Hearts that Welcome

By Sr. Nun Other

We did some fall housecleaning last night, starting with kitchen cupboards. Threw out some “lids to nowhere,” a melted turkey baster, and an old plastic measuring cup. It feels good to have dust-free, clutter-free cupboards, and a mental inventory of what’s available. I sometimes wonder what Mary’s house looked like. As Jesus’ mother, her life was always eventful, with an expectation for the unexpected. I imagine her home to be clean, orderly, and ready to welcome. But then I have a reputation for obsessive neatness. I prefer to think of it as stress avoidance. Friends with busy lives sometimes ask for advice, and it’s very basic: remove clutter, which I define as anything not necessary or beautiful. Beautiful is up to you—could be children’s art—or any number of things. To truly save time, avoid short-cuts—an oxymoron but true.

Psalm 84 tells of God’s lovely dwelling place, a place of peace and beauty that draws our weary hearts. Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you. “Selah.” Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage.


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More Discoveries

By Sr. Fidelis

We have taken a “romp” through the eight Church Modes over these past weeks and, for each mode, we have talked about the principal pitches, the Reciting Tone, and Home Tone.  There is always a “descent,” to the Home Tone at the end of the chants we have looked at, which gives it a feeling of “settling,” or completion.

In some of the older books for the Divine Office and the Mass, you will see some chants with no Mode listed in the customary place to the left of the piece.  If you look carefully at the Agnus Dei posted below, here is a case in point!  This Agnus Dei begins on Sol.  It goes above and below this pitch, but then, instead of descending to a lower pitch, it returns to the same pitch it began on.  It is almost as if the melody were “circular” —returning to its start!

There have been many studies done on Modality over the years, and it has been discovered that some of the melodies that have the same Reciting and Home Tone are very ancient—the beginnings of the chant melodies.

We’ll be looking into some of these discoveries in the weeks to come!

Agnus Dei

(No audio this week.)

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A Glad and Grateful Heart

By Sr. Nun Other

I did laundry the other day, and noticed a drip or two of liquid detergent on our new washer. A Christmas gift from a sister’s mother, it’s beautiful, state-of-the-art, and eco-friendly. It even plays a little tune when you open the lid, six musical notes that somehow convey how great clean laundry is. As I reached for a cloth and spray cleaner to remove the drips, I was reminded of an early lesson I received.

The lesson was about a grateful heart, and the teacher was my sister, twelve years older than I am. She had asked for my help at the laundromat, and we had several baskets full. After the last load was neatly folded, my sister added one more task: she cleaned and polished both the washer and dryer she’d used. I asked her why, and her reply made a deep impression. She explained that because she and her husband struggled financially, they were unable to afford a washer and dryer for their home. But she was grateful for the laundromat and the opportunity it provided. Why not treat their machines as if they were her own. It was a lesson about expressing love and gratitude in a practical way, for ordinary things. For me, a grateful heart is a concept with its feet on the ground.


Washing machine

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Saint Simeon

The feast of Simeon is celebrated on October 8th. Simeon is one of my favorite saints. We know him only from his welcoming the infant Jesus, and his mother and father, into the temple. But the words of his welcome have become immortalized in what we know as the Nunc dimittis. For centuries the Nunc dimittis has been joined with the Magnificat to provide the outline for evening worship. Composers throughout the history of the Church have set it to different melodies to allow us to join in that very special moment of worship in the temple in Jerusalem.

Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word:
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,
Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;
A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.



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City of Glass

By Melodious Monk

I met a new friend this week, Welsh poet R. S. Thomas. While recently feeling a little lost and tired of looking for God with seemingly no answer back, I went to a shelf of poetry books in hopes that someone else’s words might open my eyes a bit differently.

Perhaps it was Paul Powis’ colorful illustration on the front cover of the R. S. Thomas collection that caught my attention, but every poem of R. S. Thomas that I read I find compelling, thought-provoking, and profoundly mysterious.

One such poem is titled, “the empty church. “ I spend a significant amount of time in an empty church here at the Community of Jesus– either cleaning, doing maintenance work, or praying alone–so, in quickly glancing through the index, this poem’s title leaped out at me as one to read.

The Empty Church

They laid this stone trap
for him, enticing him with candles,
as though he would come like some huge moth
out of the darkness to beat there.
Ah, he had burned himself
before in the human flame
and escaped, leaving the reason
torn. He will not come any more
to our lure. Why, then, do I kneel still
striking my prayers on a stone
heart? Is it in hope one
of them will ignite yet and throw
on its illumined walls the shadow
of someone greater than I can understand?

In the short time I’ve spent with this Anglican priest’s poetry, I have found a strong sense of the knowledge of God’s presence when, and perhaps especially when, He is not tangible to us. I often ask God why this road through life has so many components that often feel pointless or at cross-purposes with one another. I think Thomas might say that our inability to understand God in our lives is not something to be afraid of. At the end of his poem Emerging, Thomas reminds us that God has destined us for good.

There are questions we are the solution
to, others whose echoes we must expand
to contain. Circular as our way is,
it leads not back to that snake-haunted
garden, but onward to the tall city
of glass that is the laboratory of the spirit.

Poetry by R. S. Thomas. Artwork by Paul Powis

Purple Shade by Paul Powis

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By Sr. Fidelis

Mode VIII is the most prolific of all the modes when it comes to antiphons!  Mode VIII has a Reciting Tone of DO and shares the same Home Tone as Mode VII, which is SOL.  Mode VIII  pieces have a “major”  sound to them because of the range of the modal scale they use.  Our example this week is taken from the Easter Office of Lauds.”But the Angel answering, said to the women:  Do not be afraid; for I know that you seek Jesus, alleluia.” (Matthew 28:5)

A look at our antiphon shows us many things.  The opening intonation outlines the key structural pitches, SOL and DO.  There is recitation on the DO on “Nolite timere” at the beginning of the second line.  This piece reminds us of Mode VII (which recites on RE), as it rises in several spots above the DO to the upper pitch, reminding us that these modes are closely related, linked by their shared Home tone.

Respondens autem Angelus

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Saint Francis

Sunday, October 4th is the feast day of Francis of Assisi, the world’s most popular saint! 

Francis was born in 1182, the son of a wealthy merchant of Assisi. His early youth was spent in harmless revelry and fruitless attempts to win military glory. He soon gave this up for a life of poverty, joyfully and literally following the sayings of Jesus. When Jesus spoke to him from a cross in the neglected chapel of San Damiano and told him to go build up His house, Frances thought this meant repairing the chapel. Over time he realized that God was speaking about the larger Church. He founded the Franciscan Order and devoted himself and his order to serving the poor. Not long before his death, he received the marks of Jesus’ wounds, the stigmata, in his own hands, feet and side. He was canonized in 1228, and the great basilica of St. Francis was built over his tomb in Assisi. His great love of nature and animals led the church to make him the patron saint of animals.
Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words. – Saint Francis


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Desert Beauty

By Sunset Septuagint

Last week, we had a funeral for one of our earliest religious Sisters.  At the burial site, someone mentioned her love for the desert. That struck a chord with me, because I have had a love for the desert ever since I traveled one day over the desert from Amman, Jordan to Cairo, Egypt, and then another time from the North to the South of Israel. I felt the power of the desert, the force of shifting sands, the strength to survive that only God can give, I also saw the beauty in the desert, often in small and hidden plants dependent on God for their blooming. I was reminded of several scriptures from Isaiah: the wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom. . . . they shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God. . . I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?


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