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Posts Tagged ‘V & A Museum’

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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.

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+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.

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A Little Silence Can Be Golden

I used to think that only other people got to see the unusual things, while my daily rounds were pretty boring.  Lately, however, I’ve had my share of sightings, and I’ve perked up a bit.

Probably the most startling thing I saw in the last week took place on Saturday.  I was at a lunch, sitting at a table outside, when I heard a crash and looked up with a start.  Somebody had just rear-ended a pick-up, parked a few feet from where I was sitting.   The good news was that neither the driver nor the cell phone she had been using were injured.  The same could not be said for her car, though.  The parked pick-up had won.

95DDE85D-F528-453B-9A54-D9F74A4164F1Things like that used to show up in News of the Weird, but no more.  That sort of stuff now happens with such regularity that it scarcely deserves attention, which explains why I so casually turned back to lunch.   After all, just two days earlier I had watched as a young man who was texting walked right into a post.  The post won, and I awarded the post extra points for that.

The prize for the most eccentric behavior of the week I bestowed on a person who talked non-stop for almost two whole blocks.  I was stuck on the sidewalk behind her and her friend, but when I finally had the chance to pass, I didn’t.  By then it had become hugely entertaining.  For upwards of four minutes she talked at a ferocious clip, without resort to a comma, a semicolon or any other sort of punctuation.  Just listening left me breathless, but she seemed not to be.

That performance brought to mind Saint Benedict’s chapter on the restraint of speech.  There he cites Proverbs 10:19 to this effect:  “In a flood of words you will not avoid sin.”  I’m not sure that this person meant any harm with her torrent of words, but the verdict belongs to her long-suffering companion who seemed so pained by it all.

By contrast Saint Benedict was a man of few words, which likely explains the brevity of his Rule.  It’s not that he was against speaking, but he honestly believed that the fewer the words, the better.   And when it came to prayer the same held true.  So it is that after several chapters dealing with the details of the prayer cycle in the monastery, he rewards the reader with this rather terse comment:  “We must know that God regards our purity of heart and tears of compunction, not our many words.  Prayer should always be short and pure….”  And then he concludes:  “In community, however, prayer should always be brief….”

CA2BA3DF-ED02-4D9F-9DE7-8188C3C75E2BFor those who assume that prayer should be super-dignified, ethereal and long-winded, Saint Benedict offers a different perspective.  He doesn’t exactly say that we should talk with God as we would with our friends.  But in fact we should.  It should be a conversation in which we don’t hesitate to tell God what’s on our mind.  We shouldn’t be bashful to tell God what troubles us and what makes us happy.  God wants to know.

But as in any good conversation, there need to be at least two parties, and everybody should have a chance to speak.  Perhaps with that in mind Benedict begins his Rule with the word “Listen.”  That’s a key element in any praying that we do, and it’s necessary for any fruitful conversation — be it with God or with our friends.

”Listen” is the word I wanted to share with that overly-chatty person on the sidewalk.  But had I had the nerve, it likely would have come out ”LISTEN!”  So it’s just as well that I took the advice of Saint Benedict that day and kept my mouth shut.  For that moment, at least for me, silence was golden.

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+Summer is winding down at Saint John’s and in two weeks the first of our students begin to trickle in for the fall term.  However, there are still groups visiting and working on campus, including several of our students who are doing individual research this summer.  In addition, HMML has hosted two groups for month-long sessions.  First, it hosted the NEH summer seminar entitled “Thresholds of Change:  Modernity and Transformation in the Mediterranean, 1400-1700.”  That drew 25 professors from across the country.  Most recently HMML hosted Dumbarton Oaks Research Library’s Syriac Summer Language School, which drew ten scholars from around the world.  Dumbarton Oaks is Harvard University’s Byzantine research library and institute in Washington, DC. At the other end of the spectrum, we hosted the annual camp for the Rosemount High School Marching Band.  For an entire week their music filtered through the campus, and it was a delight.

+The first three photos all show writers at their craft.  At top is Saint Ambrose, made by a Spanish carver, ca. 1500.  Next is Saint Bridget of Sweden, writing down her Revelations.  It was made in the Netherlands, ca. 1470.  Below that is John of Patmos, writing the Book of Revelation on a scroll (Burgundy, ca. 1450-1500).  Saint James the Greater I have included because his feast day was on July 25th.  All four of these items are to be found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.  At bottom is a wrought iron panel, which has nothing to do with any of the sculptures here.  I just happened to like it and thought it would be a nice accent piece and serve as a period in today’s post.  It is housed in the V & A in London.

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