Holy Desire

By Sr. Spero

The entire life of a Christian is an exercise in holy desire.  St. Augustine

The Lauds reading this morning was from St. Augustine—about stretching our souls through holy desire.  He used the illustration of a wineskin, the forerunner of the wine bottle, that could be stretched to hold more wine. I’ve never had to stretch a wineskin, but I’ve put too much in a suitcase, and been very grateful for a top zipper that expands my space. So I understand the concept.

St. Augustine’s point is that we are containers, of one sort or another, that should expand and stretch so that God can use us more and more. We do this through holy desire. As we desire God, we are being stretched, to be able to hold more of Him. I suspect spiritual stretching is like physical stretching. It takes effort, it’s sometimes painful, but always worth it. Lord, help me to desire you more and more, and not be surprised when I feel the stretching.

Vineyards at the Community of Jesus

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Riding it Down

By Faithful Friar
The past few months have seen an exciting development in the bell-ringing band here at the Church of the Transfiguration bell tower at the Community of Jesus. For the first time since the bells were installed and we began ringing six years ago, a new “class” of bell-ringers signed up and began the process of learning the art and craft of English-style tower bell change-ringing. The “art” lies in the fact that this style allows for precision-timed ringing of tuned bells so they can be rung one after the other in ever-changing sequences (thus, “change ringing”). The “craft,” as one may imagine, lies in working with a hundreds- or thousands-pound object swinging freely on a large wheel back and forth through 360 degree turns, and attached to a very long rope which the ringer has to handle. He or she is surrounded by other ringers trying to do the same thing as they negotiate whatever pattern is being rung — a very practical lesson in commitment and community! It feels like “precision bull-riding” for quite a long time and takes lots of patience, endurance, and trust in your teachers. Again, perhaps a bit like living in a large community of people of varying ages, opinions, and abilities! But all the effort can really pay off if you “stay on the animal’s back” and learn to work with it — and with those around you. It is an especial joy and privilege to be the first generation of ringers here, and to already be passing on all we know to a new crop of ringers. As St. Benedict says, “We are, therefore…a school in the Lord’s service”!

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Adorate Deum

By Sr. Fidelis

It never ceases to amaze me that there is so much creative variety in the various chant melodies — evidence that the Holy Spirit was guiding with inspiration! Week 3’s Introit, Adorate Deum, is a case in point. This is no “predictable” tune, but has surprises throughout, and there’s much we can learn from this Mode 7 piece. First to note is the DO clef, which is located unusually low on the 2nd line. This enables the complete octave range of the piece to “fit” on the 4-line stave. Mode 7 recites on RE, with a Home Tone of SOL. (A reminder that the other SOL Mode, 8, recites on DO). The opening phrase has this wonderful “pull” from DO to RE on the words “Adorare Deum,” which the Monks of Solesmes demonstrate so beautifully. It then blossoms into an 8-note rising and falling phrase on the words “omnes angeli eius.”  The most unusual interval occurs on the word “angeli,” with the descent of a 4th. The interplay between DO and RE continues in the next phrase, particularly on the words “laetata” and “Sion.” The last phrase demonstrates the same on “et exsultaverunt,” and the final RE-SOL of the piece is on the word “filiae.”  From there it gracefully descends from DO down to SOL.

Adore God, you, all His angels. Zion has heard and rejoiced, and the daughters of Judah exult. Ps. Verse: The Lord is king; let the earth exult, let the many isles rejoice.

Introit Adorate Deum


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Unto Us

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.


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Water Into Wine!

Wine StewardBy Sr. Fidelis

This week’s Communion Chant coincides with this Sunday’s Gospel Reading from John. Dicit Dominus in Mode 6 could be called a “mini” drama! The story begins with Jesus speaking to the servants at the wedding at Cana, telling them to fill the jars with water and take them to the steward of the feast. The notes are low for this section…a quasi-recitation on the Home Tone FA. One can almost picture Jesus speaking to them in low tones. The next phrase shifts, as the steward tastes the water turned to wine….(Notice the gradual shift, now moving to the Reciting Tone LA and up to DO as he speaks to the bridegroom. You can imagine his excitement and astonishment!) The third phrase rises up to a MI 3 times, as the steward exclaims, “You have kept the good wine until now!” The final phrase gracefully returns to the narrative as it descends back to the Home Tone FA, stating that Jesus made this first sign in the presence of his disciples.

Listen to the monks of Solesmes as they chant this amazing Communion, including a psalm verse from Psalm 65.

Communion Dicit Dominus


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Meant to soar

A month ago today Yoshio Inomata, one of our vowed brothers, entered the paradise chapter of his life. Yoshio is from Japan, so in addition to the usual monastic traditions around the liturgies and proceedings, we knew there would be special touches – flowers in the church, food at the reception – from his homeland. At the graveside, we always have a special time of telling stories and placing flowers as we fill the grave. In the middle of December flowers are rare to be found, so some of us had the idea of having the kids make paper cranes for Yoshio. They did a beautiful job, and we had baskets full of the brightly colored birds they passed around to all of us gathered there. As I watched everyone place their birds in the earth with Yoshio, the antithesis struck me: Yoshio’s soul and spirit were flying to heaven even as his body was placed in the earth, and these birds—meant to soar—buried there with him. I suddenly remembered this poem that another of our members had written years ago. Requiescat in pace, Yoshio!

With hollow bones a bird learns how to fly
Not once despising frame all delicate,
But pushed without the nest his wings to try,
Fast finds the air till flight’s inveterate –
And pauses not to ponder nor to care
How fragile are his limbs amidst his flight,
But boldly lifts his wings against the air
And mounts the wind all ignorant of fright.
And so each day, until he dies, he lives.
He soars aloft, aloud, and all replete,
Content with gifts that his Creator gives,
His weakness making all his life complete.
                Who curses frailty wisdom needs implore,
                For only those whose bones are hollow soar.

Peace Cranes for Yoshio

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In the river of grace

By Faithful Finch

I love it when things fall into place when I’ve been trying to figure something out. That happened for me today.
I haven’t been able to get the central work of Frammenti, our present art exhibit, out of my mind. It was like it was trying to tell me something, and I wasn’t hearing it. I knew that the cross was a traditional form that was associated with baptistries, and that there were bands of gold and red to suggest steps descending and ascending.
When I would go into church, I would look at our baptismal font and think about the steps going in and out of the baptismal water and associate it with the cross.
Last night, I went back and read the Frammenti book that explains the pieces in the exhibit. It says, “the baptismal experience itself evokes both a descent into the tomb and the triumph of resurrection,” and “that the resurrection is a daily movement as the confession of sin and the desire for renewal are met by the mercy of God.”

I think I forget to climb back up the steps and come out of the tomb sometimes. Above the cross are fragments that hold such beauty and joy; beauty and joy that I forget are part of the process.
I had no idea that Sunday was the “Feast of the Baptism of our Lord” until I got to church. It felt like a real celebration — a celebration that if we will stay in that “river of grace”, He will bring us home.

A cross, part of the Frammenti exhibit by artists Susan Kanaga and Filippo Rossi

A cross, part of the Frammenti exhibit by artists Susan Kanaga and Filippo Rossi

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In the Form of a Dove

By Sr. Fidelis

*Please scroll to bottom of this post for an exciting announcement!

The Advent/Christmas Season came to a close yesterday with the celebration of the Solemn Feast of the Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ. This feast marks the beginning of his public ministry.

One of the loveliest Responsories for the octave of Epiphany brings us right to the scene of the Baptism of Jesus. The text is as follows: “In the form of a dove the holy Spirit was seen;  the Father’s voice was heard: ‘This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.’ V. The heavens opened over him and the voice of the Father thundered.”

The Responsory follows a particular pattern: the first section of the piece is chanted, after which a verse is sung, usually by a single voice. Then all begin at a point halfway through the first section, and chant to the end.

This Mode 2 Responsory has an almost plaintive quality to it. You’ll notice the FA clef, so often used with Mode 2 chants. The high point of the chant comes on the text  paterna vox — the voice of the Father. If you look closely at the chant below while listening to the recording, you’ll notice that in some instances, the notes differ from what is written in square notation. This particular piece was chanted and recorded according to the ancient neumes, taken from the Hartker Antiphoner — a manuscript from around the early 11th century! Listen to it a second time, while looking at the ancient neumes written above the square notation, and you’ll “see” what you are hearing!  It is fascinating to note the slight variation in the melody and how it has changed over the centuries.

*The Season of Lent is rapidly approaching, with Ash Wednesday falling on February 10th.  We are offering a three and a half day Chant Workshop at the Community of Jesus, February 17th-20th,featuring the Chants of Holy Week and the Triduum, to which all are welcome to attend! We’ll be exploring these treasures of the Church in depth, as well as attending the Liturgy of the Hours and Daily Eucharist in the Church of the Transfiguration. Stay tuned for more information!

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Abundant life

By Melodius Monk

Ever ask yourself the question, is this all life has to offer? Coming off the “holiday” season (you know the one that was supposed to make you feel peace and joy?) or the start of the New Year (when I realize that all of the grand resolutions I vowed to fix in my world may either be impossible, or not part of God’s timing)—perhaps this is a time when this question surfaces! It’s like when you work really hard planning a dinner party: the dinner happens—ends—and I’m left feeling disappointed. The party was fun, really fun in fact and enjoyed by all, but two days later I’m sad it’s over and start to wonder how long it will be until the next enjoyable moment in life. Instead of savoring the fun evening, I start to think if only I had prepared a little better for the party, maybe the feeling of satisfaction would have lasted a whole week instead of two days. Maybe next time I can buy better wine, or not invite so and so, or have the bruschetta just a little crisper, or add one more desert (even though we already had four, but I didn’t know my friend was off sugar)!

My guess is I’m not alone in this waste of time search for the ever elusive “more” in life.  In her story-filled book, Sister Bridget Haase answers my questioning with a swift and simple belief.  She writes, “You do not need to seek abundant life anywhere else. It is right here, right now, under our feet, and in the air we breathe. This is all there is to life and it is quite enough.”

This often inexhaustible search for more in life can manifest itself in small and large ways. God has planted within each of us exactly what we need for a full and abundant life. In her book Generous Faith, Sr. Bridget teaches us that this type of faith “compels us to mine, with integrity, fortitude, and abundance, the faith within each of us.” She continues; “We, too, are created to savor and enjoy every moment of life. Unfortunately we do just the opposite. When we shower, we plan the day’s schedule rather than simply feel the rush of water on our shoulders. When we smell a gardenia, we draw up future plans for a garden rather than just let the fragrance bless us. When we sit by a stream in a local park, we wish we were at a popular mountain resort, far away from our daily routine and duty, rather than hear the gurgling gift of flowing water. When we see flowering lilac bushes in the spring, do we begin a summer countdown or linger over the beauty of lilacs? When watermelon juice runs down our chin, do we wonder if mangoes would have tasted better?”

Though I believe Sr. Bridget’s words to be true, I need regular reminders that God makes no mistakes, and that in Jesus I will be given precisely what I need each day for a full and abundantly rich life.

"Roses" by Leonid Afremov

“Roses” by Leonid Afremov

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“We have seen his star in the East…”

By Sr. Fidelis
…. and have come with gifts to worship the Lord”.

This simple Communion for the Solemn Feast of Epiphany is a gem in miniature.  A wonderful example of Mode 4, the first phrase literally “paints” a picture of the wise men’s long journey with drops of a 4th, giving it an exotic flair.

The second phrase peaks on the word venimus (have come), and again gently descends a 4th as it leads to its final resting place on the words adorare Dominum (worship the Lord).

Vidimus Stellam


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Making Room

0103161903We received a beautiful Christmas card with a picture of Mary & Joseph, and the shepherds huddled in light  around Baby Jesus and the words, “Let every heart prepare Him room.” I put it up on our bathroom mirror to remind me as I dry my hair to “prepare Him room.”  But how do I do that? I feel so small in the pains and inadequacies of my puny life as I scurry from thing to thing to make space for Christ the King. As I wash my face at the end of the day, and look at the beauty and simplicity of that card, I once again feel convicted from the words, “Let every heart prepare Him room.”  I say, “Ok, I want to get there. I do, but all I have to offer is sin and the pain that comes with it. I’m sorry. Help me.”

A peace comes on me as I realize that not one person in this Nativity scene came to “prepare Him room” without pain, without sacrifice, but with so much blessing. That’s what the preparing is all about: making room every day of the year.

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