Wednesday, August 6

Feast of the Transfiguration

The Dark Church, Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey
Well, our  feasting began last night at Vespers. Beautiful antiphons, tones for the Psalms and the readings are always some of my favourites anyway, so that's not really fair. Well, the whole Feast is basically my favorite, too. And basically all the antiphons are from Scripture as well.

Christ Jesus, the brightness of the Father and the express image of his being, who upholds all things by the word of his power, while at the same time purging away our sins, deigned on this day to show himself in glory upon a high mountain. (Antiphon on the Magnificat)

I love this hymn we sang, the first stanza of which is in the photo above:

Caelestis formam gloriae
O wondrous type! O vision fair

of glory that the Church may share,

which Christ upon the mountain shows,

where brighter than the sun he glows!

With Moses and Elijah nigh

Th' incarnate Lord holds converse high;

And from the cloud, the Holy One

Bears witness to the only Son.

With shining face and bright array,

Christ deigns to manifest today

what glory shall be theirs above

who joy in God with perfect love.

And faithful hearts are raised on high

by this great vision's mystery;

for which in joyful strains we raise

the voice of prayer, the hymns of praise.

O Father, with the eternal Son,

and Holy Spirit, ever One,

vouchsafe to bring us by thy grace

to see thy glory face to face.

Our homilist made mention of Hiroshima also occurring on this day, which seems such a horrendous thing to me that it would happen simultaneously with this Feast. I pray that God would forgive us, things known and unknown, that disfigure His glory in any of His creatures, whom with one degree to another, He is changing into His likeness. Forgive us, Father; we don't know what we do. Enfold your kingdom of peace and beauty on the earth.

Collect for the Day
O God, who on the holy mount revealed to chosen witnesses your well-beloved Son, wonderfully transfigured, in raiment white and glistening: mercifully grant that we, being delivered from the disquietude of this world, may by faith behold the King in his beauty; who with you, O Father, and you, O Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God for ever and ever. Amen.

Tuesday, August 5

Another Prayer, Another Rule(er?)

St. Scholastica Chapel

     A Typical Day in the Life
           Matins - 6:30am
           Mass (Holy Eucharist Rite II) - right after Matins
Silent Breakfast
Silent Meditation/Prayer/Study
            Terce - 9:30am
Working usually
             Sext - Noon
Silent Lunch (which they call "dinner" - no end of confusion for me)
Tea Time - 3:30pm
              Vespers - 5:30pm
Silent Dinner (which they call "supper" - which is a word that makes me think of my friend M.J. and his dog, Jasmine (may she rest in peace), who wouldn't eat until he said, "Eat your supper.")
                Compline - 7:30pm

Post-Compline to Terce, we observe silence for meditation and prayer, or study, and all of our meals are silent (also for prayer or something - this has probably been the biggest adjustment for me and I was not aware of it when I first arrived! I did not however do anything embarrassing in my ignorance so no good stories there-sorry!) Amendment to this is that on Sundays, we get to have non-silent Dinner! Woot. And let me tell you, they love the silence, but they also love the talking. Love. So, we had a fun dinner on Sunday, even busted out the potato chips and carbonated water with Pomegranate!

I have learned that these are more "guidelines" than hard and fast "code," as it were. Especially should a guest need something, as per the Rule of St. Benedict, they speak as oft as needed. And many times a Sister or two will need to do work between Breakfast and Terce and must speak to other people or animals. One of the more humorous parts of this to me is that in fact, many of the Sisters are near deaf and so if something is communicated, it is actually at a much louder volume than the average "inside voice" which sounds positively like yelling when interrupting periods of observed silence. It's great, it really gives the whole thing character and I'm pretty sure God finds it endearing and funny, too.
All the silence and prayer is ruthlessly monotonous! I mean that in the best way possible, but it seems to me the most apt description of it and not unlike what many of the nuns here have said about the life. Sister Mary Elizabeth told me about a Junior who ended up leaving before her profession because she just could not handle the ordinary, in a sense. Each day was more or less the same level of intensity, the work demanding the same amount of rigor and so very little heights or high seasons of productivity on which so many of us Americans thrive, seek and consider successful. 

Even the prayers are said with the same ruthless monotony (think ENTS!). However, look out for the lectionary readings and the changing Psalms, and often the BVM antiphon and the occasional Common of Holy Men or Women-things can get a little exciting. And of course, I actually do mean that because I think ruthless monotony is pretty adventuresome actually.

What I have found is that unless the balance of the Benedictine tri-focus of study, prayer and work remains in symbiotic balance, the life is simply monotony- in the acedic (yeah, I just made it into an adjective) sort of pointless sense- or ruthless, in the legalistic, workaholic sense, you know, like with the Trinity, if we over or under emphasize, He becomes different from who He is. Like I said before, this is just sort of the built-in stability of the Monastic Life, not that there isn't temptation to overdo one or the other but I suppose that is why they ruthlessly pray "save us from the time of trial/lead us not into temptation" 6 times a day, eh? Or at least in part. 

Sunday, December 9

His messengers, the Prophets

Deisis in Hagia Sophia, 12th century

Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation; Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. AMEN

Today on this Advent II, we celebrate the lives of all the prophets, but in particular John the Baptist, all of whom waited expectantly for the salvation of God.  John's journey was foretold to his father and indeed to his mother, whereupon her greeting by the Theotokos, John leapt joyfully in the presence of His Savior. At John's birth, everyone said, "What then will this child be?" For the hand of the Lord was with him.

Zechariah, his dad, prophesied concerning his relationship to Jesus:  

"Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all who hate us.  And you, child, will be the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people, in the forgiveness of their sins because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace."  

Then the word of God came to John when he lived out in the wilderness at which point he went all throughout the land, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  Though this was the Good News, he held out hope for all of them that "he who is mightier, whose sandal John was not worthy to untie, would come to baptize them with the Holy Spirit and fire", an even fuller picture of the salvation of God.

When John had been imprisoned by Herod, he had his doubts and curiosities and sent word to Jesus to ask him if He was the one to come?  Jesus uses the words of prophets to confirm to John that indeed the Good News he himself had preached was being fulfilled in Jesus.  Then, Jesus gives a beautiful picture of His love for John and asks the crowd: "What did you go out to see in the wilderness?  A reed shaken by the wind? A man dressed in soft clothing?  A prophet?  Yes!  Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet! And he confirms the call God placed on John, saying, "I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than he."  This is confusing because Jesus also was born of a woman and yet he anoints and exalts John.  I think that is what it means for God to befriend us and is so beautiful that even in the midst of John's doubt, Jesus upholds his faithfulness and the hope that John expressed in God.  And so, he is still one of the great cloud of witnesses who calls us into preparation and heralds the making straight of the crooked.  Alleluia.

Listen below to
There's a Voice in the Wilderness Crying (1982 Hymnal #75), instrumental only, on organ

Saturday, December 8

Branch of the Lord


In that day
the branch of the Lord shall be beautiful and glorious

Isaiah 4.3

Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.
For you have delivered my soul from death,
my ears from tears, my feet from stumbling.
I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living.
I believed even when I sopke, "I am greatly afflicted";
I said in my alarm, "All mankind are liars."

Psalm 116.7-11

Friday, December 7

To be a Jewel of His Crown...


On that day the LORD their God will save them,
        as the flock of his people;
    for like the jewels of a crown
        they shall shine on his land.
    For how great is his goodness,
and how great his beauty!
  (Zechariah 9:16-17)

  For Zion's sake I will not keep silent,
  and for Jerusalem's sake I will not be quiet,
    until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a burning torch.
  The nations shall see your righteousness,
   and all the kings your glory,
     and you shall be called by a new name
     that the mouth of the LORD will give.

You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD,

and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. (Isaiah 62)

The first time that I read Zechariah, I remember chapter 9 stuck out to me, in part because it has the passage about the King riding in on a donkey and that of course, was a familiar narrative to me.  I have always thought God so interesting for using seemingly innocuous descriptions in the middle of books-particularly in the prophets-to then blow everyone away.  Because a few centuries later, God Incarnate asks for a donkey to ride, effectually saying, "Y'all, your King is here! Remember all that I promised to Zechariah? Yeah, I'm ushering that in right here, right now."  Whoa.  Of course, Zech 9 is also awesome for all of the descriptions of the coming of the King, and trumpets and lightning and the way that somehow all the cacophony leads to peace, the eternal reign of peace.

But, the real reason why this chapter lodged in my memory is  because of the verse I highlighted above.  I was probably 16 when I first read this, depressed, ugly, lonely due to an innate mistrust of people, perfectionist.  Like I said it was an awesome reading, the King will do this and that and it's going to be crazy and we'll rejoice and then verse 16, God spoke straight to me.  I thought, oh! I'm so blessed to belong to those people in the flock that God has and will save.  "Therefore", God said, "the next line is also yours.  You are a jewel of my Crown and you are to shine."  The fact that we are to be jewels of His Crown because of His own goodness and beauty, as the next verse says, was not lost on my little neo-Platonist self, either.  I knew I could trust Him because my goodness and beauty (and that of everyone) derives from His own regal beauty.  In my darkest moments, when the assaults of the enemy manifest as a multitude of voices, sometimes in my own head and sometimes from others' lips and which I would then play over and over, the first combative phrase I ever used was "I am a jewel of His Crown."  It might be time to dust that sword off and bring it back out into the melee.

So, this was the daily lectionary reading for last Monday, I think, the 2nd day of Advent and I had determined to pray for beauty and light all Advent long and to ask my friends to do the same, as I mentioned before, feeling the gravitas of a black hole in my heart.  I also know that God is faithful to work on me in penitential seasons so I could feel that Advent was coming.  So, of course, when I read this on the first day of Advent, I thought, Oy, so that's how you're going to play this, Holy Spirit?  Way to really start things off with a bang.  Alright, let's do this, Thy will be done.  Verse 12 reads, "Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double."  I would love to check the grammar to be sure, but I think the phrase, "prisoners of hope" is a really funny one; of course, it may simply mean, prisoners who still have hope, verses those imprisoned by hope, but I'm going to take the latter interpretation for now.  That basically summed up how I felt after this reading, at the very outset of this season of Advent, of waiting and expectantly hoping but God having shown me that He's going to be at His purging kind of work in me.  Sometimes it would be way easier to let that go and to lie down with the lies, vices and escapism, to refuse to live and shine, having been placed as one of the jewels of the Crown of the Most High.  But, at the end of the day, I give thanks to my good and beautiful King who has made me a prisoner of hope!

Thursday, December 6

People Look East

I know that I quoted some of People Look East in yesterday's blog
but I did not post the audio to it so here ya go! 
This is especially for SCurry :)

Chapel at Zaffran Monastery, the Monastery of Mor Hananyo (St. Ananias), in Mardin, dating to the 5th century and a haven for the Orthodox as well as others, like the Armenians.  The Syriac around the altar reads, "By your Name, we conquer sin."

But today we look East, the quote is from the book of Baruch and the images come from a trip to Turkey that I went on this past spring.  We visited the Cappadocian region with its rich tradition of Christian beauty and theology and several churches of many communions, but particularly the Eastern (Antiochene, Syriac, Oriental Orthodox) Church.  Though Turkey changed hands many times over its long history, some holy places, though now mostly tourist locations, have been preserved.  Though often we were grieved by this and the vandalism and disrespect shown to the early Christian devotion, we realized that we too mar the Image in one another and ourselves, more often than we usually repent on account of it.  But, today, I use these as a reminder of beauty and light that have stood through history, violence, war iconoclasm and the beauty of the Orthodox church today and their beautiful, hopeful contribution from their branch of our Family.  I look forward to being gathered together, east and west, and seeing the church outfitted with the garment of Christ, as His Body, bright, beautiful, just and at peace.

Pantokrator surrounded by the Minor Prophets in Church of Panagia Pammakaristos, Istanbul

Look about thee, O Jerusalem, towards the east, and behold the joy that cometh to thee from God. For behold thy children come, whom thou sentest away scattered, they come gathered together from the east even to the west, at the word of the Holy One rejoicing for the honour of God. Put off, O Jerusalem, the garment of thy mourning, and affliction: and put on the beauty, and honour of that everlasting glory which thou hast from God. God will clothe thee with the double garment of justice, and will set a crown on thy head of everlasting honour. For God will shew his brightness in thee, to every one under heaven. For thy name shall be named to thee by God for ever: the peace of justice, and honour of piety. Arise, O Jerusalem, and stand on high: and look about towards the east, and behold thy children gathered together from the rising to the setting sun, by the word of the Holy One rejoicing in the remembrance of God.
~Baruch 4.36-5.9

Iconostasis of the Church of St. George, dragon-slayer, the Ecumenical Patriarchate where we met with His All Holiness, who greeted us in the name of our one Lord Jesus Christ and spent a solid ten minutes in good conversation with us  

Church of St. George, Istanbul

People Look East, and sing today:
Love, the Lord, is on the way!


Wednesday, December 5

Love, the Star, is on the Way

Orion Nebula Star Formation Factory

Creator of the stars of night,
Thy people’s everlasting light,
Jesu, Redeemer, save us all,
And hear Thy servants when they call.
Thou, grieving that the ancient curse
Should doom to death a universe,
Hast found the medicine, full of grace,
To save and heal a ruined race.
~Creator of the stars of night, 1982 Hymnal #60

star factory nearby galaxy
Stars, keep the watch. When night is dim
One more light the bowl shall brim,
Shining beyond the frosty weather,
Bright as sun and moon together.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the star, is on the way.
~People look east, Eleanor Farjeon 
Today, I had the joy of singing the preceding hymns (can be heard by clicking below) as part of our Advent choir during our Wednesday Eucharist service in chapel.  Afterward, our esteemed dean and president even said to me, "You looked like you were enjoying yourself up there, very full of joy."  So, perhaps Advent is doing its work after all, eh?  The service was lovely and God was faithful, as always, to use the music and the liturgy to bring joy and assurance that He is indeed coming.  A word was given during the service that the Lord was encouraging a female in the room with a hole in her heart that He was healing it and that He does not mean for her to carry it going forward.  I am one such girl (with a black hole in her heart) who could use that encouragement as just last week I was telling a friend, "I have so little hope that this one thing will be healed before I get to the new heavens and new earth...."  And that healing is what the Lord has been trying to remind me of over the last month or so.

This may seem somewhat roundabout, but it's the meditation that I sat down to write so here it is.  I have been thinking a lot about the whole of creation groaning for completion, for us to take our place as the children, kings and queens of God, for all to be put to rights, for the Prince of Shalom to reign fully.  Lately, I have also groaned for this and I am glad for the season of Advent, in part, for a time to lament and groan together for the brokenness that is still here and yet for the abundant life and the medicine, as the hymn says, that has been given in the Incarnation of our Lord who is faithful to heal and bring us all, as one creation, to completion.  
surroundings of a black hole
But, what I want to add is that while I was viewing Hubble photos for today's images of stars, I realized that I really do view a place in myself as a black hole, so compact and dense that all is lost into it...even light, its gravitational pull all-encompassing.  Whatever star was present, died and had been of such a mass that a black hole is all that is left.  This is a very difficult truth for me to share but even so, God has asked me to share as honestly as I am able and this image really settled in my mind today as being how I view this, not with God's lens, but just with my own.  This is in some ways, a really helpful image because I know even with all this gloom (the paradox of the already and not yet, methinks) that God, Creator of the stars of night, Love, the bright morning star who himself is the nuclear fuel of every star and will never die, is on the way and the darkness has not overcome him!  I'm praying this becomes more evident as Advent goes on and that it takes hold in the midst of the black hole I have carried so long in my heart.  This is also part of why I am determined to present these meditations, to remind myself of Light and Beauty.

"I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star."   (Revelation 22.16)

"Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness HAS NOT overcome it."  (John 1.3-5)