Imagine yourself as a living house

From “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis

Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what he is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised.

But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is he up to? The explanation is that he is building quite a different house from the one you thought of—throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but he is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it himself.

Paraclete House under construction at the Community of Jesus, 2005

When We Were Born, and When We Die

By Faithful Finch

I recently had the gift to care for my Mom as she was dying. It was amazing to go through the experience with her, that she went about with such faith, grace and trust. The process of dying and preparing for heaven unfolded before my very eyes.

As I was clipping her fingernails, the memory of her clipping my fingernails as a little child came rushing into my head and overwhelmed me. Yes, roles certainly do reverse. I realized in that and other simple acts, she was letting go, and beginning the process of looking toward her journey home. As she continued in that journey, her trust in God and in others grew. Gradually she lost her ability to walk, and talk clearly, and if she said a word or a sentence, we would be listening with baited breath, as a parent would with its baby’s first words. It was almost like she was gradually changing to be more child-like so she could be “born into heaven” on the other side. It seems like death is something that we struggle with because we are so afraid of the unknown and of letting go. When I thought of that, I remembered I had filed a poem my Dad had written twenty-six years ago that was similar to that very thought:

When We were Born, and When We Die

When we were born, we also died
To life, as seen and lived inside
Our mother’s womb, where safe and warm
We’d lain protected from the storm,
And from the threat of living life outside.
When we were born, we kicked and cried,
Resisting change and terrified
Of life, unknown, upon this earth.
To us, ’twas death instead of birth,
We could not see a door was opening wide.
As so it is, that when we die,
We’re also born to life on high.
No foe is death, a friend is she:
Opening the door, she sets us free.
Gone fear and pain, as to our Lord we fly.

Detail, mosaic apse of Christ in Glory, Church of the Transfiguration at the Community of Jesus

Making Room

 

 

 

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By Faithful Finch

We received a beautiful Christmas card with a picture of Mary & Joseph, and the shepherds huddled in light  around Baby Jesus and the words, “Let every heart prepare Him room.” I put it up on our bathroom mirror to remind me as I dry my hair to “prepare Him room.”  But how do I do that? I feel so small in the pains and inadequacies of my puny life as I scurry from thing to thing to make space for Christ the King. As I wash my face at the end of the day, and look at the beauty and simplicity of that card, I once again feel convicted from the words, “Let every heart prepare Him room.”  I say, “Ok, I want to get there. I do, but all I have to offer is sin and the pain that comes with it. I’m sorry. Help me.”

A peace comes on me as I realize that not one person in this Nativity scene came to “prepare Him room” without pain, without sacrifice, but with so much blessing. That’s what the preparing is all about: making room every day of the year.

From A to O

By Sr. Fidelis

We began Advent  with the “A” of Ad te levavi, in the introit for the first Sunday, and Aspiciens from the Night Office. Now in this time of Great Advent we look to the “Great Antiphons” or the “O Antiphons,” as they are called. Our beloved friend and mentor, Dr. Mary Berry of Cambridge, England, once told us that even in these wonderful chants of the season, we have “the Alpha and Omega.”

There is a greater sense of expectation and hope as Great Advent reaches its climax, in both the Mass and Divine Office chants. We often see the word veni (come). It appears in every one of the O Antiphons, which are sung with the Magnificat at Vespers each night. These contain both an invocation, using names for the long awaited Messiah from the Old Testament, and a petition for his coming as Savior. Scriptures are woven together with such imagery and poetry, making these Antiphons one of the great treasures of the early church. We know these antiphons have been sung from the 8th century! They all have basically the same tune, with slight variations according to textural differences, using Mode 2.

Starting on December 17th, the names of the promised Savior are:
O Sapientia (O Wisdom)
O Adonai (O Lord, Master)
O radix Jesse (O root of Jesse)
O clavis David  (O key of David)
O Oriens (O Day Star)
O Rex gentium (O King of the nations)
O Emmanuel (O God with us)

The first letters of these titles, read backwards from the order in which they appear, form the sentence in Latin, ERO CRAS, which means, “I will be (with you) tomorrow“.

Below is a copy of the final O Antiphon, O Emmanuel.  Notice the FA clef, always used with Mode 2 chants.The chant peaks on the phrase, “expectation of the peoples”, then approaches the invocation, “come and save us, O Lord our God”.

OEmmanuelchant

Gregorian Chant: The Eternal Song

By Cantor

The Chanted Passion

Yesterday, Palm Sunday, we entered into Holy Week, in which our greatest remembrance is the Passion of Christ. One of the most ancient of all chants — the chanted Passion according to St. John — reflects this remembrance. This gospel passion has been chanted for centuries on Good Friday, first being noted in the scriptures with nothing more than symbols indicating those parts chanted  by Christ, those by other characters (such as the “turba” or crowd,  or  Pilate) and finally, a narrator.

Here is a perfect example of the ancient  tradition of  chanting scripture to “lift it up.”  God’s word was meant to be sung in order to help reflect the depth of its meaning.

There is no other chant that carries more weight — more spiritual “gravitas”  — than the chanted Passion narrative. It is perhaps one of the simplest chant recitations, yet it carries some of the greatest truths. I think that that is the real lesson inside of this particular chant: its sheer simplicity is the very thing that seems to let it bring forth the incredible beauty of the Good Friday Passion.

The Community of Jesus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image credit: chant grégorien – Music in Parc musicinparc.canalblog.com

Pieces of Lent

By Melodious Monk

This year, Jesus again walks with us on our Lenten journey.  As we go, I want to try and find new delights of God that I can gather together and take into springtime, with the hopes of understanding a few more aspects of the love of God.  Here are a few nuggets I picked up this week from French writer Leon Bloy.

Freedom is nothing but this: the respect God has for us…

If [God] desires to have us, he must seduce us, for if his Majesty does not please us, we can throw it from our presence, buffet it, scourge it, and crucify it to the applause of the vilest rabble. God will not defend himself with power, but only with his patience and his beauty….

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.  (Rev. 3:20)

Suffering! Here then is the key word! Here the solution for every human life on earth! The springboard for every superiority, the sieve for every merit, the infallible criterion for every moral beauty! People absolutely refuse to understand that suffering is needful…Suffering is necessary. It is the backbone, the very essence of moral life. Love is recognized by this sign, and when this sign is lacking, love is but a prostitution of strength or of beauty. I say that someone loves me when that someone consents to suffer through or for me…

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. (Luke 9:23)

There is but one sorrow, and that is to have lost the Garden of Delights, and there is but one hope and one desire, to recover it.

The Community of Jesus

Gregorian Chant: The Eternal Song

By Cantor

Chant: The Lord’s voice in Song

I started to write this blog four different times this morning. I try to pray and meditate each week on some aspect of chant about which to write. Sometimes the ideas appear quickly and sometimes, like today, they did not. However, as I started over for the fifth time, I realized that the Kyrie chant from the Gregorian daily ordinary time mass was quietly going through my head. Very gently, this simple tune was repeating itself over and over. The chant itself carries a profound cry – “Lord, have mercy” and yet is no more complex than a nursery rhyme tune.

I wanted to share this with you for two reasons. One, it is often the simplest of chants which become part of our subconscious, just as children’s songs do, through both their simplicity and daily repetition. (You can find this Kyrie online and make it part of your daily prayers – see p. 56 of the pdf located at this link:  http://media.musicasacra.com/pdf/kyriale-solesmes.pdf).

The second reason I wanted to share this with you is that the Lord was using the chant the entire time I had been trying to “figure out what to write.” I had not been listening. God had been singing an answer to my request the entire time but I was not settled enough to listen. This time, I believe, the Lord himself was chanting into my ears a message that He wanted written and that I needed for that moment.

The Community of Jesus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image Credit:  Chants from a choirbook from Florence

Victoria and Albert  museum  www.vam.ac.uk1000 × 1500

 

Caution, Slippery!

By Melodious Monk

In the last 10 days we’ve received more than our yearly average for annual snow fall. This had been a mild winter until winter storm “Juno” blasted in last Monday. Outside in the cold sun, we keep trying to make the walkways and paths clear and safe around our community so that people can get to their cars, offices, and homes safely.  We, and many others in the area, put a great deal of care and effort to protect people physically (with ice melt, sand, boots for better footing etc ), while trying to continue our lives “as normal” (the best we can due to the circumstances).  We have all sorts of methods and tools we use to do this — plows, snowblowers, rock-salt, sand, shovels etc.

But what about our spiritual lives?  Generally I spend much less time trying to protect myself from spiritual forces than I do for a snow storm.  How many methods and tools do I gather, and what plans do I make to protect us from oncoming spiritual storms?  Ephesians reminds us,”For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

Maybe in the midst of all the snow clearing, God is reminding me to put more time and energy into fighting the battles that will keep me from slipping on our most important journey, the journey into the spiritual realms.

The Community of Jesus

The Complexity of Love

By Sr. Nun Other

Christmas decorating is low on my list of favorite activities. Somewhere around a visit to the dentist. My expectations are so high, my desire to create beauty so intense, that I’m certain to disappoint myself. Last night, I placed, replaced, and repositioned three decorative Christmas pillows on a bench. After a half hour of this, I realized there was no perfect that was perfect enough. But my building frustration led to a re-thinking of, “What is it I’m really looking for?”

Anticipation and expectation come with the Christmas territory and are worthy attributes. When rightly directed and defined, they lead to faith, hope, and a joyful reunion with all who gathered on that holiest of nights. They speak of someone achieving great things of which we’re the beneficiaries of inheritance. Candles in the window, trees dressed in light and shining tinsel, evergreen wreaths on doors — all are invitations, our warm welcomes, to the One that truly matters.

The Community of Jesus

When the road takes a sharp turn

By Renaissance Girl

I recently embarked on an adventure. I was starting something new that, actually, made me quite afraid.  It was outside of what seemed logical, and it forced me to ask God at every turn “what do I do?” It took some preparation, and each decision I made felt like I could be making a huge mistake — but it seemed like it was what God was asking, so I tried to do it. I wish I could say that I am familiar with living like this — abandoned to God — but I am not and that made it all the scarier, and yet at the same time, hopeful.

And then, suddenly, just when things were wrapped up, the road took a sharp turn. What I thought I was going to be starting didn’t work out. I find myself asking God what he intended in all of this, and what I should do now. What was the point of the preparation if only to run into a road-block?

I will tell you I don’t have answers yet. What I do know is that every day, every moment, is a choice. A choice to ask the question again and not retreat into anger and disappointment and accusation. A choice to trust, even when “logic” says to be skeptical, because if this didn’t work out, maybe the next thing won’t either. My pride desperately wants to save me from getting excited about something only to see it pass by.

I opened a card yesterday that someone had given me when I was preparing for this adventure. They included a prayer about trust — and in that moment I saw God. He knew I’d need this prayer even more in this moment — when I was most tempted to distrust:

Trust, you say, and so I will.  But at times its thread wears thin, and rubs raw the palms of my hands.  Yet I cling to it, for you have shown that in every circumstance, trust leads to Love eventually. Take the pieces of my life and make them one. Smooth the edges, mold the shapes until, with perfect symmetry, they interlock and become the “me” you long for. I can’t make this “me” puzzle fit, though I often try. Master Craftsman of body, mind, and spirit — let it be so, for I trust in you.”

The Community of Jesus