The earth is composed of layers: surface, crust, mantle, outer core and inner core. And so are we. I have a surface-self, carefully constructed of what I want others to see. Successive layers, less in my control, lead to the heart of the matter. Psalm 51:10 petitions, Create in me a pure heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. God promises in Ezekiel 36:26-27, A new heart I will give you; and a new spirit I will put within you. While I’m busy trying, God is busy transforming. And I hope He finds my heart, fallow ground, plowed and waiting for the essence of Christ to grow.
By Sr. Nun Other
I recently helped remove strands of Christmas lights from a forty-four foot fir tree. I had the simple job of plugging in each strand – close to one hundred of them – to test and eliminate any that were defective. The tree climbers expertly coiled ropes of light, then piled them beneath the tree. As I retrieved them, I noticed how much each circle resembled a crown of thorns. It was a fascinating physical transformation and conveyed a distinct change in emotion that I wasn’t expecting. We rightfully honor and proclaim Christ’s birth with our best attempts at majesty and beauty. But look closely. Tucked within the ancient story are reality reminders. His life was rugged, filled with conflict, rejection, and suffering. All for us.
Birth: Wonder…Astonishment…Adoration. There can’t be very many of us for whom the sheer fact of existence hasn’t rocked us back on our heels. We take off our sandals before the burning bush. We catch our breath at the sight of a plummeting hawk. “Thank you, God.” We find ourselves in a lavish existence in which we feel a deep sense of kinship – we belong here; we say thanks with our lives to Life. And not just “Thanks” or “Thank It” but “Thank You.” Most of the people who have lived on this planet earth have identified this You with God or gods. This is not just a matter of learning our manners, the way children are taught to say thank you as a social grace. It is the cultivation of adequateness within ourselves to the nature of reality, developing the capacity to sustain an adequate response to the overwhelming gift and goodness of life.
Wonder is the only adequate launching pad for exploring this fullness, this wholeness, of human life. Once a year, each Christmas, for a few days at least, we and millions of our neighbors turn aside from our preoccupations with life reduced to biology or economics or psychology and join together in a community of wonder. The wonder keeps us open-eyed, expectant, alive to life that is always more than we can account for, that always exceeds our calculations, this is always beyond anything we can make.
Excerpted from God With Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas, Edited by Greg Pennoyer and Gregory Wolfe (Paraclete Press)
By Sunset Septuagint
One of my favorite things to contemplate in the Church of the Transfiguration’s mosaic apse is the New Jerusalem above Christ in Glory. The tesserae sparkle in brilliant shades of red, blue and gold. Buildings of different sizes line the path, and lead to a tiny door (almost like Alice in Wonderland) in the top center of the apse.
I look at all the buildings and wonder: will my whole Community family be in one big building, or will I be in one of the tiniest ones that look so welcoming? I do know one thing. God will be with me, and will wipe away every tear from my eyes, and there will be no more mourning or crying or pain. (Revelation 21:3, 4)
But how to get there? One of the clergy gave a little sermon about giving up everything to follow Jesus. He described a man who went to heaven carrying only a small suitcase of his most treasured possessions. He was welcomed at the door and given a new robe to put on. But the suitcase would not pass through the sleeve of his robe, so he had to leave it at the door.
Fortunately, most of us are not called to give up all our worldly possessions all at once, but we are a long way from one small suitcase. The more I unpack here, the less I’ll have to leave at the threshold of that tiny door to the New Jerusalem — and the more room I’ll make for Jesus.
My little four-legged friend has upbraided me for not heeding him, and tells me that I have been far too serious for too long. He wants to say that love overcomes all.
Indeed it is true, and he is right. Love is the only unconquerable power and the all-conquering power. I try to imagine, as I look at him, how small a world his eyes see in comparison to mine, and yet it is his whole world. I see his short four legs and how little of the world he could experience on his own. Heights of any greatness are denied him under his own power; closed doors are a barrier to any progress. Water or snow more than six inches deep could mean death. Yet he has traveled far, gone high, passed through many doors, seen much, and endured great depths of water and snow. How? I carry him. He goes with me. Why? Because I love him.
So it is with our Savior. It is his love that carries us in much the same way. Our small world, our littleness—the closed doors, the great heights—are available to us because we go with him. His love overcomes our lack. He show us that loving others with his love is a conquering power over all troubles, all darkness. No barrier exists to his love. In the end, we must succumb to his love. He waits for us to be a vessel for his love to others.
By Faithful Finch
In February, I visited the Donatello exhibit at MOBIA in NYC. Monsignor Timothy Verdon spoke about each sculpture in depth. In addition to the Donatello sculptures, there was Giovanni d’Ambrogio’s “Gabriel of the Annunciation” and the “Virgin Mary of the Annunciation.” I found “Virgin Mary” especially provoking, as Mary appeared to be a young man.
Monsignor Verdon explained that d’Ambrogio had sculpted her this way to communicate that God so loves and respects each and every person, whether man or woman, that if we will say, “yes” as Mary did, He will send His Son to live inside of us. How simple but profound!
My dog continues to teach me about the love of God.
The latest lesson came one day when he was displaying the customary surrender a dog gives its pack leader or the human he loves: roll over and expose the soft underbelly. This is where he is most unprotected: death could come quickly with the inner organs perforated or destroyed by exposure. There is no hard bone here between victim and predator. This is also the spot he most likes scratched and petted when we have “love-in” moments.
As I watched this small creature display his trust and dependence on me, I felt such a yearning to be this trusting of Jesus Christ—opening to Him the soft vulnerable places of my life. I thought about how many times I try to put hard bone over these places, hardening my heart to God and everyone. In so doing, I deny myself the experience of the tenderest of loves. Here in the vulnerable hidden parts of my life, love of my savior would bring security, comfort and a strong foundation of peace. If God loves these parts of me, then I will know I am truly loved. If I can trust him in the risk of rejection, then I am truly forever safe in the heaven of His arms. May I have the spiritual courage to greet you, as your small creature greets me.
By Sr. Nun Other
I’m told by a sister of Chinese heritage that I practice feng shui. And I thought I was merely rearranging furniture! I convinced her to join me, and, as we worked together, I periodically asked, “What’s that called again?” Feng shui, pronounced “fung shway,” the study of the relationship between environment and human life. It’s composed of two Chinese words, feng (wind) and shui (water), two life sustaining natural elements that flow and circulate throughout the Earth. It is also referred to as the art of placement: how to place furniture, possessions, and yourself within your surroundings to best achieve balance, comfort, and harmony. The wing of the Convent, where my Chinese sister and I live, leans toward early American design. Matters not what your particular decorating taste is. With prayerful consideration, we can create a space of beauty that reflects God’s presence in our lives.
Today, in celebration of Phyllis Tickle’s life, we share with you an open letter, written in thanksgiving for her friendship, guidance, and love over the last twenty years.
What can we, at the Community of Jesus, say about you? How much of a friend you were, how we miss you terribly now and feel a hole in our days when we let ourselves think of you, and all that you have meant to us and done for the church?
We remember your great laugh and your warmth of spirit, how you would encourage and challenge us to think beyond what we knew, to what is unknown, and maybe uncomfortable, but possibly something new to consider. Where do we get this kind of friend? A friend who would stick her neck out — knowing she was throwing some people into a frenzy of confusion, and yet, at the same time, feeling it’s a necessary duty.
We know you also enjoyed those moments. You didn’t hide the twinkle in your eye when your probing had moved one of us off our chess spot, so that we bumped the Knight next to us and now saw the Queen from a completely different angle. Yes, there were some very crafty moves, and yet, you weren’t just crafty, you were interested in the growth of an individual and its direct effect on the church. Open the doors of the mind, let there be new ideas, let our words speak to a church in need, not a church we wish existed. These were your words, and you were an evangelist and advocate, eager to live out your faith on the hoof with great intention and integrity.
We miss you, friend. We see your hand at Paraclete Press, and you will always be with us as a reminder to keep our sights on the future and the needs of a hurting world — of which we are a part — and to live out that vocation in the market place.
We miss you, friend. We remember your words and your impassioned plea that the theater of the church be vital and full, retelling the great stories of faith and the riches of God’s promises to his people. Elements Theatre Company owns this charge.
We miss you, friend. We hear your chortles and southern twang as you tell stories and enjoy a visit with friends and colleagues, believing that at the basis of relationships, commitment and faith were paramount.
It has been our great privilege to know you and work with you, to sit with you and talk with you, to be a part of the church together and serve its future.
With our great love and affection,
Your friends and family at the Community of Jesus
And flights of Angels sing thee to thy rest. Hamlet V,ii