From the Bell Tower: Facing Fears with Friends

By Faithful Finch

“For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you.'” Isaiah 41:13

I find it so interesting that ringing bells can be a spiritual exercise!

The other day, some of us were learning the process of “ringing the bells up.” This can be a frightening experience because if you don’t do it properly, you can have an accident. As the Lord is accustomed to doing, he taught me a lesson in the process.

I was so stuck in my fear, that I was doing things that blocked me from going forward in the process. I wasn’t breathing, my knees were locked rigid, and I couldn’t even hear Br. Matthew’s instructions he was giving me to help me. I had been quietly saying out loud, “Jesus, I trust in You. Jesus, I trust in You.”

To my surprise, all of a sudden, I found myself saying, “Br. Matthew, I trust in you.” When we stopped ringing, I had a good laugh with those ringing with me, but realized, sometimes my lack of trust isn’t just a lack of trusting Jesus. It’s not trusting my friends around me that want to help and that the Lord has put there for me. I realized I allow my fear to block myself from going forward. Things don’t always have to be as difficult as I allow my own sin to make them.

What a great lesson!

Ringers at the bell tower, Church of the Transfiguration

Sacred Seeing: Stilling the Storm

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 in 2017!

Stilling the Storm

Stilling the Storm fresco by Silvestro Pistolesi in the Church of the TransfigurationSpend a few moments looking at the fresco image.
What initial feelings does this fresco evoke?
What are some of the different things that you notice in this image?

Read the Scripture: Mark 4:35-41
35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Some thoughts and questions to ponder
Look carefully at the facial expression and hand gestures of each of the disciples. What do you imagine that each one is saying or thinking?

A careful look at the boat leads one to wonder how such a small and fragile vessel can be expected to carry all of these people, even in good weather. Why do you think the artists portrayed the boat in this way?

The mast is broken and lying uselessly off to the side of the boat. What does this mean for the disciples? What does this mean for you?

Look at the way that Jesus’ arms are extended. What is he “saying” with each hand?

The fresco panel seems to capture a precise moment near the time that Jesus commanded the wind and the sea, “Peace! Be still!” All is not yet calm, but Jesus appears firmly in control of the situation. What does this kind of peace mean to you? Over what storm in your own life do you need to hear Jesus’ command?

What is the central element in this image? Is it the raging storm that fills the sky with its dark fury? Is it the frightened disciples sitting in the boat, each with his particular anxious thoughts and gestures? Or, is it Jesus standing tall in the boat, his arms reaching out with authority and compassion? When the storms rage in my own life, what fills the center of my vision and becomes the focus of my attention? Is it the circumstances that are knocking me about and blowing me “off course”? Is it the turmoil of my own fearful thoughts and feelings? Or, is it Jesus, the Ruler over all the storms of sky and sea and soul?

Prayer
Lord Jesus, I am afraid. My world is crashing down around me. Punishing winds and waves, beyond my control, seem to be driving my life off course. Where are you, Lord? You are so quiet. I have forgotten that you are making this journey with me. Actually, getting in to the boat was your idea in the first place. So, you must be able to calm this storm; you must be able to right this boat; you must be able to get me to the other side. And I must be able to trust you.

Lord, you see the weather in my soul. Sometimes it feels like a storm is raging within me. And once the billowing winds get started, I don’t know how to stop them. Without your help, I will drown in this turmoil. If even wind and sea obey you, then you also must be Master of my soul. Speak peace to my heart, Lord, and may it listen.

A Word from the Tradition
A temptation arises, it’s a wind; you are trouble by a wave. Wake Christ up; let him talk to you…. Don’t let the waves overwhelm you when your heart is upset by a temptation. And yet because we are human, if the wind has driven us on and shaken our souls, don’t let us despair; let us wake up Christ, and so sail on in a calm sea, and reach our home country.
—Augustine (354-430)

Image: ©2004 Stilling the Storm by Silvestro Pistolesi at the Church of the Transfiguration

Turning towards heaven

by Faithful Finch
This year I had the opportunity to live with and care for one of our Community members as she was dying. As she turned her face more and more towards heaven, I saw some simple but profound changes in her and am realizing as I process this experience that I have much to learn from her.
I noticed three big changes, and I think they are interrelated. The first change is that she became so grateful for the smallest things. There was a sincere “thank you” for any kindness or help that was shown. The second change is she found beauty in the ordinary. Obviously, there is beauty everywhere if we take the time to find it, and appreciate it. It was overwhelming to listen and look when she found beauty in the blue of the sky or in a fish jumping in a lake.
The third change was most incredible. I watched her change from a woman of apprehension and concerns into someone at peace who trusted God and those caring for her. She knew God’s love.
I believe as I turn my face towards His heavenly light, I can make the choices of being grateful and finding beauty, so in turn, I can trust Him in His love.
Belle's rose marks her seat in chapter order in the Church of the Transfiguration at the Community of Jesus

Calming the Storm

by Faithful Finch

This week, the fresco in our church of “the calming of the storm” seemed to be calling to me, begging for me to stop and take a little time to look at it. I thought about the storm within myself, and the need for Jesus to calm my restless heart. Looking at the fresco, I observed that some disciples appear to be only concentrating on the waves, and the storm, (their troubles), and actually are turning their backs on Jesus.

They made a choice to believe their problem was larger than His love for them. In the fresco, the others appear to be choosing hope, simply by turning in His direction, opening themselves up to Him, and keeping their eyes on Him, even if they are unsure of what He is able to do. I love the way Jesus’s hands are stretched out, almost like a precursor of the crucifix, connecting our concerns to the Father. How silly that I don’t let Him calm my heart more often.

"Calming the Storm" fresco by Silvestro Pistolesi, in the Church of the Transfiguration

“Calming the Storm” fresco by Silvestro Pistolesi at the Church of the Transfiguration

Mary and Martha in Chicago

By Sunset Septuagint

Have you seen the painting “The Scream”? I am currently on a trip to Chicago which began by travel on a full airplane which was late in landing. On arrival everyone immediately stood up, jamming the aisles while the passengers who had close connecting flights were fighting to get through to the front… What mayhem! Too bad there was no announcement for those not in a hurry to wait until the others got off.

Then I got in line to get a taxi…..there was a break in the barricade so wheelchairs could get through but behind the wheelchair others were cramming forward to get to the head of the line. Others ran to the end of the line behind the people waiting so they could hop into the cabs first without having to wait in line.

I am a very impatient person myself but this time I had no deadline so I started a conversation with a woman beside me in line and wound up telling her I was in Chicago for a doctor’s appointment. She asked the name of the doctor and when I told her, she said her father had the same surgeon and she told me how wonderful he was! Suddenly a weight of anxiety was miraculously lifted from my shoulders.

I thought of the Mary/Martha sermon last Sunday in church. It wasn’t the work that Martha was doing that was the problem but her anxiety and worry. By the grace of God alone for that moment in the taxi line, I was able to choose the better part to have a friendly chat with another person, and Jesus used the conversation with that woman to calm my fears!

Engraving by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld

Engraving by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld

The Roar of the Waterfall

By Sr. Spero

Deep calls to deep “in the roar of the waterfall.” (Psalm 42:10).

God calls to us from the depths of his love to the depths of our soul. Psalm 42:10 says he calls “in the roar of the waterfall.” The images of the psalms can translate to many situations, so they are always personal. To me, at this moment, the waterfall is all the thoughts in my mind that compete for attention. They roar and fall down around me on all sides. But the psalm tells me that God calls me in the roar, and if I listen, I can still hear. Today, the waterfall is thoughts, tomorrow it might be an emotion that consumes me, but the message is the same. He calls through the roar of the waterfall. I just have to stop and listen.

Fountain

Up in the Air: Faith

It was a long flight from St. Louis to San Francisco. For me it was not just a question of the four-plus hours of travel but also managing the fear I have of flying and the constant anticipation of turbulence.
Seated next to me was a minister from rural Kentucky, Reverend Silas Wildes, both a southern gentleman and a man of God, who was headed to an evangelical conference in the San Francisco Bay area. Quickly discovering our common bond, we passed most of the time sharing about Gods’ daily providential care for us, the unwavering faith that we need to permeate our life, and the call to deepen our relationship with Jesus beyond the laws of our particular religious affiliations. Although we revealed pieces of our heart, I kept my fear of flying to myself.
Breathing with relief at the relatively smooth flight and checking my watch for the time left until we landed, I cringed when I heard the pilot’s voice. In a somber tone he asked the flight attendants to take their seats and the passengers to fasten their seat belts. He added that the control tower had indicated a “very bumpy” descent. In reality, I knew that really meant significant turbulence. My heart began to pound and sweat rolled down my face. Reverend Wildes just gazed peacefully out the window as the roller coaster ride began.
After about ten minutes of choppiness, Reverend Wildes leaned over and whispered, “Well, I see the water and wonder if we are landing just a bit too close to it because I can see fish jumping and splashing.” Panicked, I reached under my seat to check for my life vest and then, boldy and humbly, asked the reverend if I might hold his hand.
With a gentle smile and elegant courtesy, he extended his hand and then asked me a question I have never forgotten; “Sister, you seem to be living with so much unfaltering faith on the ground. Why then do you lose it when you are up in the air?”

Owning the Story, Opening to Grace
When my life seems up in the air, I can strengthen my faith by…
The times I need the outstretched, comforting hand of another are…
I can renew my trust during turbulent times by …

“But when Peter noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out: Lord, save me! Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, You of little faith, why did you doubt?” Matt: 14:30-31

Excerpt from Doors to the Sacred: Everyday Events as Hints of the Holy by Sr. Bridget Haase; Paraclete Press

Parting the Red Sea

By Sunset Septuagint

As I was thanking God for his miraculous protection after Winter Storm Jonas, I realized once again that we sit on a fragile piece of land. Although we may be more removed from some of the riots occurring in the large American cities, Cape Cod has its own threat of destruction.

This made me think of one of my favorite frescoes in our Church – Moses and the parting of the Red Sea. Moses looks pretty small standing between the gigantic waves on either side. The bottom of the waves where he is standing are almost black in color…..and yet he has both arms up stretching to God. His face is turned upward toward the large beautiful light in the blue sky beyond.

I wonder if Moses felt like he was tightrope walking, similar to the man going over Niagara Falls – if a lot of his energy had to go into keeping his arms uplifted – what if he looked down even for a second….

As a young person one of my favorite hymns was How firm a Foundation: ”When through the deep waters I call thee to go, the rivers of woe shall not thee overflow; I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand, upheld by my righteous omnipotent hand.” (based on Isaiah 43:2)

CapeCod

Vine Support

By Melodious Monk

I’m still very much a novice gardener and one plant I’m still scared of is the vaunted, precious, glorious gem of the summer crops – the vine ripened tomato! Perhaps I’m still haunted by the tomato plants that unexpectedly caught disease last summer and died before producing fruits, but I still find myself delicately reverencing the great tomatoes, afraid that too much action (pruning, fertilizer, or water) or not enough of the same will result in a failure to produce fruit at the end of the summer.

Tomato signOne particular tomato plant is teaching me a lesson this August. It’s a tall tomato plant at the front of staked row, one that has a stout 8 foot stake to climb, and, even with faithful succoring, it has grown well above this height. The stalk is a sturdy with a straight trunk, about an inch or more thick in places. After a recent heavy wind storm, a tall main branch was folded in half at about 4 feet above ground. I found it the next morning, nearly broken in half, collapsed to the ground. Instantly the anxiety began to rise, my fears were coming true: here we are in August and the entire growing season is going to be for naught! I was about to cut off the large sprawling branch, to throw in the brush pile and quickly hide the shame I was starting to feel of ruining this beautiful plant. I should have tied it up better, maybe added another stake, I’m thought to myself.

I assumed the branch had no chance of survival, since only a paper thin outer strand was keeping it connected to the rest of the plant. As I took hold of the branch and tugged, it remained surprisingly, but solidly, fixed on the main vine of the plant. I’d heard that as long as part of the branch is still connected to the main trunk, it’s possible for the branch to still get nutrients, to heal and keep living. With not much to lose, I figure why not try an experiment. I grabbed a flat 6 in piece of wood that was lying on the ground nearby and tied a splint along the stem. Surprisingly the branch held even with the twisting and bending to move it back upright, and with a few extra supports tied to the tomato-heavy top, the branch felt relatively secure. The next day it was still standing, still green, and a week later you’d never know it had been within a tinsel thread of its life.

“I am the Vine; you are the branches. Whoever lives in Me and I in him bears much (abundant) fruit. However, apart from Me [cut off from vital union with Me] you can do nothing.” In dark, doubt filled moments, we must remember that no matter what storm may cause us to fall off the vine, we always have the choice to reconnect even the smallest thread to the main vine, and continue on our path towards producing good fruit–and our healing.

Tomatoes

Arms that welcome

By Sister Nun Other

I have a friend who considers the Bible the world’s greatest encyclopedia. She reads it in search of answers and is never disappointed! Recently, she told me of a verse, for her and me at least, newly discovered. That verse was Isaiah 50:10, which reads: 

Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the word of His servant? Let the one who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord. This morning I woke up anxious, not quite sure of my way. Then words from an eighteenth century hymn writer, Joseph Hart, cut a path through my musings.  He wrote, “Come, ye sinners, poor and needy, weak and wounded, sick and sore; Jesus ready stands to save you, full of pity, love and power. The hymn goes on to call the thirsty, weary, and heavy laden, and ends, “All the fitness he requireth is to feel your need of Him. Essentially, it’s a parallel message to the one from Isaiah, both coming within a single week! For those of us who sometimes wander (and wonder), it’s a recommendation well-worth considering.