Simple Commitment & Humility

This fall Paraclete will publish The Last Monk of Tibhirine – the story of Jean-Pierre Schumacher, now the only surviving monk from Our Lady of Atlas monastery where seven monks were abducted and killed by Algerian terrorists in 1996.
The Last Monk of TibhirineI just finished reading the manuscript copy and what struck me the most was the humble commitment that led these monks to remain in Algeria and simply be present with their neighbors in a time of unchecked violence in their country. Their goal had never been to convert their Muslim neighbors – but to simply show Christ’s love and live alongside them. I have been thinking a lot about a portion of the last testament written by Prior Christian just before the abduction, where he says that he saw himself as an accomplice of evil in the world. He depicts it as  “sitting down at the table of the sinners.”  As it is described “all of us deserve part of the blame for everything that goes wrong in the family of mankind, and it is our duty to change this and to heal. If we neglect doing this, if we do not take action and carry out the task that we have been given, then we are jointly responsible for the result.”
I am so struck by the humility of these thoughts. I so often get angry about this or that, and it take me quite a while to discover what I need to take responsibility for in a situation. These monks were quietly going about their business, believing themselves to be doing the will of God, but at the same time meditating on the evil in all human hearts and its contribution to the violence around us. They felt that their task, as an antidote to violence in their country was simply to remain. Even after the death of seven out of nine members of their monastery, the two remaining monks at the time continued on and reopened their monastery in Morocco with a few others, with the hope to return to Algeria in the future.

Actions speak louder than words in a way that is profound.


Gregorian chant: The Grandfather of music

Lately, Gloriæ Dei Cantores’ chant recordings have received a lot of favorable attention. We’re thrilled, of course—we view Gregorian chant as the beloved “grandfather” of all western music, and it provides the heartbeat of our monastic vocation. “Seven times a day will I praise thee,” says the psalmist, and we endeavor to join him faithfully through the Liturgy of the Hours. The fruits of this opus Dei—this work of God—are sweet indeed.

Now I know that not everyone views chant as the “full contact sport” that we tend to engage in here in our monastery by the bay. The CDs most of our customers hear in the peaceful setting of home, car, or office, with those clean, smooth lines and (hopefully!) unified voices are generally only achieved after a lot of mutual knocking off of corners and filing down of rough patches amongst the Schola members—a challenging process, but in the end, always a cause for gratitude. As regular folks, we have experienced the innumerable benefits of worshiping daily through this vibrant form of sung prayer—the experience of unity, the seeming secret language of prayer, the sparks of inspiration that occur when the critical mechanism of the mind takes a break and the heart opens.

We know we’re not alone in finding these sparks, because Gloriæ Dei Cantores sings a lot of other music—the early masters like Josquin and Palestrina, up through Bach, Mozart, Rheinberger, Brahms, Liszt, Faure, Vaughan Williams, and the list goes on—and we’re always excited to find that thread of Gregorian chant that has managed to weave its way through the music of the centuries, still living and breathing, into today’s choral music.

So if you’ve been reluctant to stray too far from the purity of chant, we invite you venture out into the other choral treasures that Gloriæ Dei Cantores has come to know and love—Gregorian chant’s great-great-grandchildren, if you will. It’s a lineage and heritage worth exploring.

Happy Birthday St. John of the Cross

Today is the birthday of St. John of the Cross, a man Thomas Merton called “the greatest of all mystical theologians.

Claudia Mair Burney describes his writing in The Ascent of Mount Carmel like this:

If you’ll allow him to, St. John of the cross will take you on an unforgettable journey. Like the romantic he is, he’s reaching for your hand, to steal away with you into the night. It’s a night of stark contrasts: the black darker than midnight, and the bright light more radiant than dawn.

Here is a little taste of his incredible poetry:Ascent of Mount Carmel

1. On a dark night, aroused in love with yearnings—
oh, happy chance!—
I went out without being observed, since all in my
house were asleep.

2. In darkness and secure, by the secret ladder,
disguised—oh, happy chance!—
concealed and in darkness, since all in my house
were asleep,

3. In the happy night, in secret, when no one saw me,
nor did I see anyone, without light or guide, except
the light that burned in my

4. This light guided me more surely than the light of
to the place where he (well I knew who!) was
waiting for me—
A place where no one appeared.

5. Oh, night that guided me, oh, night more lovely
than the dawn,
oh, night that joined beloved with lover, lover
transformed in the beloved!

6. He slept soundly on my flowery breast, which I had
kept wholly for him alone,
And I caressed him, and the fanning of the cedars
made a breeze.

7. The breeze blew from the turret as I parted his hair;
he wounded my neck with his gentle hand, and
suspended all my senses.

8. I remained, lost in forgetfulness; I lay my face on the
everything stopped and I abandoned myself,
forgetting my cares among the lilies.

The incomparable Hildegard

We recently received a manuscript for a new children’s book on Hildegard of Bingen. I adore picture books and reading them nightly to my small children is one of the highlights of my day. I can’t wait for this new picture book to be available (although it probably won’t be until Spring 2014.) The illustrations by Dave Hill are really fantastic, and you can take a look at his portfolio of other illustrations.

All that to say, Hildegard was on my mind already when we received this lovely review of Hildegard of Bingen and the Living Light (DVD) from Retta Blaney, award-winning journalist and author.

Hildegard of Bingen and the Living Light