Way up high in the ceiling of our church I find lots of them. While changing some light bulbs along the wood trusses, I begin to notice some faint, yet clearly distinguishable foot prints high up on the beams. Unknown and unnamed prints left from the original construction of the church. Little did these construction workers know that they would be leaving their lasting footprint in this house.
And I got to thinking about feet – which turned into a series of prayers. Feet evoke action and choice. As I leave my footprints this day–where are they headed?
‘Watch the path of your feet and all your ways will be established.’
‘He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm’ ‘…and(Jesus) began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel’
‘guide our feet into the way of peace’
‘Do not turn to the right nor to the left; Turn your foot from evil. ‘
‘For You have delivered my soul from death, Indeed my feet from stumbling’
‘and they laid them down at His feet; and He healed them’
‘I have restrained my feet from every evil way’
‘My steps have held fast to Your paths My feet have not slipped.’
‘..but she has wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair’
‘Surely the land on which your foot has trodden will be an inheritance to you and to your children forever, because you have followed the LORD my God fully.’
Jesus comes to us in many ways. In this season, we especially pay attention to Him coming as an infant. And what do infants need? In short, lots of help — constant care, someone to feed them, keep them warm, and protect them.
I realized something today. I look forward to Advent, to its hope and the expectation of Jesus – for a fresh start, forgetting the past year and moving on with purpose and expectation. It’s a time to say “yes,” to open my heart and to allow more room for Jesus. “Come Lord Jesus, quickly come” falls out of my lips as the time-honored mantra of the season.
I learned something else today. Underneath my hope, need, and expectation for God to come, to save, and to heal me, what I’m really asking (even demanding) is to be given these gifts. I don’t really want to serve this infant King; I just want him to do what I fervently ask!
And yet Jesus comes to us as a needy infant. I can only imagine the time and energy necessary to take care of or “serve” a new-born. This “service” is a full-time commitment. In contemplating the Christ Child during Advent, are Jesus, Mary, and Joseph teaching me how to serve the adult Christ as well? I’m reminded that God wants a relationship with me. In addition to asking for his help and healing, I also must love and serve him. Then I can expect to be able to walk with him.
This morning I was reading about Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, a 20th century Italian priest from a farming town in southern Italy, more well known as Padre Pio. He gave this advice: “Whatever can I say in order to stop the multitude of your thoughts? Don’t try, excessively, to heal your heart, as your efforts would only make it more infirm. Don’t make too great an effort to overcome your temptations, as this violence would only make them stronger. Despise them and don’t dwell on them too much.”
I smiled while reading this, as it reminded me of conversations I frequently have with one of the long standing brothers at our community. He often tells me to try not thinking so much. Because put simply, “How do you expect to hear God’s voice with so many thoughts and voices of your own to drown His out? It’s just common sense!”
Chant in Holy Week: Audible Mystery, Pain, and Love
There is a vast well of spiritual illumination available through the chants found in Holy Week. As we move from Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, to his crucifixion and ultimately to his resurrection, the chants for Holy Week also reflect this journey. Many of us are familiar with some of the more well-known chants such as, “Hosanna, Filio David” (Hosanna to the Son of David) chanted during the symbolic entry into Jerusalem, or “Ubi Caritas” (Where true love is) which is chanted during Maundy Thursday Mass — the commemoration of the Last Supper.
However, what I would like to highlight are the Lamentations of Jeremiah. These extraordinary pieces, typically chanted by a soloist and followed by a group responsory during the service of Tenebrae, are part of our Divine Office beginning with Vespers on Maundy Thursday and finishing within the Vigil for Holy Saturday.
The outcries of Jeremiah become the outcries of Christ, and the indescribable grief at the downfall of Jerusalem. But what makes these pieces so unique is that each cantor takes these chants (which can be up to almost 10 minutes in length!) and spends weeks in personal prayer, preparing the lamentation so that he or she is able to chant the piece on behalf of themselves and the entire congregation.
In 2007, I was assigned the 8th Lamentation, which occurred during the Holy Saturday Vigil. It was a personally difficult time. As I offered this chant during the vigil, I knew that I was literally being changed as the sound came out of my mouth. Following that service, I remained in the church for several hours — I could not grasp what had just happened. All I knew was that Love itself had just greeted me and changed my life. More than at any other point, I knew that chant would be a part of my life forever.
Throughout the year, we sing the Liturgy of the Hours in Latin. For me, this ancient language is at its most powerful during Lent. Words such as laceravit (tear to pieces) followed by percussit et curabit nos (bind our wounds) are like vivid paint on canvas or a single, stark musical note breaking silence. When I allow the unfamiliar into my life and welcome its difference, I grow in compassion and enlarge my capacity to love.
Lining the walkway to our church are eight wooden planters. For the season of Lent, they’re filled with arrangements of eucalyptus branches in graceful shades of purple and green. Purple for the robe of Jesus, symbolic of suffering and pain, is entwined with spring green, the color of growth, rebirth, and transformation. Historically, from the eucalyptus itself, healing oils are extracted for treatment of wounds and sickness. Color choice and foliage form a perfect Lenten symmetry.
It was ironic. I had just stepped out of my door to the sound of a cardinal singing. There he was, a splash of red against the bare branches and grey sky. I whispered a quick prayer of thanks for a newly appreciated source of beauty, and hopped into my car to head to work.
About 100 feet down the road, I passed it and hit the brakes. A splash of red against the yellow line — a cardinal, dazed and wide-eyed, with feathers in the road. He didn’t look hurt, just stunned. I had to stop, and my passengers willingly agreed. Someone has told me that a cardinal is a symbol of the Holy Spirit, and it has been a constant reminder to connect to Him each time I see one — and after my prayer that morning….
I gently lifted the red bundle to the side of the road, and found blood on my hand when I pulled away. That put things into high gear. I dumped out a box of survival items in my trunk and stuffed it with a towel. With the bird in the box on my passenger’s lap, we headed to work as I called a friend who knew about these things. As we turned down the road to our destination, he had a sudden burst of energy and fluttered out of the box and onto my dashboard. It was like having the Holy Spirit at the helm, literally. He perched, looking from side to side and out the window.
My passengers delivered to work, I gently restored the bird to the box and took him to my wildlife friend (I admit, I sang to him in the car to help calm his fear). I received a text at lunch time, that said Wildcare thought he would make it. And I had the gift of returning help to a creature that turns me to God.
A reading from the book of James: “Welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.” There’s so much hope in this instruction from James. I love 3 words in particular from this NRSV translation:
1) Welcome! This word, welcome, is both a warm invitation and a call to action.
2) Implanted word (yes two words, but hooking them together as one idea!) The “implanted word” makes me think of a garden that is constantly and abundantly producing new “words.” Moment by moment, God in his mysterious genius has planted in us the perfect word for this particular day. (Imagine for a moment how much creativity and love God has planted in every soul) Something that is implanted is also permanent, but not stagnant.
3) Power. Do we realize the power that has been entrusted to us? For in this implanted word is the ultimate power of the universe. St. James reminds us that if we are meek enough to trust in Jesus’ words, He has the power and willingness to heal anything we ask for ourselves or for others.
A shopping discussion with a friend led to an interesting observation. She said, “When heading for a check out line, I often challenge myself with this question: ‘I want this but is it really what I need?’ “
There are multiple times in scripture when Jesus asks the question, “What do you want me to do for you?” Blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10:51) declared, “Rabbi, I want to see.” Jesus immediately replied that his faith had healed him, and Bartimaeus joined the crowd of believers. In all situations, Jesus searches beyond our human want and examines the essence of our spiritual need.
I’m aware I search for band-aids (things I want), to hide spiritual wounds and provide temporary relief. Usually, the real answers to my need surround me: people with whom to talk, a quiet prayer time in church, or simply renewed awareness of the beauty and blessings in my life.
A friend and colleague who primarily sells educational materials came over to my desk late yesterday afternoon to relay her most recent phone conversation. She had been offering a collection of religious education materials to a Director of Religious Education (DRE) in a Catholic church. As usual, my colleague was describing the materials to the DRE and was getting an interested but not overly excited response. The last item to be described was a recording entitled “The Chants of Angels”. At this point, the DRE interrupted the conversation – now with some amazement – because she had just been given that recording by a friend. You see, this DRE had been fighting cancer and her friend had given her that exact recording, hoping it would bring some peace into her life.
I am sure that many of us run into these “events” from time to time, with our own reaction of ‘WOW”! I am sharing this story because the Lord also used it to remind me that others are suffering, that they need prayer AND that I never know how a person may be touched by something such as chant. We say and hear so often that chant is first and foremost “sung prayer,” that this reminder from the Lord once again made me stop and ponder just how real that prayer actually is!