’ll be exploring these treasures of the Church in depth, as well as attending the Liturgy of the Hours and Daily Eucharist in the Church of the Transfiguration. Stay tuned for more information!

Gregorian Chant: The Eternal Song

By Sr. Fidelis

Easter 2

The second Sunday of Easter is full of spiritual meaning and has been given several different names over the centuries.  It is known as “Low Sunday”, because it finishes the Octave of Easter.  It is also known as “Quasi modo Sunday.”  This immediately brings to mind Victor Hugo’s protagonist in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, but the name is actually taken from the first words of the Introit for that day!   1 Peter 2:2, reads: “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word.”

This is a word to those newly baptized on Easter Eve.  The introit is a simple chant in Mode 6, punctuated with Alleluias. “St. Thomas Sunday” is also a name given to the day, perhaps because the Communion for that day is Mitte manum, Jesus’ words to Thomas: “Place your hand in my side and be not faithless but believing.”

There is such a connection between the chant and the liturgy!  These well-known melodies actually helped to identify the day.

The Community of Jesus

 

The Forerunner

By Renaissance Girl

John the Baptist astounds me. His entire existence was about Jesus. And not just in the way we endeavor to “live for Jesus” — but literally — all about Him, from the moment John leaped in his mother’s womb at the sound of Mary’s voice (perhaps eager to get started on his task), to the moment he submitted to the will of God and baptized Christ (despite his humble protest that it should be the other way around). He was beheaded at the whim of a girl and her mother, because his message to “prepare” threatened their comfortable existence. Everything he did — wild and confronting as it was — was meant to point to Jesus. And then John quietly stepped aside when He arrived.

I am astounded by this, because this is not how I live at all. But what if I could? What if, instead of seeking accolades myself, I was ALL about Jesus? My prayer as we draw closer to Christmas, is for the grace to become a little more like John the Baptist.

The Community of Jesus

Perspective

By Renaissance Girl

This past Sunday was the 14th Anniversary of the Dedication of the Church of the Transfiguration. I can hardly believe 14 years have gone by since that incredibly hot day in June of 2000 when we filled the church with family and friends to celebrate the event that only a few short years earlier had seemed both thrilling and daunting!

The homilist on Sunday had us stand up with a series of questions – “If you were baptized in this church, please stand. . . If you were married here, please stand. . . had the funeral of a loved one. . . have come in for private prayer, . . . etc.” until everyone in the church was on their feet. It was a meaningful moment as we reflected on how we have filled the church with worship over the past 14 years and the church, in turn, has inspired in us a desire to raise our worship to meet the God who made this building possible.

What made me pause and think on this day, though, was when I looked around and realized there is a generation under 14 years old who have never known anything different. This has always been their church, the only one they have known. They were in strollers while their parents were having their faith stretched believing for this building and the art that fills it. They were learning to walk as the newly vowed walked the mosaic processional path to make their profession. Their generation will see other change and growth but they will never stand in the concrete shell of this new church celebrating the Easter Vigil.

I felt suddenly small in the face of how quickly time goes and how, to each generation, God brings the challenges and blessings that are perfect for them. And I felt a wave of gratitude and found myself whispering a prayer of thanks to have been part of the generation to build this house.

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Myriad Beauty

By Melodious Monk

I saw a wonderful slideshow today that reminded me of how big the body of Christ is around the globe. While in many of our local towns and schools, religion is being pushed to the background, this Easter season it is good to remember that there are millions of Christians in every part of the world who are celebrating the beautiful mystery of Jesus’ Resurrection. Today there are so many streams of traditions, and ways to reverence, honor, and adore this blessed mystery. Traditions ranging from rockets being launched in Greece, to beautiful egg painting in Lithuania and Ukraine, festive Eucharists in Bambari, young boys baptized in St. Peter’s square, new-fires in countless churches, and candles lit everywhere: it’s exciting to see the myriad of ways that the world is once again proclaiming loudly, “Alleluia!!”

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A Step Beyond Logic

by Sr Nunother  

I’m not the most inquisitive person in the world and therefore, until yesterday, never questioned why Christ’s baptism is celebrated in January, just after his birth. We know from scripture that Jesus was baptized not as an infant, but as a young man, just prior to beginning his public ministry. Logically, I would have left a few months between the celebrations of birth and baptism to emphasize the age difference. I decided to research the date choice for this important feast and discovered its symmetry. There are four major epiphanies or revelations of God to man: the Birth of Jesus, which revealed Christ to Israel; the visit of the Magi, who represent the Gentiles; the Baptism of the Lord, which unveiled the Trinity; and soon to come, the wedding miracle at Cana, manifesting Christ’s transformation of the world. These four events create a perfect circle with God’s love at its center. 

 

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Gregorian Chant: The Eternal Song

by Cantor

Ordinary Time: Not so ordinary!

We have just finished celebrating the feasts of the Epiphany and the Baptism of Jesus. In liturgical terms, we move into what is known as “Ordinary time” — or, perhaps more accurately — “Ordered time.” We will be here until Ash Wednesday, with much of our attention turning to preparations for Lent, Holy Week and Easter.

This morning, I was looking at the upcoming chant pieces for Week II of Ordinary time. I was quite struck by the setting of  three words “adoret” (to adore), and “nomini tuo” (Thy name) in the Introit. Though separated within the text itself, the extraordinary rising melodic patterns on each word seem to create an audible subtext for this chant — “Adore Thy name”. It is no mistake that these words are musically highlighted and are instantly recognizable to the ear as they rise up from their surrounding texture.
 
How easy it would be to miss the beauty and impact of this message, and this is but one example of how the chants of these next weeks teach such basic spiritual lessons — if we have ears to hear them. It seems important to take note of this as we transition from one major liturgical season to another. 
 
Blog photo for January 12

Life and Death on a Thursday morning

by Renaissance Girl  

I took my dog for a walk the other morning.  It was the perfect morning – that type of day where the sun is shining and everything is clear and vibrant and there’s just enough breeze to keep the humidity at bay.  I was lost for a moment in the beauty of it and the unrealistic thought that maybe I could just keep walking all day and not do anything else.  Something on the road caught my eye and I came back from my land of make-believe and looked down.  It was a baby bird – so young that it didn’t have feathers yet, and very dead.   It was a jarring and discomforting sight and I felt bothered by it and by the cruelty of death in nature – some poor mother bird was watching helplessly as her baby tried to fly and failed – and knew it would never come back.

It got me thinking about the closeness between life and death – especially this time of year – we watch as plants spring up, veggies in our gardens, flowers that find their way to our dining room tables – we keep tabs on the bird couples building their nests outside windows, and smile involuntarily at the first sight of little bald heads peeking over the rim of twigs – we ooh and ahh over baby foxes frolicking and moan over weeds that seem to appear over night – and then, just like that, we see baby birds on the road, a neighbor’s cat disappears after sounds of barking coyotes – some make it, some don’t – and we try to shrug it off as “survival of the fittest” – just life.  But in a strange way – it IS really “just life”.  Our introduction to the Christian life and one of the first acts on our behalf is Baptism.  A baby – fresh and new and expectant – still soft-skinned and squirming – we die – dipped into the waters of Baptism and rescued out the other side by Jesus.  It’s jarring and discomforting.  And life is full of these deaths and re-births.  Sometimes spread out and sometimes all together in a moment.  And why shouldn’t it be – since the creator of the world died so we could have life.  In an instant – life and death in an incredible collision – like a perfect summer morning.

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