Merit or Mercy

By Renaissance Girl

I am one of those people that struggles not to live on a merit system. Time and time again, I compare myself with those around me, and evaluate who gets what, and why I don’t have what I think I deserve.

This past weekend I had the opportunity to listen to a recording of the Community’s founders, Mother Cay and Mother Judy. I was too young to have taken in their teaching at the time, and it’s a gift to be able to hear their words — spoken to individuals who lived what they heard and became the founding generation of our Community.

There was a lot to take to heart, but one phrase stood out to me about my constant comparing.  In speaking about control, Mother Judy said “you negate Jesus Christ when you live according to a merit system.”

It seems so clear, but hearing it again had a fresh impact.  Why do I assume God’s role, and decide what I should and shouldn’t have?  And where does that leave space for the mercy and love of God?

The Community of Jesus

Gregorian Chant: The Eternal Song

By Cantor 

Chant as Prayer

Looking toward the fall and the new school year, it seemed a good time to reflect on chant as prayer.

The following text is a short excerpt from Reflections on the Spirituality of Gregorian Chant by Dom Jacques Hourlier. Based upon a series of college lectures from 1975 given at the Abbey of Solesmes, this excerpt is from a chapter entitled “Gregorian chant as Prayer”:

The statement that Gregorian chant is prayer has been repeated so often that it seems commonplace. Nevertheless, it is a profound truth, corresponding fully to the inner needs of our lives as Christian . . . {Chant} has a beauty which never wearies. Its originality and cyclical nature . . . help create the impression of something very dynamic – the public prayer of the Church.

Each Gregorian piece is an invitation to prayer. It nourishes that prayer day by day. It shapes the very depths of your being. At the same time, it bursts from your heart and lifts you, in mind and in heart, towards heaven. Is prayer supposed to be anything else? In the words of Auguste Le Guennant: “Prayer has become music.”          (pp. 10-12)

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Photo credit: www.sanctamissa.org225 × 291
 

Right Living

By Renaissance Girl

Our daily devotional had a meditation on Saturday that caught my attention. It was a quote from Richard Rohr in his book “Hope Against Darkness”, “God makes grace out of our grit; salvation out of our sin. We are saved, ironically, not by doing it right as much as by the suffering of having done it wrong. We come to God not through our perfection as much as through our imperfection. Finally, all must be forgiven and reconciled. Life does not have to be fixed, controlled, or even understood to be happy. Now be honest, that is good news.”

What I am compelled to admit, is that while I love the look of this in writing, I often don’t live this way. Too many times I forfeit the short road to God by fighting to be right in any given moment, instead of accepting my imperfection. I sacrifice the happiness that comes with being unfixed, out-of-control, and misunderstood. Instead, I bolster my efforts to control my own life, fix the chipped paint of my exterior, and press my point until I feel I have been heard.

It reminds me that recently I heard someone say, “sometimes you just have to surrender . . . to fall back and trust that arms will be there to catch you.” So I offer up my prayer: Lord, give me the grace, like a spiritual skydiver, to let go, fall back, and let you make some grace of my grit.

The Community of Jesus

 

Gregorian Chant: The Eternal Song

By Cantor

We recently finished a series of chant classes in our community in which everyone joined a schola, prepared a chant, and taught it to the other scholas. It was amazing to see how various individuals came together in these ad hoc scholas, and in just a few weeks’ time, learned to work and communicate together as a group.

When we completed the final class, we asked folks what they believed they had learned. Their responses included: “We learned about supporting each other,” and “We felt a new sense of mutual support within this group,” and “It was a ‘rush’ to feel the entire community join the chant after we completed the intonation.” The word “support” was the most common remark, and not one word about neumes was mentioned, (though they worked quite hard with learning the notation)! Everyone seemed to agree that they gained a greater sense of unity through participating in a schola. Once again, chant served a purpose beyond itself as we learned to support each other more in learning the chant and ultimately, in the worship service.

 

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Credit: Cartoon of St Philip’s Schola © Kath Walker 2011

Speaking of Words

By Sr. Nun Other

I’m privileged this summer to be part of a once-a-week vocal class. Our teacher, to help us better convey the meaning of our song, assigns an interesting exercise. We choose an English translation of a sung Latin phrase and then read the sentence aloud, emphasizing a different word each time. The sound looks like this:

Good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord.
Good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord.
Good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord.
Good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord.

And so forth. In a world where communication often consists of abbreviated texts such as, “How R U?”  “K. U?”, we risk losing the personal touch of word selection. Having both the capacity to hurt or heal, to cause laughter or tears, words express our humanity. Jesus did this like no other, choosing his words with both compassion and honesty. I need to follow his example.
The Community of Jesus

Creative Mastermind

By Melodious Monk

If I was asked to pick a graceful animal, the cow wouldn’t be first to pop into my head. But if you’ve ever seen a cow lie down — or run, (yes run, even gallop around the yard!) — you know this large animal can be light on its feet. Arriving at our barn for the afternoons’ chores, I marvel at the distinct traits of animals. I’m awed watching this huge cow gracefully (yes, a cow can be graceful!) collapse her legs under her and gently lie her massive body down. And for a moment, in the late afternoon sun, staring at a cow, I admire how creative and detailed and thoughtful God is.
The Community of Jesus

Immediately

By Melodious Monk

Every time I hear Matthew’s account of Jesus walking on water I think of John Ortberg’s book, “If you want to walk on water, you’ve got to get out of the boat.” It was some time in the late spring about 12 years ago– I had gotten sick with a seasonal flu, and I stayed home for a day. I had just finished my first year of college and was living at the Community for the summer. I was in a lot of turmoil inside, trying to figure out what to do with life. A friend had recently been reading this rather short blue-covered book and sent it over to me.

It was the perfect book for me at the time, and a huge comfort. I was quite anxious of the decisions about college and life, and how these decisions would affect the rest of my life!

I was thinking back on this transition time as the Gospel was read this past Sunday. At the end of the familiar gospel passage, I realized I’ve forgotten a very important part of the story. Yes, action is needed. We must take a step, must “get out of the boat” which undoubtedly can present challenges interiorly and exteriorly, physically and emotionally. What I tend to forget each day is what happens after we step toward Jesus. Matthew recounts that Jesus immediately catches Peter (and you and me) when we start to sink. Immediately. How much time does that leave for danger to occur?

When we are willing to step out toward God’s calling, every day we can choose to walk into any storm, whether big or small, dangerous or joyful, with the assured faith that if we start to sink, “immediately” we will be rescued.

 

 

Transfiguration

By Renaissance Girl

Yesterday was the feast day of the Transfiguration, the name day of our church. Our Sunday Eucharist was enlivened with movement and brass fanfare and ribbons streaming from the west wall depicting the Transfiguration story. But what’s on my mind is transfiguration in its broader sense — most likely prompted by the combination of yesterday’s service, and the impending opening night of “Julius Caesar” this Friday by Elements Theatre Company. It’s a big word for a concept that is both basic and immensely mysterious — change.

A word most of us both long for and avoid. I easily focus on the little changes of my daily life — an updated rehearsal time, a cancelled event, a new living situation — and I overlook the fact that life itself is one big change, and one we can’t measure by time or distance. Like St. Paul says in the scriptures, “And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.”  Degree by degree, moment by moment, becoming who we are meant to be.

What eludes me sometimes is the fact that God can use anything to bring about this change. It’s not about me trying to become different — it’s an action God does in me when I say “yes.” Which is where “Julius Caesar” comes in. Isn’t part of what draws us to theater — or any art — is the potential for change? To see something a little differently, experience life in someone else’s shoes. I wonder if theater/art is one of the few places we humans are actually open to having our minds or opinions changed — maybe we even long for it. The “Julius Caesar” I read in high school, held at arms length, is quite different from the “Julius Caesar” I am living now. And sometimes just the willingness to engage (to consider that what seems like an old story from history, actually has something to teach us now) is all it takes to start the change.

I have a quote on my desk that I love and says it far better — it was said by Monsignor Timothy Verdon, Director of the Office of Sacred Art and Church Cultural Heritage in Florence, Italy. He says the role of an artist requires him or her to give to others and therefore inspires us to look to him/her as a giver of spiritual life and “by doing that, we acknowledge art’s potential to nourish our craving for richer, deeper, more meaningful life, and we are already changed.”

The Community of Jesus

 

Gregorian Chant: The Eternal Song

By Cantor

Chant, Chant and MORE Chant!

I was in a meeting working on a very exciting possibility for another chant conference. It is simply amazing to me that the demand for teaching chant seems to be on a very quick rise.

During a lesson with Dr. Mary Berry in the summer of 2007, we were discussing the revival of Gregorian chant. What I remember is the look that came over her face as she expressed her heartfelt belief that there would be a great revival of chant. Anyone who knew her will instantly understand the following description: With eyebrows slightly furled, lips slightly pursed, eyes WIDE OPEN as she peered above her glasses, and gently but firmly stated “It will happen — it’s already beginning!”

I will be forever grateful to have heard these words from Dr. Berry’s mouth with such a clear expression. It was as though she had a glimpse of the future and she wanted to make certain that we all knew exactly what she had seen. Such faith and awareness that this treasure of the Church would indeed return to be a blessing to all who encountered it.

Ubi caritas est vera, Deus ibi est  (Where true love is, God Himself is there)

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Work

By Melodious Monk

Too much to do and not enough time. This seems to be modus operandi of much of our culture. We create gadgets to be more efficient, and we still find ourselves running out of time!  I find myself often bemoaning the fact that I can’t get all the “things” I’m responsible for done — the list never seems to end. It seems to grow the harder I try! The list feels like some of those trick birthday candles that never blow out no matter how much air you blow at the flame!

Do you ever ask yourself why God gives us work?  M. Basil Pennington puts forth this idea about how St. Benedict uses work to teach us lessons about God.(1) He says that having too much to do is actually a gift from God.  When we get to the end of the day, we realize we weren’t able to accomplish everything we might have wished.  And we are reminded that we are not God.  We are weak, needy people, in need of help.

Often I just get angry that I couldn’t finish everything I wanted to in the day. I try to plan better to find out how I can improve tomorrow.  But again this is a dead end.  In my own strength, I’ll still come up short. In his wisdom, Pennington is reminding me that coming up short is okay, and in fact a very good thing, even a gift from a loving God.  Why? Because it forces me to remember who God is, and allows me to choose to live in his strength, and by his grace.

[(1)  from Listen with your Heart, by M. Basil Pennigton, Ch 14]

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