Just a Day

Sometimes, too rarely, I walk at an urban nature area near my Baltimore home. There’s nothing pristine about Lake Roland. The water is a little bit rancid; the well-loved dog park smells—well—like dogs. Commuter train tracks cut the tails in half. The trees are vine-choked. And the place is an “island” amidst the surrounding sprawl, an oasis for fox, coyotes, deer, migrating birds and for humans who need a little R & R.

This recent poem, “Just a Day,” birthed itself at the end of a late-winter walk around the lake. It emerged from a resonance, a sensation…my mind gently turned for me, tuning me, toward what I am meant to notice: confluences, textures, connections, nodes, notes and chords. I am reminded of Paul Éluard’s oft-quoted notion: There is another world but it is in this one.

Since writing this poem, my experience of witness on that ‘normal’ day has become complicated by Pope Francis’ exhortation very early on in his encyclical letter Laudato si’: On Care for Our Common Home:

“Nothing in this world is indifferent to us.”

I am struck by how this idea transforms my poem. What I had thought of as an outward- facing documentary record now takes on a different register. Instead of—as the poem asks—remembering “…what we saw or how it felt to us,” the focus becomes more relational, more dynamic. I am not the only one looking. What happens if I consider that the world(s) I saw on that “normal” day are looking at me, thinking of me? Are caring for and questioning me?

Rainer Maria Rilke wrote about “in-seeing,” to let ourselves go into the center of things, the point from which they begin to be themselves. In his famous poem, “Archaic Torso of Apollo,” he allows himself to be seen by what he is seeing. And he recognizes the life-changing impact of that. But Pope Francis takes it further. By engaging with the idea of indifference, we are asked with more urgency to consider reciprocity and the consequences of ignorance.

It is exciting to see my poem—an art object I thought I understood—become something else once it encounters and is encountered by the world. It is equally exciting, and somewhat daunting, to realize that I, too, have become—and must become—something new as a result of this encounter. The next time I take a walk at Lake Roland (or anywhere, for that matter), I will try to remember how it feels to be looked at without indifference, how it feels to be looked at by the rancid lake. By the vine-choked trees. By too many smelly dogs. By the lake’s waters spilling feelingless over the dam. And even by all of what I cannot see.

Jennifer Wallace
Her new poetry collection is due to be published Spring 2017 by Paraclete Press.

Jennifer Wallace (3)

The Complete Francis of Assisi: His Life, the Complete Writings, and The Little Flowers

Sweeney, Jon M. (editor).
Translated by Jon M. Sweeney.

St Francis Book coverSaint Francis of Assisi is easily one of the most recognized saints, right up there in popularity and appealing warmth with Santa Claus. The Complete Francis of Assisi seeks to create a loving, inspiring portrait of the man who abandoned his father’s riches to wander the Italian countryside, ministering to lepers and preaching to birds. The book is actually three books in one: a gentle biography, a selection of writings by the saint himself, and a collection of medieval tales meant to popularize his legacy. Readers won’t find anything that drastically changes their perceptions of the lover of Lady Poverty, who nicknamed his own body Brother Ass, and the inclusion of three separate books means that some anecdotes are repeated. But the editor-translator’s clear love for his subject shines through, and the readers are left feeling they have spent some quality time with the man who continues to inspire us to contemplate abandoning our worldly possessions. In the company of a man like Francis, it seems like a good.

Christine Engel

The Complete Francis of Assisi: His Life, the
Complete Writings, and The Little Flowers
Sweeney, Jon M. (editor).
Translated by Jon M. Sweeney.
Sept. 2015. 420p. Paraclete, hardcover, $24.99
(9781612616889). 271.302.

REVIEW. First published February 12, 2016 (Booklist Online)

To Scott Cairns: A Confession

Traci Rhodes,

I recently finished my first Scott Cairns’ book, A Short Trip to the Edge: A Pilgrimage to Prayer.This book’s first edition told the story of his pilgrimage to “Agion Oros, the Holy Mountain, a monastic peninsula in northern Greece that is perhaps more widely known as Mount Athos.” The revised version includes stories of subsequent visits. According to Cairns, “I have, at this writing, made an additional seventeen pilgrimages.


I was particularly excited to read this revised edition before mid-April because I had plans to hear Scott Cairns speak at the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

What I did not anticipate was the need I would develop to confess a few things to the author. Cairns talks a bit about the actual act of “Confession” in his book.

Confession is an element of the ancient church that has remained difficult for me to embrace, despite my developing awareness of its necessity.

The kind of confessing I have to do is of a different sort however. So, here goes.

Mr. Cairns, I picked up this book when I saw you were going to be speaking at the Festival of Faith and Writing. I like to read as many authors as I can beforehand and this book was on a site I go to for books to review. While the subject matter certainly enticed me, I wasn’t sure I’d like the book.

  • I went to Missouri State University. I have such fond memories of my college years, which left me with a bad taste for the University of Missouri. We were always the “other” school and I may have resented that a little. When I read you teach at Mizzou, I was skeptical.
  • You’re a professor and I can have some hangups about being a writer because I don’t hold a degree in English. Actually, one of the handful of B’s I ever received was from an honors English class my freshman year in college. I wondered if your writing would be too academic in nature?
  • You write a lot of poetry. I do like poetry, truly, but so often it goes deeper than my mind travels. Some poems use symbolisms and metaphors I struggle to comprehend and I wasn’t sure if I’d like your particular poetry. Would it appeal to the common reader or again, be more scholarly?
  • Finally, I don’t know anything about the Eastern Orthodox Church. What if your book made me feel even more ignorant than I already do about what I don’t know? Could I learn something of this ancient faith that would enrich my understanding? It’s what I hoped for most of all but I wasn’t certain.

Mr. Cairns, I enjoyed your book very much! Further, it was a delight to meet you in person. I’m going to muster up the courage to read some of your poetry next.

You taught me about the Jesus Prayer, which I found beautiful and calming and enough. My mom leaves soon for her first trip to Greece and she has explicit instructions to bring me home a prayer rope. For those of my readers who don’t know:

They are, commonly, black wool, tied in strings of thirty-three, or fifty, or a hundred or more hard, square knots (sometimes wooden beads), usually held together in a loop by a cross-shaped gathering of knots and tassels. The knots or beads are for focusing on repetitions of the prayer. The cross is kissed reverently at the beginning and the end of each cycle through the rope. The tassel is for wiping your tears, which, if you’re lucky, will eventually accompany your prayer.

I learned so much about the beauty of Greece, the holiness of venerating the icons, the dedication in choosing a monastic life, the wonder of Antidoron. Thank you. I realize now my misgivings about reading your works had more to with my own insecurities. I can see why Mount Athos has become a regular pilgrimage for you.

One paragraph, though, touched me the most. It has not let me go. For I too left behind my Southern Baptist roots.

Even now, on occasion, I wonder if the better choice wouldn’t have been to stay put. It certainly would have been the more aggravating choice, but I wonder if the braver choice would have been to remain in that besieged community where I was first taught the love of God, where I might have taken part in that community’s recovery of a fullness that’s been more or less left behind – as it were – by historical aberration and unfortunate, reactionary choice.


I received a copy of “Short Trip to the Edge,” written by Scott Cairns, from NetGalley for the purpose of generating a review. Italicized quotes are the from the book. The opinions expressed here are my own.

– See more at: http://www.tracesoffaith.com/blog/2016/04/to-scott-cairns-a-confession.html#sthash.g7AvEzt3.dpuf

October 31, 1517: Martin Luther and the Day That Changed the World

Booklist Review

1517The date that entitles this brief quincentennial prologue may not be immediately recognizable, but it was momentous. On it, Martin Luther posted 95 theses about Christian faith on the door of a church in Wittenberg, Saxony, and launched the Protestant Reformation. While directly prompted by the selling of indulgences, whereby the buyer reduced suffering for sins, the document was fundamentally about salvation through Christ. Luther asserted that salvation was effected by God’s grace alone, approached by faith alone. Faith was manifested by repentance: “the whole life of believers should be penitence,” says the first thesis. Marty, the dean of American Lutheran church historians, argues that, eventually, Luther’s stance, from the beginning acknowledged by the Catholic Church as essentially correct (disagreement’s in the details), became the means of reunifying Christianity through ecumenism, a movement that became explicit and official with the Second Vatican Council of 1962–65. This volume is small but weighty and a solid addition for all modern Christianity collections.

Ray Olson

Marty, Martin E. (author).
May 2016. 128p. Paraclete, hardcover, $19.99
(9781612616568). 284.109.
REVIEW. First published April 15, 2016 (Booklist).


“I Am the True Vine”

By Sr. Fidelis
This Week 5 Communion is almost an extension of last week’s, “I am the Good Shepherd.” The opening motive is the same, and again we see the energizing “salicus” no less than 4 times in the first line of the chant!  Last week’s piece was in Mode 2, and this one is Mode 8, but the relationship of the half step is the same in the opening motive.  Here we see it as Ti-Do.
The most “florid” word in the entire chant occurs on the word vera – “true”, almost as if it is “growing”.   The climax is reached at the culmination of the text, “he is the one who produces much fruit” – hic fert fructum multum.  The last two alleluias are unique in that the first one outlines an upward triad belonging to Mode 7 – SOL-TI-RE, then the final one gently descends from DO to LA, to the Hometone SOL.  The “salicus” is again evident in these final alleluias, giving a sense of energy and “growth”.

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Pray and Color: A Coloring Book and Guide to Prayer

I figured if even I could doodle, anyone could. After leading more than 150 workshops and retreats, I have met people who are uncomfortable even doodling. But many of them like to color. So I drew some coloring pages with ideas about how to pray using the pages and posted them on this blog. They are in the Handouts section. In the past six months I drew 32 coloring pages/templates with about 30 pages of prayer instructions and the result is a “praying in color” coloring book called Pray and Color: A Coloring Book and Guide to Prayer. It will be available mid-May for purchase but can be pre-ordered on the amazon or Paraclete Press websites.

Here is the cover. I’ll post some examples of the templates in the next few weeks. Please Share this post with others. Thanks.

Coloring Book

Note: I noticed there is another coloring book also called Pray and Color, so check the author before ordering. 🙂

Sybil MacBeth
http://prayingincolor.com/blog, p
osted on

Good Letters

Charles of the Desert

charles-of-the-desert-a-life-in-verse-5One early June, traveling to a wedding in San Diego, I’d taken the long way from Dallas by train. I wanted to see the Southwestern deserts. Two days later Amtrak’sSunset Limited broke down in the Mojave Desert.

Pretty quickly it became clear: We are not so great. Nature is. God is.

Perhaps this is one reason why Charles de Foucauld went to live in the Sahara: not only to offer the people there hospitality and love as Jesus had, but also as a way to empty himself of the temptations of civilized life, allowing himself to be humbled by the vast universe.

The Christian hermit and martyr Charles of the Desert (1858-1916) is a complex, puzzling character. William Kelley Woolfitt’s new book of poems Charles of the Desert develops a full portrait of this mystifying cleric from childhood in 1863 to his last day in Algeria’s Hoggar Mountains. The poems, written in first person, proceed on a timeline, zigzagging geographically from France to the Holy Land to Algeria.

For over a decade, Père Charles lived a stringent life in the Sahara, a life that would kill most of us. He lived and worked among the Tuaregs, who saw him at best as an eccentric, at worst as an enemy. In 1916, he was assassinated by rebels attempting to rob and kidnap him. He left to the world a four-volume dictionary of the Tuareg language, a new order—the Little Brothers and Little Sisters of Jesus—and a public fascination for his austere life among the Muslims, whom he hadn’t been able to convert.

How hard his life must have been. Yet by some firsthand accounts, he was “luminous,” “peaceful,” and “pure.”

Charles’s young life, marked by the early loss of his parents, makes me wonder if his initial impulses toward the holy life were to satisfy not only a need to glorify God and do God’s work, but also to seek parents in the Mother Superior and the Abbot.

In Woolfitt’s poems I find a child who couldn’t know or understand his father. That man is described as “whip-like” and “half-lizard,” someone whose “whims enslave him.” He appears more like a “Weather Formation” in the young boy’s mind.

Charles’s mother seems to have languished and died, after a miscarriage and postpartum depression. Charles sees her as “Harp Seal, as Sacristan.” With his mother, Charles has an early memory of compassion for Jesus, “the man who hung on the church wall,” “the pale, poor eggshell man.” The child wishes to bring a blanket for him, but forgets to carry out this kindness.

Woolfitt’s formal poems are intriguing for the ways they develop Charles and those around him. Besides the innocent child, we also see the mischievous Charles asking a fictionalized sister Beatrix to “steal for me,” not just any small thing but “the gilded china baby” at grandfather’s house. For this, the boy is sent into the yard, shivering as he waits for his grandfather’s “lashes to mark me, while [grandfather] quakes // like a man waiting for grief to pass.” The older man’s grief at having lost his daughter, Charles’s mother, doesn’t extend to compassion for Charles and his sister.

Woolfitt adeptly draws the children’s hard life with their grandfather, so that when Charles declares, “We are not safe, sister,” in “The House of Bones,” I believe him. Charles grows to despise the old man.

The poems show us Charles’s lifelong allies, his sister and an older cousin, Marthe (also fictionalized)—beautiful and devoted to her faith. In her presence, Charles’s faith “rose like a tongue of flame,” but he “had nothing to feed it.” “Summer in Giverny,” a prose poem, defines an important moment in the boy’s development. This is the second time we see Charles’s wonder of God and adoration of Christ.

Yet his conversion is drawn out. After grueling trials at a Jesuit boarding school, Charles is sent on to military training and soldiering. On his own time, Charles becomes a “Gold Eater” who takes and takes—keeping a prostitute, eating and drinking to excess, and gambling.

Three years later, after he’s published a travelogue and “rooster-struts” the streets of Paris, Charles feels trapped by the excesses of his life. So that in “The Pangs of Wanting,” he longs to have faith. This poem marks the beginning of Charles’s conversion. At communion, Charles declares, “I almost vomit; I almost sing.”

Woolfitt’s poems are marked by a physicality of diction, the blunt words juddering next to the softer expressions. The poems also connect strong metaphors to intense moments in Charles’s life.  He makes a trek to Jerusalem “At the Ruins of Pilate’s Palace,” and seeing where Pilate “gave Christ to the throngs,” Charles presses his hand down “and, groove[s] / my skin with the grains of the paving stones.”

Back in France, living as a monk, he studies the breviary and learns to love the natural world; yet he cannot love himself, acutely declaring “I am foul matter.”

The poems also unveil the many iterations of Charles, as he searches for an authentic identity: Charles the profligate, the soldier, the injured child, the peasant. We also encounter Charles the escapee, the refugee, and the wanderer, before he finally becomes the devoted priest.

In a startling late moment, Charles cleanses himself with sand (“Desert Bath at Sunset”) and resolves not to despise what God has given him: “Your bruise-red sun / embers the tamarind tree.” He considers Teresa of Avila’s metaphors for the soul and finds them wanting. In his desert ministry, he finds the earth is “a malicious father.”

Late in life, Charles becomes despondent: “The ground is iron that I cannot sow,” while the Tuareg’s language continues to evade him. He can still admire God’s world, however, in “Pied Crow,” the crow’s “glossy black wings” and “snowy vestments,” even in “the goodness of this hand / rubbing my weary neck.” He declares, “All things made for our use, our conversion, / our wonderment.”

Woolfitt’s collection evokes our holy connection to the astonishing and sometimes terrifying forces around us and beyond us.

From Image. The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

More Than Cliché

By Sr. Nun Other

I wish that I could learn to “leave well enough alone.” It’s a beautiful thing for those who can do it. Unfortunately, I’m not one of them. I’m the type that must add one more, adjust just a little, and pull the thread that unravels the sleeve. Let’s just say I’ve ruined more than I’ve improved. What to do with me? How do I transform my compulsion to make everything okay?

The Apostle Paul put it this way: Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand.  Philippians 4:6-7

And may I add, if you’re like me, say to thyself, “DON’T TOUCH THE CROOKED PICTURE.”


Image courtesy of cityexile dot wordpress dot com

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More Than Cliché

By Sr. Nun Other

I wish that I could learn to “leave well enough alone.” It’s a beautiful thing for those who can do it. Unfortunately, I’m not one of them. I’m the type that must add one more, adjust just a little, and pull the thread that unravels the sleeve. Let’s just say I’ve ruined more than I’ve improved. What to do with me? How do I transform my compulsion to make everything okay?

The Apostle Paul put it this way: Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand.  Philippians 4:6-7

And may I add, if you’re like me, say to thyself, “DON’T TOUCH THE CROOKED PICTURE.”


Image courtesy of cityexile dot wordpress dot com

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I Am the Good Shepherd

By Sr. Fidelis

Yesterday was Good Shepherd Sunday, the 4th Sunday of Eastertide. This theme was found in the Gospel Reading, in the Canticle antiphons for the day, and in the Communion for Eucharist, Ego sum pastor bonus.   
This Mode 2 Chant is simple and energetic— basically two phrases, again punctuated by Alleluias. “I am the good shepherd, and I know my sheep, and mine know me”.

The opening motive is a 3-note neum called the “salicus.” It is an “energy” neum — 3 notes rising to the top one, and in this case the 1st and 2nd notes are on the same pitch, starting on the half-step below the reciting note of FA. This motive is repeated on the word pastor, and on the word bonus as well. The melody rises to its peak on the phrase et cognosco oves meas (“and I know my sheep”), giving a sense of his intimate care and love for each of us, his sheep.

Communion – Ego Sum Pastor


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The Heart-Work of Poems

by Mark S. Burrows

In her marvelous recent collection of essays on poetry, Jane Hirshfield suggests that “the desire of monks and mystics is not unlike that of artists: to perceive the extraordinary in the ordinary by changing not the world but the eyes that look.” She goes on to describe how, in strong poems, “the inner reaches out to transform the outer, and the outer reaches back to transform the one who sees” (Ten Windows. How Great Poems Transform the World [New York: Knopf, 2015]). Poems carry the magic of transformation, bending the imagination in both directions—from inner to outer to inner, and back again. They change the way we learn to look, and thereby shape what we see. In turn, the “outer” world, by means of the leadings voiced in a good poem, reach into our inner being and change us, in large or subtle ways.

Rainer Maria Rilke wrote in a style that exemplifies this, his use of often startling and unexpected metaphors shifting something in the way we see, as if offering us glimpses of a world that alters the ways we look—and, thus, what it is we come to see in this world and in ourselves. One of these poems offers glimpses of God through a peculiar gathering of images, ones few of us might have imagined if left to ourselves but which, once we encounter them, might come to feel as intimate to us as our breathing. It begins this way:


The poem goes on to speak of how God stirs within us as we grow and change, “ripening” us in our journey, and above all in the struggles that will and do come, which Rilke alludes to with the pointed image of our “wrestling.” We find our lives deepened through feelings that might be discomforting, perhaps even a struggle, for us: viz., the experience of “homesickness”; wandering into a deep, dark forest; facing the silences that somehow, he suggests, might still invite us to song.

How is this to happen? Rilke refuses to say. His work as poet is not to tell us something, but rather to lure us: in this case, by awakening our vision with images that might initially strike us as strange and marvelous, as these surely are. Ours is the work of taking such metaphors into our musings, letting them come to work slowly on our inner way of seeing, inviting them to stir our imagination—which is the heart of what it means to “come to faith.” How a poem like this ignites our inner eye, and thereby alters how we look if not also how we live: this is the work of experiencing a good poem, taking us on a slow, meditative journey of coming to know. In engaging this “heart-work” (Herz-Werk), as he elsewhere calls it, we learn to take such images into the “deep” of our mind, coming to inhabit the outer world more perceptively and the inner world more knowingly. Through such images as these, as Ms. Hirshfield reminds us, “the inner reaches out to transform the outer, and the outer reaches back to transform the one who sees.”

God as the “great homesickness we’d not mastered”? An unsettling, even unorthodox image, at least at first glance. But no less a figure than the great theologian of Late Antiquity, Augustine of Hippo, said as much: “To praise You is what we desire, we who are but a fragment of your creation. You stir us to delight in praising You, because You made us for Yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in You” (Confessions I.1; my translation). Rilke, of course, carries Augustine’s thought further, suggesting that what we experience in our unrest is the very presence of the divine within us—a remarkable insight, to be sure. And what a provocative and liberating invitation it offers, pointing to our struggles, our troubles and confusions, not as our problem but rather as the very hope of our “ripening.” Here, the poet suggests how we might claim our struggle as the root of our ripening—and how this might become for us a path into song, the kind we might learn to sing “in every silence.” Perhaps, along this inner path of the heart, we might even begin to attune ourselves to God the “net” who is wide enough to snare our “fleeing feelings.” To be caught in this net is to be freed into the deep of peace.


Listen, my child


Listen, my child. I want you to place the ear of your heart on the solid ground of the Master’s wisdom (what I received, I’m passing on to you). This advice is from a spiritual father who loves you and gives you the sort of counsel that will shape your whole life. Listening is hard work, but it’s the essential work. It opens you up to the God that you’ve rejected when you have only listened to yourselves. If you’re ready to give up your addiction to yourself, this message is for you: to listen is to equip yourself with the best resources available to serve the real Master, Christ the Lord.

For starters, begin every good work with this prayer: “Lord, bring it to completion.” Since God is full of goodness and has already called us his children, we shouldn’t grieve him by doing wrong. Instead, we should take advantage of the good gifts God has given us and become good listeners. This way we won’t make God into an “angry father” or a “harsh task master” who punishes us for not following him to glory.

So, let’s go! The Scriptures are stirring us, like fire in our bones: It is high time now for you to wake from sleep (Romans 13:11b). Let’s open our eyes wide to the light that shines out from God, and open our ears to the voice from heaven that shouts out every day: O that today you would hearken to his voice! (Psalm 95:7b). And, again: You who have ears to hear, listen to what the Spirit says to the churches (Revelation 2:7). What does the Spirit say? Come, children, listen to me, I will teach you the fear of the Lord (Psalm 34:11). Run while you have the light of life, lest the darkness [of death] overtake you ( John 12:35).

A Contemporary Paraphrase of the Rule of St. Benedict by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove (Paraclete Press)

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Kids and Prayer with Brother Mickey McGrath

Kids and PrayerOne of the most recent DVD releases from Paraclete Press, “Kids and Prayer” will introduce your kids to prayer with this lively new video presentation in four sessions, each asking a basic question. These four segments include explanations from Br. Mickey, interviews with kids, onscreen storyboard Bible teaching featuring Br. Mickey’s illustrations, and “on the road” field trips to look at each question from a different angle.

Here is a snippet from a review by Jane Korvemaker on CatholicMom.com:
“…Br. Mickey McGrath takes kids into an easy and fun journey to learn more about prayer in this well-made video for kids. It features a variety of kids’ answers to different questions about prayer, highlights ways we can look at prayer in our lives, and connects it to one or more Bible stories about prayer (like Moses and the burning bush and Jesus talking about the vine and branches).

I have three young children (ages 1, 3, and 6) and after watching this DVD, the first response of my 6-year old son was, “Mommy, can you put it on again?” I think that accurately summarizes how my children enjoyed this video!”

Click here to read the full article, and click here to watch a short clip!

Seeing the Signs

By Sr. Fidelis

Many of the chants for this season re-tell various “scenes” from the Easter story. This is a wonderful way for us to rehearse the true miracle of Jesus’ Resurrection! The antiphon Maria Stabat reminds us that Mary stood at the sepulcher weeping and saw two angels in white sitting, and the cloth that was on Jesus’ head. The story goes no further in this Mode VII antiphon, but there is a sense of anticipation and joy and the bloom of hope is conveyed with each consecutive phrase!
The opening phrase begins with an ascent from its Home Tone SOL, to its Reciting Tone, RE, and then back again to SOL. The repeated note pattern on the text Angelos in albis, sedentes builds with excitement! For the most part this is a syllabic chant save one word, fuerat. Here the lingering emphasis reminds us that this was the cloth that was on Jesus’ head.
There’s much food for thought in these seemingly simple chants!

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Seeing the Signs

By Sr. Fidelis

Many of the chants for this season re-tell various “scenes” from the Easter story. This is a wonderful way for us to rehearse the true miracle of Jesus’ Resurrection! The antiphon Maria Stabat reminds us that Mary stood at the sepulcher weeping and saw two angels in white sitting, and the cloth that was on Jesus’ head. The story goes no further in this Mode VII antiphon, but there is a sense of anticipation and joy and the bloom of hope is conveyed with each consecutive phrase!
The opening phrase begins with an ascent from its Home Tone SOL, to its Reciting Tone, RE, and then back again to SOL. The repeated note pattern on the text Angelos in albis, sedentes builds with excitement! For the most part this is a syllabic chant save one word, fuerat. Here the lingering emphasis reminds us that this was the cloth that was on Jesus’ head.
There’s much food for thought in these seemingly simple chants!

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Longing as the Way

Mark S. Burrows

It is a strange and lovely word, ”longing,” one hard to say quickly because of the arc of the soft “o” followed by the gentle “ng” sound—doubled in this word—which we must give shape to in the back roof of the mouth. Its physiological origin, within the range of our speech, makes it one of the deepest-back and innermost sounds we produce. How fitting for this word, of all words! Its sound reflects the experience it suggests, for it takes time to say it and is delicious in the saying: “longing.” Even as you read these lines, you sense the quiet wandering the word stirs within your heart.

“Longing” describes the spiritual texture of many of the poems found in SAID’s collection, 99 Psalms. Reflecting the experience the word speaks of, his poems approach this theme in ways that startle us, sometimes bending our expectations back on themselves, sometimes puzzling us deeply enough to draw us into new comprehensions, always calling us to look at our own lives more carefully, more honestly, and above all more generously. Consider this one:

Screen Shot 2016-04-08 at 10.31.51 AM

Strange to imagine telling God to “keep silent” in order to hear us. Peculiar to suggest that our voices, or the voices of others, become “quieter” in God’s absence. But such sentiments are close to our experience, wondering as we sometimes do if God is attending to us, notices our needs and those of others in the pain, the worry, the confusions that bind us. And, in our wondering, we often fall silent in our pondering, whether in doubt or in hope.

Perhaps, as SAID seems to be suggesting, our longing itself is a kind of belief, one that takes us further—or deeper—than mere knowing. Perhaps our longings are the truest way in which we seek communion with the “other” we sometimes name “God.” Perhaps longing itself is the surest way we learn to believe, especially when our lives are abruptly interrupted, our hopes shattered, our confidence chilled. For longing, more than knowing, is what guides us in the ways we seek the God who is “steadfast” in the midst of our commotions and confusions.

As the poem reaches its final pause, what a marvelous moment of courage we find: namely, the chutzpa involved in asking the Lord, who “know[s] everything about [us],” to believe—in us. But what else is this than mercy? The poem unsettles the thin conventions of our piety, and yet insists on speaking to a place deep in our soul—where our heart longs for the God whom, we pray, will still turn to us even though knowing everything about us, with the shadows and debris alongside the bursts of clarity and moments of goodness that mark our lives.

We often speak about God as “word” and imagine the Lord as One who is still speaking with us, but we know what it means to face the long silences when this does not seem so. In such times, longing can be our guide as we desire communion with One who is silent and steadfast enough to give us room to be, space to grow, time to listen. Our longings are not the goal, but in this long journey of faith, they are often the way.

Mark Burrows is a poet, theologian, and teacher. He currently serves as professor of theology and literature at the Protestant University of Applied Sciences in Bochum, Germany. His recent publications in English include an essay in the forthcoming issue of Weavings, “Listening into the Heart’s Silences” (Vol. 31.3), and, as editor, Breaking the Silences. Poetry and the Kenotic Word (Peter Lang, 2015). His translation of Rilke’s Book of Hours, entitled Prayers of a Young Poet, was just published in a newly revised paperback version (Paraclete, 2015), and his translation of SAID’s 99 psalms is also available as a volume of Paraclete Poetry (2013).


Be not unbelieving…

By Sr. Fidelis

The Communion for the 2nd Week of Easter comes from the Gospel of John – Jesus’ words to Thomas.

“Thrust your hand and know the place of the nails, and be not unbelieving but faithful.” is the literal translation.

There is a wonderful sense of conversation in this serene Mode 6 chant; two syllabic phrases punctuated with Alleluias.

The structural notes of LA (reciting tone) and FA (home tone) serve as the “backbone” of the piece.

One of the beauties of this simple chant is the actual Latin text.  Jesus tells Thomas to thrust his hand and know the place of the nails….not just see them, or touch them, but know them.

The original notation highlights the text in several spots.  In the opening line, there is a 3 note neum called a “torculus”, (low-high-low) on the last syllable of the word tuam. The shape of this neum indicates that there is more emphasis on the 2nd and 3rd notes, rather than them all being even.   This is called a “special” torculus, and gives a sense of lift to the word.  On the final line of the chant, we see this same sign on the accented syllable of the word fidelis, and in the final alleluia, only this time, it looks angular.  This tells us to emphasize all 3 syllables of the word.  You will hear these subtleties, which add points of interest and arrival in the overall scope of the chant.

Communion: Mittae Manum Tuam

Mitte Manum

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Officially Next Year

Image courtesy of Catholic Trivia Blogspot

By Sr. Nun Other

Baseball season opening day. Defined by colorful uniforms against green grass. Flags unfurled and the Star Spangled Banner sung by someone famous or a regular person deserving a chance. A Blue Angel flyover, and the two best words in all of baseball, “Play Ball!”

And right there, lurking in the background, are the naysayers. They’ve already predicted the third baseman (who they loved three weeks ago) is a huge mistake, the #2 starting pitcher will breakdown mid-season, and at best, your team (fill in the blank) might have a shot at the wild card.

Don’t let them (whoever they are) pick-pocket your hope. They–we–make up stories because really, we don’t know what God intends and just might do. Our job is to hope, believe, anticipate and participate in a well-planned outcome that leads to ultimate good.

Image courtesy of Catholic Trivia Blogspot

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Lumen Christi: Easter Encounters with Art

05 Muenster 2005

As Christians, the pursuit of beauty in all of its forms is ever before us. While the world’s definition of beauty – a wrinkle-free, almost inhuman imitation of so-called “perfection” – almost always leads to self-abasement and discouragement, true beauty as we seek it only leads to a further knowledge of God’s love for us, to a clearer and brighter reflection of who He is, and to a deeper desire to become co-creators of beauty with him in all the quotidian elements of our lives.

Gabriele Wilpers, an internationally celebrated painter and sculptor from Essen, Germany, knows all about this calling toward beauty, and all of the risks and rewards that accompany that vocation. After training as a photographer, between 1973 and 1978 Gabriele Wilpers studied free painting at the Folkwang Hochschule in Essen, Germany. Since then she has lived and worked in Essen as a freelance visual artist. In recent years she has taken first prize in competitions for art in the public domain, and she has designed entire church interiors for several parishes in the archidocese of Freiburg im Breisgau. Wilpers uses a variety of artistic methods in her artwork – painting, installation objects, film, and architectural glass – to reflect and describe the human existence. Her interventions in an existing space, which can be both sacred and profane in nature, question the context in which modern man lives today.

Back in July of 2005, Ms. Wilpers was invited by the Munster Chapter of the Catholic Women’s Organization to contribute to the 1200th anniversary of the diocese of Munster. The discovery of a medieval thimble, excavated from the ruins of the Uberwasser Convent, inspired Ms. Wilpers to create an installation for the nearby Uberwasser Gothic church. Entitled “As Numerous as the Stars in the Sky” Ms. Wilpers’ installation was comprised of thousands of thimbles gathered from the women of the diocese, and became a sort of memorial to the myriad, nameless women of Munster through the ages, who faithfully lived out their vocations. Upon entering the church, the viewer’s gaze was immediately drawn upward to a sparkling, starry canopy made up of these now almost meaningless, outdated objects, each suspended from different colored threads, and given new meaning by Ms. Wilpers for this occasion. As one journalist put it, “Each individual thimble—the protector of sensitive fingertips—hence becomes a symbol of that which women have experienced and achieved. They become centuries-old witnesses to female stories and histories, trigger many associations in connection with women’s lives and, taken out of their original context, artfully perform their story-telling role. The sparkling firmament speaks of the hard work of women, of suffering and poverty, but also of joy, and inside the church represents a symbolic space for the histories of uncounted women in the diocese.”[1]

Ms. Wilpers’ installation in the Munster Church was only temporary, but her art has found many other permanent homes, one of which is the Church of the Transfiguration in Orleans, Massachusetts on Cape Cod. Gabriele Wilpers designed the glass sculpture on the West Wall of the Church of the Transfiguration, connecting the oculus window and lintel (over the main doors) in a seamless design portraying Christ’s Transfiguration. In Wilpers‘ studio at Essen and at the Derix Glasstudios in Taunusstein, Germany, she and glass fabricators collaborated on the modern abstract sculpture. The sculpture features sixty-four individually cast glass panels covered with gold-leaf paint, which was partially removed with an acid wash.The varying intensity of the gold and the pattern of ridges and valleys evoke elements of the reflected light from sunsets over the Cape Cod sand flats and combine to gather, reflect, and refract light, becoming a glistening and shimmering wall of Transfiguration splendor.

This week, artists, art-lovers and all seekers of beauty have an opportunity to encounter and hear from Gabriele Wilpers first-hand here at the Community of Jesus. Lumen Christi: Easter Encounters with Art will be held April 5th through 9th. Ms. Wilpers is joined by Monsignor Timothy Verdon, a renowned Art Historian and prolific author, for this five-day series of illuminating lectures on Easter themes of light, resurrection and rebirth in sacred art. All are invited to come and be inspired by these beautifully illustrated lectures on art and architecture, from the baroque to the contemporary, hosted by the Mount Tabor Ecumenical Centre for Art and Spirituality. In a time when so many Christian women and artists suffer from isolation, lack of support and understanding, and a market-driven secular environment, Lumen Christi: Easter Encounters with Art offers an alternate experience of contemplation and creativity, focusing on the artists‘ vital contribution to the faith conversation. For more information visit www.mounttabor.it or call 508-240-7090.

04 Muenster 2005

02 Thimbles 200505 Muenster 2005All photos courtesy of Herbert Wilpers

[1] Frank Joachim Schmitz, Berichte, Das Munster,

GlassWallMarch 2005

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The Bells Hang Silently

Bells play a special role this time of year – Holy Week through Easter Sunday. I was never aware of this, as I don’t think many people are, until we put in our own set of change ringing bells. I have always thought of bells in the role of ringing out as a call to worship, as well as news and celebration. But they also have a part to play in silence. Our Maundy Thursday service bulletin had a meditation to ponder on its cover and I was particularly struck by the words “the bells hang silently.” They are not rung from Palm Sunday until the Easter Vigil Saturday night. We have grown used to hearing them every day of the week and suddenly there is silence where there has been joyful “noise.” But even beyond the quiet of the week – no organ as well – it feels that the silent presence of the bells in the tower has a waiting feeling. It enhances my own sense of waiting for the Passion and the Resurrection of our Lord, and enriches the true celebration when once again they ring out with the news of our Salvation.

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