Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Saint John’s University’

47488111-4AEE-4B60-B8C8-44399CF5FA79

How Monks Stay Warm

A friend of mine from Honolulu wrote recently to ask how we monks stay warm.  He’d read the reports about our chilly weather in Minnesota, and so I assumed he asked out of curiosity rather than desperation.  Still, I’ve never been to Hawaii in the winter, and I’ve always assumed that winters there are not so bad.  But perhaps they’re not as nice as I have imagined, so what follows is drawn from the monastic tradition and will conclude with my best advice for my friend trying to survive another winter in Hawaii.

How we monks stay warm in the winter has become in most monasteries a question for the history books.  After all, today we simply turn on the heat, like everybody else.  But it wasn’t always that way, even at Saint John’s.  For starters, the remaining chimneys that spike the roof of the quadrangle at Saint John’s testify that our fireplaces were once considered state-of-the art.  On the other hand, there’s no denying that it was a real chore to keep them stoked.  A framed photograph that hangs outside of our refectory is a sobering reminder that the “good old days” should always be qualified with a firm “so-called.”  In that photo teams of horses are working their way across Lake Sagatagan, pulling wagons piled high with wood destined for hungry fireplaces.  It must have been tedious, back-breaking and cold work, but but once inside the wood kept everyone warm — sort of.

F3213A4B-3F03-4641-B86B-C48E5D2AB22DBy medieval standards our fireplaces were luxurious, however.  The fact of the matter was that the great monasteries of the middles ages usually had only one heated room, called the calefactory.  There the monks gathered to warm themselves before heading back into freezing churches and unheated dormitories, refectories and cloisters.  And the further north in Europe they went, the colder it got, both outside and in.  Small wonder that medieval monks and their neighbors packed down as many calories as they could, because those calories spelled the difference between life and death.

Staying warm wasn’t a lost cause, however, and there were positive steps that monks took to keep winter at bay.  Architecturally monasteries employed passive solar techniques to harness the sun, and the design of cloisters tended to be standard across much of Northern Europe.  In those regions, and at Saint John’s in the nineteenth century, the church was placed on the north side of the cloister.  From there it would block the cold north winds and reflect the rays of the winter sun down into the cloister on the south side.  Monks also planted wind-breaks, and where the site made it possible they would nestle the monastic complex into the south side of a slope.  Taken together, these practices made quite a difference, and modern architects have begun to resort to these once again.

D0AFB1C3-2443-49AD-8115-80001604FC2BBut if there is one item that made all the difference in the world, it was clothing.  If “clothing makes the man,” as the old saw went, then it was clothing that kept medieval monks alive through harsh winters.  For good reason monks in previous generations wore heavier habits in the winter, except in places like the tropics.    But they also wore the cuculla — or cowl — and this made life possible as they chanted away in cold and drafty churches.  These were ample robes that slipped over the habit, giving a layered effect that worked really well.  At Saint John’s many monks — including me — still wear the cuculla on the coldest days, and we’re grateful to our medieval brothers for bequeathing to us this gift.  At Saint John’s the abbot clothes us  in the cuculla when we make solemn vows.  However, since this usually happens on July 11th, the feast of Saint Benedict, we have to take it on faith that someday these things will come in handy.  But on July 11th they tend to be sweltering.

It suffices to generalize that winter in the Middle Ages was tough for everybody, be they monks, nobles, serfs or animals.  So it was that Easter joy was honest and not feigned in the least.  People celebrated not just the risen Lord but also their personal survival through another tough winter.  So if there is one negative about modern central heat, it’s this.  Easter doesn’t have quite the personal punch that it once had.

So how do we monks and our neighbors in Minnesota stay warm in the winter?  Well, we give winter a poke in the eye by going ice-fishing, skating on the lake, snowmobiling and hiking.  And we dress appropriately when it gets down into the 20s.

And what’s my advice to my friend in Honolulu?  First of all don’t let winter hold you hostage.  Dress in layers.  Don’t go out when the wind-chill drops to -20.  And buy some ice-skates and skate while the skating’s good.  It works for us in Minnesota, and it should work equally well for people in Hawaii.  And lastly, on Easter morning celebrate the fact that you’ve survived yet another winter in Hawaii.

41BAADD1-C4B0-4952-851C-02CDB0E174DBNOTES

+On February 6th I flew home to visit with my mom and brothers and sisters and their families in Edmond, OK.  Expecting something a little better than the snow and cold I had left behind, it snowed on the first day at her home.

+I received several nice messages in response to my post on Russell Baker two weeks ago, and the most surprising came from an alumnus of Saint John’s University who had graduated in 1976.  That year Russell Baker happened to be the commencement speaker, and at the end of the ceremony the alumnus asked Mr. Baker for a copy of his speech.  The latter obliged him by thrusting forward the copy he had used for his delivery, complete with his hand-written edits.  The speech opened with a demonstration of Mr. Baker’s wry sense of humor.  He warned his audience that he was opposed to capital punishment, and that he considered commencement speeches to be a form of capital punishment.  But contrary to his warning, the speech was not torture at all.

+I’ve assembled a rather eclectic group of photos to illustrate the point about monks keeping warm.  At the top of the post the photo shows my favorite tree at Saint John’s.  It sits in the monastic garden, and one giant limb rests on a stone wall.  Next is a 17th-century engraving of the Abbey of Saint Serge in Angers, France.  Below that is a 17th-century engraving of the 13th-century monk and chronicler Matthew of Paris, modeling his cuculla.  At bottom are two photos that remind us that we still have three working fireplaces in the monastery.  Fortunately we have lots of fallen trees to harvest each year.  Equally good is the fact that we don’t have to rely on them to stay warm through an entire winter.

C4E4833D-69EE-4ABB-91DA-FC8F2A0EE1CB

Read Full Post »

2D8F5668-3218-4210-9E54-C782E52294EA

The Lord Presents Himself to Us

I’ve always loved the Canticle of Simeon from the Gospel of Luke chapter 2.  It’s the joyful confession of a just and elderly man as he holds the infant Jesus in his arms.  It’s a day he probably never thought he would see, and yet it had come to pass.

This passage is familiar to any and all who pray compline, the final prayer in the daily cycle of the liturgy of the hours.  It’s also a favorite prayer at the end of funerals, and we monks sing it to a chant that is hauntingly beautiful for the ability of the music to support the words.  “At last you may let your servant depart in peace” is what Simeon says to God, and in our funerals those words reinforce the drama of what we are doing.  We sing them at the moment in which we begin to let go of a brother who has been part of our community for most of a lifetime.  It’s both a sad and happy moment, when we give our brother back to the God who had so kindly given him to us years earlier.

The Presentation of Jesus in the temple is a full and rich story that taps into the emotions of many.  Simeon is overwhelmed as he holds in his arms the savior for whom he had prayed for who knows how long.  Anna gives thanks to God as well.  She had witnessed to the power of God to sustain her as a widow and prophetess through most of her life.  But now she’s seen her visions fulfilled.

88A1EEFA-CFEB-4159-835D-BC2E17FFE2A6Finally, it’s Joseph and Mary who intrigue me most.  What ideas were churning in the minds of this naive young couple as each stepped cautiously into the precincts of the temple?  And the words they heard about their son had to be a little unnerving.  How did Simeon and Anna know about their son?  How could they say those odd things about him?  And certainly not least among their worries, who was this child to whom Mary had given birth?

All of this speaks to the power of Jesus to touch their lives and ours as well.  Like Anna and Simeon, we look for the coming of the Lord into our lives.  And sometimes we wait, and we wait, thinking God has neglected or forgotten us.  And then, just when it seems too late or impossible, the Lord does appear, right beside us.

And as for any advice that Joseph and Mary might have for us, I’d like to think it would go something like this.  Never underestimate the power of God to surprise us.  Never stop wondering what God has called us to do or to be.  Never assume that God has given up on us.  And never doubt for a moment that God has something amazing in mind for us to do.  For as surely as the Lord was presented in the temple, so the Lord will present himself to us.

2A705A92-73AF-4FD3-8260-EF6ACCABC757NOTES

+On January 28th I presided at Mass in Saint Dominic’s Church in San Francisco.  The occasion was a gathering of members of the Order of Malta, at which one of our colleagues made his promise of Obedience.

+On January 29th I flew back to Minnesota in order to host a visitor to Saint John’s who was flying in from St. Louis.  Unfortunately I got back just in time to enjoy the worst cold weather that we’ve experienced in twenty years, and that same cold put off to another time the visit of my friend.  I never made it back to Saint John’s, but thankfully for three days I did enjoy the warm hospitality of some friends of mine in Minneapolis.

+On February 2nd I gave a retreat day as part of the preparation for provisional members of the Order of Malta.  The event took place at Loyola High School in Los Angeles, and the investiture will take place in Los Angeles in June.  Today’s post is the homily that I gave that day, which happened to be the feast of the Presentation.

+On February 3rd I made it home to Saint John’s in time to catch the last bit of our annual Super Bowl party.  Each year the monks on the formation floor of the monastery host the rest of us for an informal buffet.  It’s always a nice occasion, no matter who wins the game.

+At the top of the post is Mary Presents Jesus at the Temple, by Giovanni Bellini, housed in the Fondazione Querini Stampalia in Venice.  Everywhere you turn in Venice the neighborhoods seem to be works of art in themselves, as the other photos in today’s post suggest.  Though it’s been years since I’ve been to Venice, the memories are warm and fresh.

A1ECCF45-1E7C-4534-B0FF-23E873148563

Read Full Post »

6f773fd9-8751-444c-afa0-ea22bf82d7d4

Thank you Russell Baker!

I lost a good friend last week.  Russell Baker was for years a feature writer for The New York Times, and I was saddened to read of his passing.

I never met Mr. Baker, but all the same I once decided to write to let him know that he saved my sanity during a summer in Spain.  I was in the city of León, doing dissertation research, and for two and a half months I neither heard nor spoke a word of English.  Mr. Baker’s column, filled with wit and whimsy and rendered in beautifully-crafted English, was my lifeline to the world I had left behind.

León was a bit of a backwater back then, and Americans had not really discovered it yet. Like much of Spain, León was still trying to figure out how to behave in the aftermath of Francisco Franco.  In America we had timely announcements from Saturday Night Live, reassuring us that Francisco Franco was still dead.  But many in Spain were not so sure.  That may explain one thing that unnerved me on my first day in León:  copies of Mein Kampf were on sale at a few of the book stalls.

f7c78cfc-5686-49f2-aaf4-6b47fc95a03aI survived my time in León thanks to the hospitality of the nuns of the Benedictine Abbey of Santa María de Carvajal.  Their warmth was my haven in an unfamiliar culture, but my guest room did come with a price.  First, the nuns locked the front gate at 5 pm.  That meant that I could not enjoy the evening paseo that is the custom in Spain.  My room also looked out over a small plaza that included a noisy bar.  Five nights a week it belted out American country music, a genre for which I had not yet acquired a taste.  But two and a half months of it led to a change of heart.  After all, it was a touch of home, and I also saw it as the harbinger of change in León.  Hitler could never win against country music.

By the end of my first week in León I was desperate to speak some English, but it was a full month before I finally spied my chance.  Across the plaza mayor was an American couple, and I knew so because of his powder-blue leisure suit and her lime-green pant suit.  100% authentic polyester, if I’m not mistaken.  They clutched each other for dear life, while the Leonese stared as if they had come to announce the circus.  That was the day when I realized that dignity was more important than my need to speak English.  So I walked on by, hoping that everyone would take me for a Leonese.

That’s the context for the deep affection that I developed for Russell Baker and his writing.  His column appeared in The International Herald, and only one newsstand in León carried it.  So early each day I threaded my way through the narrow streets to buy one of its two copies.  But one day I was too late, and I came up short.  Some tourist must have snapped up the second copy, and I was devastated.  It was like losing a friend.

Today León is a lively and beautiful city, due in part to its niche on the revived Camino to Santiago.  Tourists and pilgrims now crowd the streets, and the news stalls bulge with an array of lurid magazines that are enough to raise Francisco Franco from the dead.  But a copy of Mein Kampf cannot be had.  Nor will you see pastel-hued leisure suits.  Just as I had foreseen, country music was indeed the death of it all.

8e465faf-a438-4089-868f-3a7787d17949With news of the passing of Mr. Baker, I must own up to one sin of omission.  I should have written him years ago, just as I had intended.  I should have told him what a good friend he became to me that summer.  I should have told him how I savored all his delicious turns of phrases and delighted whenever he plucked from his memory just the right underused word.  He was an artist in words, and he was the consummate gentleman when dealing with people who did not share his views.  He was the picture of civility, and with that he was generous to a fault.

The latter is one of two takeaways for me.  First, it’s never a good idea to trash people with whom I disagree.  I’m always amazed to recall that there are still ample supplies of civility and courtesy in storage, so there’s plenty to go around.  It does me no good to hoard them, and it’s better to give them away.

Second, I should never wait to thank people for their kindness until after they’ve died.  By that point it no longer does them much good.  On the other hand, it’s never too late for me.  Clearly, someone of the stature of Russell Baker didn’t need to hear my thanks all those years ago.  But I still feel the need to give them.  So here’s to you, Russell Baker!  Thank you for being a creative genius with your words.  And thanks for an amazing summer together in Spain.

a3330c18-9aef-430f-b23a-d369181b8c71NOTES

+On January 23rd I attended a talk delivered by Zach Vertin, who graduated from Saint John’s University in 2005.  Since graduation he has worked in the foreign service and spent considerable time in South Sudan, about which he has written his first book.  Today Zach is a lecturer at my alma mater, Princeton University, and he is a fellow at the Brookings Institution.  I’m always amazed at the prodigious accomplishment of such youngsters and wonder what in the world they can do for an encore.

+On January 26th I was in Atherton, CA, where I gave a morning session to incoming members of the Order of Malta of the Western Association.  I spoke on the history of the Order and the development of its mission in the course of 900 years.

+Alas, I searched my photo files to find something to show what a lovely city León is, but the cupboard was bare.  So I pulled up the file for Valladolid, which is located to the southeast of León.  The Museo Nacional de Escultura has some remarkable items, including sculptures of three of the evangelists, sitting at their desks besieged by writer’s block.  They were carved in the first quarter of the 16th century by Felipe Vigarny (d. 1542).  (Click on the photos to savor the fine detail.)  The photos at top and bottom show the façade and the cloister of the Museo, a former monastery.

6032cc4f-3ec2-41b2-bf6e-f2f668416e3d

Read Full Post »

43db92ed-eb8d-497e-8139-06349c1eb230

Will Never Work for You?

One of my favorite cartoons appeared years ago in The New Yorker Magazine.  It shows a busy executive with phone in one hand while his other hand flips through a desk calendar.  And the caption says it all.  “No.  Tuesday won’t work.  No, Thursday won’t work either.  How about never?  Will never work for you?”

That scene came to mind as I read the gospel passage that recounts the call of Simon, Andrew, James and John.  They literally dropped everything to follow Jesus, and I know I could never do a thing like that.  For one, I’m not terribly spontaneous.  I’m not a risk-taker; and I have to think things through.  And even if I wanted to make a radical decision to follow Christ, it would take planning.  To hit the road and be free to follow the Lord would mean untangling myself from a host of obligations.  And then I’d have to get the abbot’s permission, and I just hope he’d have the wisdom to say “No!”

The calling of Simon and Andrew is a good reminder of just how rooted we are in the world.  Positively those roots are life-giving;  but negatively they entangle us and make us overly cautious when we do have the chance to act as Jesus would have us act.

I don’t want to be footloose and fancy-free, as were the disciples.  But I also don’t want a thousand excuses to paralyze me.  That’s a good reason to pray regularly for the wisdom to know when it’s time to act and when it’s time to pray some more.

505ddaf8-3737-4c6d-b2ff-c51f0a641ad3NOTES

+On January 14th I presided at the abbey Mass, and today’s post is the homily that I delivered that day.  It is based on Mark 1: 14-20.

+On January 17th I delivered a talk on The Saint John’s Bible to members of the Pittsburgh Legatus Club.  I went at the invitation of Saint John’s University alumnus Seth Beckman, who is the dean of the school of music at Duquesne University.  I then spent extra time in Pittsburgh to meet two other alumni, both of whom have been at Carnegie Mellon University for 25+ years.  To my surprise, neither had met the other, and neither knew that there was another alumnus of Saint John’s on the faculty there.

+I have to say that I found the geography of Pittsburgh to be stunning.  I’d never been there before, and I was mesmerized by the view of downtown from Mount Washington, where I gave my presentation.  For sure I intend to return someday, but I will definitely wait until the leaves are back.

+I’ve been so fortunate in my travels that I scarcely anticipated the bad weather that prevented an easy exit from Pittsburgh.  I was schedule to leave Saturday morning and connect through Atlanta and eventually end up in Darien, CT, where I would speak on Sunday at Saint Luke’s Episcopal Church.  With my Saturday morning flight scheduled to leave four and a half hours late, I had two options to consider.  I could take the flight I was booked on, with a high probability that I would spend the night on the floor at the Atlanta airport and miss the talk altogether.  Or I could go back to Minnesota.  I chose to go home, and I definitely chose the better part.  The good news is that I can go to Darien another day, and I look forward to that.

+During the Christmas break Brother Cyprian Ryu returned to his community of Waegwan Abbey in Korea, where he was ordained deacon.  We were happy to welcome him back to Saint John’s and look forward to three more semesters with us.

+The first two photos in today’s post show a 12th-century altar frontal from the Cathedral of Urgell, now housed in the Museum of Catalan Art in Barcelona.  At bottom is a photo of downtown Pittsburgh, which I took near the site where I spoke.

b5767cc9-5017-46aa-a550-c8d7a37e5ecc

Read Full Post »

79ba24a6-744b-433e-9c54-e0298e05cb65

They Went Home by Another Way

Last week’s post on the Epiphany generated quite a lot of comments, and I was grateful to know that it had resonated with so many.  Most of those who emailed did so to say that they too had wondered what had become of the gifts that the magi had delivered.  One, however, speculated that Mary and Joseph had politely thanked the magi for their thoughtfulness but had then refused the gifts.  Gold, frankincense and myrrh were just a bit over the top for people like them, and they knew it.

Two friends of mine shared a different approach to the story, and their comments gave me pause.  One wrote to say that every time he hears the story of the Epiphany he thinks of a song about the magi by James Taylor:  They Went Home by Another Way.  I could not recall that song, so I googled it, listened and immediately recognized the tune.  That’s also when I realized I’d never paid much attention to the lyrics.  Now that hauntingly lovely song is firmly fixed in my mind, and the next time I hear the story of the Epiphany I’ll access my mental link to the song.

a7794815-6bf6-4490-9cca-f689c8e22122A second friend, Eddie from New Mexico, wrote in the same vein, but with a nod to the Holy Family.  After the Epiphany Joseph and Mary also had a change of travel plans.  It was no longer safe for them and their child, and tradition says that they went into exile in Egypt.  There they stayed put until Herod died and it was okay to return.  And so Eddie offered this meditation:  “I wondered where they must have gone and how that must have been such an unexpected twist for them.  Yet, it was necessary.  So it is with us in so many ways.  Twists and turns in life, and some of them so unexpected.  Some good and some bad.  Through it all God is there.”

That’s a great take-away to draw from the Epiphany.  We don’t know how it impacted the shepherds, but it changed the lives of everyone else involved.  “They went home by another way” is just a more poetic way to say that after Bethlehem the lives of the magi, Joseph and Mary were never the same again.  For them the encounter with Jesus was life-changing.  They could not nor would not go on with life as it had been.  The circumstances demanded something new, and they rose to meet the challenge.

That, I think, is what can happen to us in the Epiphany.  When we encounter the Lord, be it in a conversion experience or in the daily twists and turns of life, we can never be the same.  Certainly we have to go back to our routines, but the routines demand something better of us.  Happily, that’s what the Lord likely had in mind for us all along.

7d2e1e6c-da40-4524-8eeb-822ecbfc8010NOTES

+On 7-9 January I participated in the annual community workshop of the monks of Saint John’s Abbey.

+On January 9th I gave a presentation on The Saint John’s Bible to faculty and staff from Saint Edward’s University in Austin, TX, who were visiting as part of a program entitled “A Year With The Saint John’s Bible.”  Following lunch and my talk they visited the new Bible Gallery in Alcuin Library.

+Not quite worthy of inclusion in my post today is a reference to a scene in Monty Python’s Life of Brian.  Anyone who’s seen the movie can never forget the moment when the magi mistakenly present the gifts to the parents of the newly-born Brian.  The mom greedily grabs for the gold, and in a parting comment she thanks them for the gold.  “But next time just leave off the frankincense and myrrh.”

+The photos in today’s post are of medieval mosaics in the baptistery of the duomo in Florence.  At top the magi present their gifts to Jesus.  The second photo shows the magi being warned in a dream, and in the third photo they return home “by another way.”  Below is a scene in which the Holy Family goes into exile in Egypt.

7692c6cd-4fef-4605-abaa-7a551eb6eb19

Read Full Post »

b77054fc-6c2d-49d6-af4a-a79395f87444

Jesus:  His Kingdom is not of this World

I find it curious that the gospels begin and end the story of Jesus with references to kingship.  The visit of the magi and their presentation of royal gifts clearly allude to the hopes of many who looked for a messiah who would be king.  Later, in the course of his ministry, Jesus consistently brushed aside those who would make him king.  Then, as Jesus endured the worst of his agony, Pilate mocked those aspirations with the sign he had fixed to the cross:  Jesus of Nazareth, king of the Jews.

For those who still try to leverage Jesus into power over others, the words of Jesus serve as a timely reminder:  “My kingdom is not of this world.”  On the contrary, his is a message of love, which after nearly 2,000 years is still capable of inspiring some people and disappointing others.

4d845af6-5ae1-4386-928f-48256b4ef549Every now and again I’ve wondered what in the world Mary and Joseph decided to do with the gold, frankincense and myrrh that the magi dropped off.  Regardless of what became of those royal gifts, however, they were symbols of what Jesus chose to reject.  They disappear from the narrative, never to reappear.

The story of Epiphany has one other important element that provides a good takeaway for us.  The magi came looking for a king, but they ended up finding the object of their quest in a very unkingly place.  Bethlehem was not the setting for royal births, then or now.  Bethlehem was definitely no Jerusalem.  But if it was no place for the birth of a king, it was suitable enough for the birth of a messiah.

Bethlehem then serves as a reminder that there are simply no excuses for backing away from doing the work of the Lord.  We may think we were born in the wrong place, that we are too poor, too young, too old, that we don’t speak well, or that we have no influence.  But the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem dismisses all that with a wave of the hand.

That’s the way the Lord does business.  Consistently the Lord still chooses to do great things through the least likely of people who hail from the least likely of places.  Given that, why would the infant of Bethlehem pass over the chance to do great things through us too?  For that I have no answer.  And so I pray that the Lord, who could turn water into wine, can work a similar transformation in us.

32886ef3-ca8b-49d0-b98a-14fccfc8f3eeNOTES

+At Saint John’s we only had a dusting of snow for Christmas, and so it was a stretch to call it a white Christmas.  However, we more than made up for it by New Year’s.  In fact, we got several inches, along with bitterly cold weather for a couple of days.  So it was that I celebrated New Year’s afternoon by clearing the snow off of my car.  It took twenty minutes, and by the end of it my fingers were stinging from the cold.  The photos in today’s post illustrate the beauty of the landscape that day.

+On January 3rd I flew to Phoenix for a short trip to visit with several alumni of Saint John’s University.  I also celebrated Mass on the Feast of the Epiphany for a small group, and today’s post is the sermon I delivered that day.

+On January 5th we celebrated the Mass of Christian Burial for our confrere, Fr. Kieran Nolan.  Fr. Kieran was born and grew up in the Bronx, New York, and among other things he served as rector of the seminary at Saint John’s and pastor of Saint John the Baptist Parish in Collegeville.  For several years he served at our priory in Fujimi, Japan, and he nobly endured a long illness before his passing.  Fr. Kieran was one of those larger than life characters whose mind was always churning with ideas, and some of them were even practical!  I and my confreres will miss him dearly.

133c6a16-54b8-4772-96ef-e68f0a9861b4

Read Full Post »

33601263-FE81-45E0-9F07-8DE81B2E60F6

Be It Resolved:  In 2019 Remember to Consider the Lilies

The other day I ran across a slip of paper I’d stuffed into a book several months ago.  On it I had written a portion of verse 28 from Matthew 6:  “Consider the lilies….”

I recalled immediately why I’d written that down, and it had nothing to do with running outside to see if I could spy any lilies in bloom.  Rather, I thought of the potential to recast the teaching of Jesus into a more congenial light.  For better and generally for worse, many people who are tired of religion pigeonhole Jesus as just one more negative guru who’s heaped impossible demands on people.  For the moment I’ll set aside Jesus and concede that there is a grain of truth here.  After all, “thou shalt not kill” and “thou shalt not steal” are serious restrictions on our personal freedom.  I don’t like those restrictions any more than the next guy, but that’s part of the price that both Jews and Christians pay for sticking with the Bible.

874F9A70-648A-4EF0-B86E-8BF6C5E108F8Anyway, skeptics do sometimes tar Jesus with the same brush of negativity, and to some extent it’s his own fault.  After all, he did say that he hadn’t come to abolish either the law or the prophets.  So he too is partly responsible for the onerous baggage that we have strapped to our backs.

That’s why I wrote down “consider the lilies.”  Jesus said that too; and while the phrase doesn’t have the gravitas of the Ten Commandments or the commands to love God and neighbor, it’s a command all the same.  And it’s unlike many of the others that we chafe under.  In fact, there’s something delightfully wonderful here.  For one thing, there’s a touch of whimsy about it, particularly if we take it literally.  But lilies also conjure up a certain innocence and playfulness and beauty.  And on a symbolic level the command to consider them suggests a certain opportunism.  After all, lilies don’t grow year-round except in greenhouses.  If we’re going to consider the lilies, especially in places like Minnesota in the winter, then we need to keep our eyes peeled for the moments when they go to the trouble of blooming.  But beyond the literal meaning, then, those lilies symbolically represent all the glimpses of innocence and beauty and playfulness that come our way each day.

1AE17F35-7DEA-406F-8198-D8C612F59C56Purists will note that I have failed to provide the full context of “consider the lilies.”  Actually the verse is less about lilies than it is about us.  It concludes with the observation that God loves us even more than those lilies.  For all their simple beauty, lilies still can’t hold a candle to one of the most beautiful of God’s creations.  That creation would be we.

By tradition New Year’s Day provides an excuse to begin again, and in that spirit I’ve jotted down at least a few resolutions I’ll try to honor in 2019.  First, I’ve resolved neither to kill anyone nor steal anything.  Nor am I going to grumble about these onerous restrictions on my personal freedom.  Of course success will require an entire year, and so I’ve also resolved to consider the lilies every chance I get, starting on 1 January.  On the morning of 1 January I’m going to welcome into my life every bit of gratuitous joy and beauty that I can.  And there may be a bonus — it may even make loving God and neighbor not just less annoying, but perhaps even life-giving.

43685329-0794-432F-AE45-04DB80789BC5NOTES

+Christmas eve Mass in the abbey turned out to be a real tour-de-force, musically and otherwise. Among other things, our confrere Brother Lucian returned from gratudate studies at Notre Dame to join us, and he read the second reading in Spanish, which was a first for the Christmas liturgy.  Later, with a nod to tradition and the origins of our comminity, we sang one verse of Silent Night in German.

+On 29-30 December several alumni of last year’s Benedictine Volunteer Corps joined us for a weekend retreat.  Fr. Nick presided at the liturgy on December 29th, which featured the gospel that contains the Song of Simeon, the Nunc Dimittis, which is sung at compline.  Himself a former Benedictine Volunteer who served in Tanzania, he concluded his sermon by singing the Nunc Dimittis in Swahili.  As near as I could tell, his pronunciation was flawless.

+On 30 December in the abbey church I baptized Luke Chaphalkar, infant son of my colleagues and friends Rajiv and Emily Chalphalkar.  Luke was a real trooper, and in fact he had been in training for this for weeks.  When the water washed over his head he quite naturally assumed it was time for his bath, which he loves.  Happily, several of the monks provided musical support for the service.

+We were saddened a few days ago by the passing of Sister Wendy Becket.  Sister Wendy became an unlikely celebrity through her PBS series on art history.  But more particular to us, we honored her with the Fr. Colman Barry Award at the opening of an exhibit of folios of The Saint John’s Bible at the V & A Museum in London in 2006.

+The photos in today’s post show the abbey church during the Christmas season, including the tree at the baptismal font.  Below is a photo of Sister Wendy with calligrapher Donald Jackson, Brother Dietrich and Abbot John, taken by Edmond Terkopian/PA Wire, at the V & A Museum in London in 2006.

1FB19715-31C5-4ADE-8CB6-B2EC3663041D

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »