Ringing on

By Faithful Friar

A few weeks ago, we had the privilege of hosting the Ringers from Trinity Church in New York City for an afternoon of ringing. Their tower is currently under construction for maintenance work, and they are using this time to travel to other towers and ring.

Whenever we have visiting ringers, we take advantage of the years of experience and helpful advice that they willingly share, and we embrace the opportunity to improve our skills. Bell ringing is an art form that takes years of practice to develop. The “subculture” of tower ringing includes a longstanding tradition of hospitality (a perfect fit with our Benedictine heritage!), and of sharing experience and instruction between bands of ringers. Taking our place in this tradition is a privilege that we gratefully treasure!

When a strong band of ringers visits, it is the perfect time to stretch our own abilities and try to ring something that is just a little bit out of our grasp of understanding. Only through these faith- and skill-building forays can we improve and build confidence in our ringing; and in keeping with our determination to do “all things to the glory of God,” we will keep at it.

We are very grateful for the fun afternoon that we spent ringing together and we look forward to the Area Meeting this week, where we will see more familiar faces!

Tower ringers at the Church of the Transfiguration, Orleans, MA

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Lemonade Delayed

lemonsWhen life hands you lemons, tread water. Presumptive lemonade could be a mistake. When I read the Psalms, I’m intrigued by the amount of waiting the writer describes. Usually, he’s made a mess of his life, lost his way, or been defeated in battle. Out of innovative ideas, he hides away and says to God, “Okay, it’s your turn. I’m ready for help.”

Now it isn’t easy to tread water, in fact, it’s hard work. Experts tell us to remain upright in a vertical position, head high, breathing slow and regulated, making use of all four limbs at once.  We’re in a state of readiness, prepared for rescue, but not the one in charge.

Sometimes life is just about waiting. Waiting for answers, waiting for direction, waiting for God to gather the pieces and make us whole again.

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The Spread of Gregorian Chant

For many of us, the story of Guido d’ Arezzo was made legend while in music school. Fr. Klarmann, in his book Gregorian Chant, tells a very interesting tale  that reminds us again that monastic life can be quite exciting, as is the history of chant!

“One of the greatest incentives to the spread of the chant was invented by a companion to St. Bernard, a monk named Guido. He maintained strong views about the chant and thereby incurred the unpopularity of his brother monks. He was sent, or possibly went of his own accord under the duress of petty jealousy, from the monastery of St. Maurus near Paris to Pomposa in Italy. The same fate of an ambitious musician met him there. He then went to a monastery near Arezzo and there, apparently, he found peace. He set himself to the task of placing the neums on horizontal lines, one known and designated as the ‘do-line’, the other as the ‘fa-line.’ He later added another line between these two and still another below, all of which formed the staff of four lines which we have today. The fifth line of our modern staff was not added until the 17th century. The Pope, John XIX, was elated at the invention for in it he saw the means of perpetuating and propagating the chant melodies without entrusting them to fickle memories. He summoned Guido to Rome to teach his discovery to others. Because of ill health, Guido had soon to leave the city. The monks who had formerly brought about his dismissal from their monastery now welcomed his return (!) But Guido decided upon Arezzo and remained there until his death. It was he who gave the notes of the scale their sol-fa names.” (pp.125-126)

The image with today’s blog is the way Guido developed to teach his system by using the joints in the hand for the various note names.


Guido D'Arezzo

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Feast of Saint Bede, Priest and Monk

BEDE  —  672–735

I like St. Bede.  He went to live in a monastery at age 7 and never left the monastic life. He traveled to many places and met many Christian writers, but only through books, as his monastery had a vast library. He never set out to become a saint, or the Father of English History. He wrote The Ecclesiastical History of the English People to record the sacrifices of many who had given their lives for the Christian faith in England. I think he would be surprised at the veneration we give him today.  In all humility, I think he would say – “I didn’t do anything.  Look at the people I wrote about.  They deserve the honor.”  He is a good example to me.

The Venerable Bede

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The Net Will Not Break

During a very busy weekend , the  phrase “the net did not break” jumped out at me from Sunday’s Gospel reading. .   [John 21:11] It’s a familiar story, although I had never noticed this phrase before.  Jesus appeared to Peter after the Resurrection, when he was fishing and not catching anything, and Jesus told him to try again.  This time, there were more fish than the disciples could handle, but the net did not break.

I find this very encouraging.  Fishing is hard work.  And when God is doing big things, it can also be hard work. But no matter how hard, or how exhausted we might feel for a time, this scripture assures me, it will never be too much—“the net will not break.”

Fishing with Jesus

Miraculous Draught by James Tissot

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Beautiful Words

by Sister Bridget Haase

A beautiful word, for me as an author and storyteller, sprouts from life’s garden.

A worWatermelond can inspire hope life daffodils dancing after winter. It can be as fragrant as a bunch of lilacs brought home to a crystal vase or as bold as a dandelion pushing its way through a rock. An engaging word feeds like a plump sun-ripened tomato or satisfies like a chunk of summer watermelon.

“Just the right word” can lift one to prayer, soften an email, enhance a social media post, or charm a website. In a word, or through many, wherever we are, in whatever we do, may we know that beautiful words matter for they form and transform a world, creating hope, fragrance. courage, and nourishment.

Sister Bridget Haase Author of Doors to the Sacred: Everyday Events as Hints of the Holy and Generous Faith: Stories to Inspire Abundant Living


Who is the Holy Spirit?

by Jack Levison
Posted on the Presbyterian Outlook, May 17, 2016

Holy Spirit free doveThe year before men landed on the moon, I learned about the Holy Spirit in a small white church, sandwiched between a TV repair shop and a doughnut store on a busy Long Island thoroughfare. We were a church of immigrants. One day, local barber Xavier Munisteri burst out in the middle of worship in words I couldn’t understand. I figured he was speaking Italian. Turns out, he wasn’t speaking Italian — he was speaking in tongues.

No one had prepared me for that moment. I hadn’t yet studied 1 Corinthians 12-14, where Paul discusses glossolalia (speaking in tongues) at length.

I hadn’t yet heard of the Montanists, a second century movement of enthusiasts, who championed what they called “the new prophecy,” and over whom an early Christian theologian Tertullian ran roughshod.

I’d never heard of the filioque, a belief that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the father and the son (and not just the father). I had no notion that in 1054, a monumental disagreement about this teaching contributed to the Great Schism between Rome and Constantinople.

I’d missed out altogether on the powerful prayer of the renowned 12-century mystic, Hildegard of Bingen:

Holy Spirit, making life alive,
Moving in all things, root of all creative being,
Cleansing the cosmos of every impurity,
Effacing guilt, anointing sounds.
You are lustrous and praiseworthy life,
You waken and re-awaken everything that is.

I didn’t even know the simple prayer, Veni Sancte Spiritus (“Come, Holy Spirit”) thought to be written by Stephen Langton, archbishop of Canterbury in the 1300s.

I certainly hadn’t been around to read the front page of the Los Angeles Daily Times from April 18, 1906, with the heading, “Weird Babel of Tongues,” followed, in italics, by New Sect of Fanatics Is Breaking Loose, Wild Scene Last Night on Azusa Street, and Gurgle of Wordless Talk by a Sister. I missed it: the birth of Pentecostalism, which has spread like wildfire throughout the world for more than a century, especially in the global South and in ever-bulging pockets of the West.

That’s right. I’d missed an entire history of the Holy Spirit. For years after Xavier burst into tongues, I knew almost nothing about the Holy Spirit. It’s surprising — astonishing, really — that a Christian should know so little about one of the persons of the Trinity. Yet others tell me that they, too, know almost nothing about the Holy Spirit.

So where do we start to encounter the Holy Spirit? With what you’ve been doing for the last minute or two while you’ve read this column: breathing.

The Hebrew word, ruach (pronounce the ch as if you’re clearing your throat, and not as in the cha chadance), can be a breath, a breeze, a rush of wind, an angel, a demon, the heart and soul of a human being, the waxing and waning of life, a disposition like lust or jealousy (a spirit of jealousy, for instance) and the divine presence. English speakers should remember wind, breath or spirit to be like branches that grow from the thick trunk of an aged tree — ruach. At the baseline of life, ruach is breath, or better yet, spirit-breath — the pulse of life within us.

Lesson one, then, takes us to an infamous ash heap, where bone-weary Job plunks himself down on the ash heap and protests, “As long as my breath is in me and the spirit of God is in my nostrils, my lips will not speak falsehood, and my tongue will not utter deceit” (Job 27:3). Compare Job, who has little of this spirit-breath left — he talks only as long as he has spirit-breath within him — with his young companion, Elihu, who is weary, not from the stench of death, but from waiting for the old guys around him to stop talking: “For I am full of words; the spirit within me constrains me. My heart is indeed like wine that has no vent; like new wineskins, it is ready to burst” (Job 32:17-19). If Job’s spirit-breath ekes its way into the void of the ash heap in truthful words, spirit-breath (ruach) in Elihu rolls over his tongue to form angry words, long fermenting, which he supposes (wrongly, as it turns out) are full of wisdom.

It is tempting to tidy up this section on ruach as spirit-breath by urging you to meditate, to sense the breath within you, to slow down — and breathe. This would be an apt exhortation for busy believers in a buzzing era.

To end here would also be naïve, even cowardly, because a storm brews in the distance if we acknowledge the spirit-breath of God in all people. Here is the rub: Everyone, not just a Christian, receives God’s spirit-breath. The theological issue this observation raises is the relationship between the Spirit of creation and the Spirit of salvation. A horde of 20th-century theologians, such as Karl Barth, Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jürgen Moltmann and Karl Rahner, has addressed this issue. For instance, in “The Spirit of Life,” Moltmann notes:

In both Protestant and Catholic theology and devotion, there is a tendency to view the Holy Spirit solely as the Spirit of Redemption. Its place is in the church, and it gives men and women the assurance of the eternal blessedness of their souls. This redemptive Spirit is cut off both from bodily life and from the life of nature. It makes people turn away from “this world” and hope for a better world beyond. They then seek and experience in the Spirit of Christ a power that is different from the divine energy of life, which according to the Old Testament ideas interpenetrates all the living.

The bottom line is that belief in the presence of the life-giving Spirit of creation in all people is biblical if we take the Hebrew Scriptures seriously. To acknowledge the presence of God’s spirit-breath in all people does not do away with the need for the resplendent Spirit of salvation, which is poured into our hearts (Romans 5:5) so that we can love God fully, but it does complicate the matter when we peer over the cusp of church borders and acknowledge the presence of God’s spirit-breath in the lives of men and women who practice virtue and faith without naming the name of Jesus.

Lesson two takes us to a valley of dry bones, to Ezekiel’s vision, where Spirit, wind and breath — all the same Hebrew word, ruach — enter bleached bones, causing them to clink and clank into a fresh community, raised to new life (Ezekiel 37:1-14). The Spirit here is communal, not individual.

Now fast forward 500 years, and travel to another desert, with a small settlement — not much larger than a football field — that left behind the Dead Sea Scrolls. The community at Qumran described itself as a “house of truth in Israel,” a “holy of holies for Aaron” and a “precious cornerstone.” They existed, they believed, because they possessed “the holy spirit of the community.” What’s profound about these ancient Jewish snippets? The Spirit is communal, just like in Ezekiel’s vision of dry bones come to life. The Spirit exists in community — a spiritual temple — in a way that transcends individual believers.

The apostle Paul, too, pictured the church as a Spirit-filled temple, when he railed against schisms at Corinth. His language is measured, his logic calculated:

Do you not know
that you are God’s temple and
that God’s Spirit dwells in you?
If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person.
For God’s temple is holy,
and you are that temple (1 Corinthians 3:16-17).

Note the legal form, “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person,” which looks like Old Testament laws: “If someone leaves a pit open … and an ox or a donkey falls into it, the owner of the pit shall make restitution” (Exodus 21:33-34a). The Corinthians have dug a pit of schism, into which they’ve fallen, and they will pay the penalty. Cliques at Corinth are not casual but criminal.

Paul urges the Corinthians, therefore, to understand that creating spiritual provinces (we call them denominations), with one sanctified subdivision reckoned superior to the others, tears the church into shreds. For Paul, a parcelling of the Spirit is an utterly inconceivable state of affairs.

Paul returns to this point later when he pictures the church, not as a living temple, but as a body with all sorts of different parts. He bookends a list of spiritual gifts with affirmations about the Holy Spirit:

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit” (12:4).
“For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body  — Jews or Greeks, slaves or free — and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (12:13).

At the heart of the Spirit’s presence in the church lies this realization: unity is not homogeneity. People of different ethnicities and different social classes, as well as differently gifted people in the church, drink of one Spirit.

Drinking the Spirit. Odd idea — yet the point is clear. If there is a sign of the Spirit, it is unity-through-diversity. There is no challenge in uniformity, no need for the Spirit in homogeneity. There is no greaterchallenge, no greater need for the Spirit, than when people who live and look fundamentally different are baptized into one body.

Lesson three leads to a small Baptist church, somewhere in Oklahoma, that was happy staying small, Baptist and American. My friend once told me about 50 Ghanaian immigrants who visited them and announced, “We’re Baptists. We want to worship with you.” Imagine that.

The earliest Jewish church experienced a flood of Gentiles that was a lot like the experience of that small Baptist church. A very Jewish apostle Peter travelled to the home of Cornelius in Caesarea, where he saw the Spirit outpoured on — get this! — Gentiles, while Paul and Barnabas dipped their toes in the Mediterranean and saw Gentiles flock to faith in Jesus.

In the earliest days of the church, just decades after Jesus died, a flood of Gentile believers into a Jewish church changed everything. In “The Open Secret,” Lesslie Newbigin, a 20th-century missionary in India, wrote about this episode: “It is not as though the church opened its gates to admit a new person into its company, and then closed them again, remaining unchanged except for the addition of a name to its roll of members. Mission is not just church extension. It is something more costly and more revolutionary.”

Mission isn’t just church extension. Mission prompts a revolution. And where there’s revolution —transformation — there’s almost always opposition. While some people are lunging ahead, others are digging in their heels. This is the nub of lesson three — and where the Holy Spirit surfaces.

For some early Jewish followers of Jesus who dug in their heels, the change was just too much. They demanded, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1). Peter fired back, “And God, who knows the human heart, testified to [the Gentiles] by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us; and in cleansing their hearts by faith he has made no distinction between them and us.”

How did the early church find a way out of this? How’d they escape the inevitable — and all too familiar — “I’m right, you’re wrong” prelude to a split?

Well, to be honest, they argued. Fiercely. “And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with [the believers who championed circumcision], Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to discuss this question with the apostles and the elders.” The word,dissension (stasis), elsewhere in the book of Acts describes Ephesian riots (19:40) and a rigid division between Pharisees and Sadducees that turned so violent, Roman soldiers had to intervene (23:7, 10). “No small dissension,” which pitted Peter and Paul against the Pharisaic followers of Jesus was not civil debate. It was aggressive, vicious, even violent.

That’s only half the story. This dissension joined with debate (Acts 15:2, 7). This word, debate, tells us that the church was committed, even with explosive arguments, to intelligent investigation. Later in Acts, Roman procurator Festus tells King Agrippa about Paul’s case: “Since I was at a loss about the investigation [zetesis] of these questions, I asked whether he [Paul] wished to go to Jerusalem and be tried there on these charges” (25:20). Debate, zetesis in Greek, is not argument for argument’s sake, but the intense investigation of a particular issue, like the intractable question: Are Gentiles who follow Jesus obligated to observe the commands of Torah?

Where does the Holy Spirit fit into this violent argument? In the path to compromise.

The head honcho in Jerusalem, James, appeals to the Holy Spirit — it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us — when he sends word of a compromise: no circumcision for Gentiles but the need to follow a few Jewish rules nonetheless (Acts 15:28-29).

The decision, James notes, seems good both to the Holy Spirit and to us. The Holy Spirit and us. The Holy Spirit, James claims, is enmeshed in our brutal, bruising path to compromise.

Where does the Holy Spirit fit into all of this? In the tough, gritty work of conflict and compromise. Not in the revelation of a nifty solution. Not by zapping the church with a miraculous absence of malice. Certainly not in schisms and splits.

In this gritty process, we discover a rich vein of the Holy Spirit. Compromise — the battle-scarred road that leads to it, too — can seem good both to the Holy Spirit and to us.

Jack LevisonJACK LEVISON is the W.J.A. Power professor of Old Testament interpretation and biblical Hebrew at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

Beauty and the Hidden Things Before Us

by Mark Burrows

Beauty? It seems a word that many among us don’t know quite what to do with. We know what it is until someone asks us to explain it, and then things get difficult. And beautiful words? Now, this magnifies the challenge. The medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas explained beauty quite simply in this way: It is that which, when seen, pleases us (id quod visum placet). But what pleases us, and how? He went on to speak of three aspects necessary for this: unity, proportion, and claritas, the latter best rendered as “radiance.” And here we have a marvelously succinct approach to the question: When words have a certain radiance, they please us. Sometimes, this has to do with how they sound—with their musicality, as it were. We delight in words that rhyme, particularly when the rhyming startles us. We find ourselves smiling when reading or hearing a particular metaphor that awakens a kind of deep knowing in us. We relish words that seem to dance on our tongues.

Radiance is the theme of many poems found in Adam Zagajewski’s most recent collection, Unseen Hand (2011). Consider this one, a long poem entitled “Improvisation.” In it he speaks of “rapture,” a word too easily abandoned to religious fanatics with their unimaginative reading of exquisitely poetic texts like The Book of Revelation, and describes how it “lives only in the imagination and quickly vanishes,” going on to describe improvisation as the heart of our lives in the ways it gives us room to create amid the predictable and often dull expectations of our lives. How do we do this? Here’s Zagajewski’s suggestion in lines that are breathtakingly beautiful—both in their “sense” and in the sound through which his translator has rendered his Polish into English. Upon suggesting how life finds its spark and sparkle through the needed work of improvisation, he closes the poem with these lines:

Grayness and monotony remain; mourning
that the finest elegy can’t heal.
Perhaps, though, there are hidden things before us
and in them sorrow blends with enthusiasm,
always, daily, like the birth of dawn
on the seashore, or no, hold on,
like the happy laughter of the two little altar boys
in white surplices, on the corner of Jan and Mark,

And, even if we can’t remember this scene because, obviously, we were not there, we can imagine it, and smile in our re-membering. Yes, the poet is right: there are “hidden things” before us that touch us with joy, even amid our sorrow, and lighten our heavy load with a laugh or a sigh or a knowing glance. When does this happen? “Always, daily.” And here, the trick is not knowing what to look at, but knowing how to see. Like when we notice the sun creasing the farthest edge of the horizon above the morning sea. Or hear the trill of birdsong just before the first light breaks the hold of the long silent dark. Joy happens in the hidden things. Radiance cannot be stopped. Remember?

Mark S. Burrows Professor of Religion and Literature, the University of Applied Sciences, Bochum (Germany). Scholar, poet, and translator, most recently, of two volumes of German poetry, Rainer Maria Rilke, Prayers of a Young Poet (2015, revised edition) and SAID’s 99 psalms (2013), both by Paraclete Press, and series editor of Paraclete Poetry and Mt. Tabor Books in the Arts.

Come Holy Spirit

By Sr. Fidelis

One of the most beloved prayers to the Holy Spirit was most likely penned in the early 1200’s by Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury.

This chant Sequence is sung directly following the Alleluia for Pentecost, in preparation for the proclamation of the Gospel. It is known as The Golden Sequence. Listen to this glorious chant, and you’ll know why! The tune extends over a nine-note range, giving an expansive and joyous sense to this wonderful prayer.

Come Holy Spirit, send forth the heavenly radiance of your light.
Come, father of the poor, come, giver of gifts, come light of the heart.
Greatest comforter, sweet guest of the soul, sweet consolation.
In labor, rest, in heat, temperance, in tears, solace.
O most blessed light, fill the inmost heart of your faithful.
Without your grace, there is nothing in us, nothing that is not harmful.
Cleanse that which is unclean, water that which is dry, heal that which is wounded.
Bend that which is inflexible, fire that which is chilled, correct what goes astray.
Give to your faithful,  those who trust in you, the sevenfold gifts.
Grant the reward of virtue, grant the deliverance of salvation, grant eternal joy.

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Silent Land

by Julie Cadwallader Staub

A battered windmill still stands at Silent Land, a cemetery in southwestern Kansas, where some of my late husband’s family is buried. Nearby, a modest stone structure that used to house bathrooms has settled into the ground, its painted signs “women” and “men” still visible above the splintered doors—reminding us of an era when tending graves and visiting the dead was a regular, perhaps treasured, part of life.

peoniesWe gather under a few stunted trees at the center of the cemetery for the interment of beloved Auntie Cleone, who died at 99, just a few days ago. Even under the trees, I have to shade my eyes against the unrelenting sun to gaze at the short rows of headstones. I’m remembering the way she harvested dozens of peonies still tight in their buds, wrapped each one in wax paper, twisted the top to slow the blossom, and tucked them into Ball jars. Then she stored the captive peonies in the ice box until the night before Memorial Day. I’m picturing the Country Squire loaded for the drive to Silent Land with crates of empty orange juice cans, the released peonies bobbing in five gallon buckets, and sprigs of mock orange, their lavish fragrance permeating the station wagon. Her three children scraped through the sun-baked earth, scooping out holes for the orange juice cans next to the headstones of great aunts and great uncles, grandparents, and the great grandparents who homesteaded the farm. And they carried bouquet after bouquet to these makeshift vases, filling them with scarlet and crimson and cream—and water, precious water, drawn bucketful by bucketful from the well beneath the windmill.

Now as we move to sit under the shade of a sheltering tent at her graveside, my gaze shifts from the cemetery to the fields of dry-land wheat, rippling in the wind, on every side, on every side, of Silent Land.


If you have a grief as big as mine–
and if you love in this world
I’ll bet you do–
come to southwestern Kansas
stand in the wheat fields
near a town aptly named Plains.

Feel the way that vast Kansas sky
changes solitude into loneliness
in a heartbeat
the way loneliness morphs into sorrow

a sorrow as heavy as it is invisible
a sorrow with no room for anything but itself.

Ah — you can build a house out of this kind of sorrow.
You can line its walls with resentment.
Paper over its doors and windows with bitterness.
You can live in this sturdy, narrow house
a long, long time.

Or—you can let your eyes travel
over the bounty of the wheat fields.

You can notice the way
they stretch for miles to the horizon the horizon
so far away
the sky has to bend down to reach it.

And it does.
See how decisively, definitively
it reaches for the earth.

by Julie Cadwallader Staub

Comfort was published in ARTS: The Arts in Religious and Theological Studies 26.3 (2015)