Thursday, December 30, 2010


Detail from "The Worship of the Shepherds" window at Trinity Church, Boston

Phillips Brooks, as you undoubtedly know, was one of our great preachers. I remember, shortly after I moved to Boston, visiting Trinity Church where he was rector and that being such a thrill for me! Did you know that Trinity had the first free standing altar in the U.S. and this, in the late 19th century?

Here's something he said that I think is worthy of reflection as we are saying good-bye to one year and beginning to welcome in another:

The glory of the star, the glory of the sun--we must not lose either in the other.We must not be so full of the hope of heaven that we cannot do our work on the earth;we must not be so lost in the work of the earth that we shall not be inspired by the hope of heaven.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The true wonder

Artist: Lorenzo Costa

While it may well help to have a musical background in order to tap into the wisdom of the following, I think we have all heard a song badly sung while still realizing on a deep level the perfection of the song itself:

The wonder is not that there should be obstacles and sufferings in this world, but that there should be law and order, beauty and joy, goodness and love. The idea of God that humans have in their being is the wonder of all wonders. They have felt in the depths of their lives that what appears as imperfect is the manifestation of the perfect; just as a person who has an ear for music realized the perfection of a song, while in fact he or she is only listening to a succession of notes.

-- Victor Gollancz

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve

Artist: Bramantino

Do you know the works of Willa Cather? The following is from a newspaper column she produced toward the beginning of her writing career. I can't determine exactly when this was written but it had to have been quite early in the 20th century. Somehow these paragraphs seem wonderfully apppropriate for tonight:

Up in the Negro church one Christmas the congregation were singing the "Peace on Earth." When the plaintive music stopped an old gray-haired Negro in a frock coat and wearing two pairs of glasses arose and began reading the old, old story of the men who were watching their flocks by night and of the babe who was born in the city of David. He became very excited as he read, and his voice trembled and he unconsciously put the words to measure and chanted them slowly. When he finished he looked up at the ceiling with eager misty eyes as though he could see the light of the heavenly messenger shining in upon him.

It is a beautiful story, this of the holiest and purest childhood on earth, beautiful even to those who cannot understand it, as dreams are sweet to men without hope. After all, if we cannot hear the carol and see the heavenly messenger, it is because our ears are deaf and our eyes are blind, not that we turn willfully away from love or beauty.

No one is antagonistic by preference. Almost any of us who doubt would give the little we know or hope to know to go down upon our knees among the lowly and experience a great faith or a great conviction.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

God with us

We moving ever so inexorably toward the yearly observance of a great and mighty wonder - the Mystery of the Incarnation. Here's something rather lovely about that:

If the grandfather of the grandfather of Jesus had known what was hidden within him, he would have stood humble and awe-struck before his soul.

-- Kahlil Gibran

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Moving toward the day!

This is THE interpretation, dear people. John Eliot Gardiner simply cannot be beat when it comes to Baroque interpretation. Same for the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists.

And the opening strains of this oratorio (that timpani bit at the very beginning) simply announce "Christmas!" to me like nothing else. I will play my CD of this while I trim my tree on Friday. It's a tradition I absolutely love!

A candle to pray by

I think maybe I've blogged this before somewhere. It seems as good a time as any for a repeat.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Knowing we're in it together

Artist: John Leech

I don't know if this is still true or if it was ever true, really. What I know is that we would all benefit by seeing each other as "fellow-passengers to the grave..." rather than completely different sorts of beings:

I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round -- apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that -- as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on their journeys.


-- Charles Dickens from A Christmas Carol

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Fourth Sunday of Advent

In today's gospel reading, Joseph has a crisis. Mary is pregnant and the baby is not his. An angel then reassures him in a dream and he is off on the adventure of his life. Here's something about how to process the crises in our lives:

None of us avoids crisis. All of us have trouble in the course of our lives. Because this is so, the great difference between people does not lie between those free from trouble and the rest of us. The great difference appears between those people who are vanquished by their problems and those people who find in their problems something worthwhile that redeems the rest.

-- Charles Hoffacker

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Grace in our time

"Wedding of Mary and Joseph" (between 1650 and 1700)
We are moving toward the Feast of the Nativity - that great and lovely day of great and lovely wonder. May we be open to this wonder, indeed:

It takes grace in our time to keep our minds open to wonder, to be ready for the tug from God, the push from the Spirit, and the revelation of deep things from the hearts of ordinary people. It takes grace, but it is a great gift.

-- Lewis B. Smedes

Monday, December 13, 2010

Praying with icons

I remember when I first learned that in Eastern Christianity, icons are seen as windows through which we see into the spiritual realm. Here's something quite beautiful about the experience:

God broods over us in the icons. And so we are summoned to look at them every day for they bring life, food, and grace into our bodies. There is a shining forth in our flesh that emerges with undivided attention and devotion. We come to drink in the icon and to be taken and held by it. We stand before the eye of God, or sit, or kneel, and we bow and kiss the icon, touching our fingers to our forehead, lips, shoulders, and heart as we greet and acknowledge that we are there — before All That Is, before God, the Holy One. Always the icon seeks to bring us to prayer and attentive adoration.

-- Megan McKenna

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Gaudete Sunday

I listened to many versions of this carol on YouTube today because I wanted to bring you a good one that I have not posted before on this blog. This one (by the Mediæval Bæbes) is excellent. An even better version (I would assert) can be found on The Anchorhold (another of my blogs).

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Revolutionary patience

Artist: Claude Monet

Christian hope is not the same as the kind of everyday hope in which we are attached to an outcome. Christian hope is about keeping faith regardless of the outcome. It is also fundamental to what it means to observe the season of Advent.

I heard a preacher say recently that hope is a revolutionary patience; let me add that so is being a writer. Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don't give up.

-- Anne Lamott

Friday, December 10, 2010


Let us not forget that the yearly imperative of Advent is to wake up:

We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade, the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him. He walks everywhere incognito. And the incognito is not always easy to penetrate. The real labor is to remember to attend. In fact to come awake. Still more to remain awake.

-- C.S. Lewis

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Biebl Ave Maria


The Ave Maria by Franz Bieble was originally written for men's voice but this arrangement is also simply luscious.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The sublime invitation

Interestingly, this is the "picture of the day" today over at Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Saint Nicholas

Artist: Francesco Guardi

A powerful observation about what it means to give:

While you have a thing it can be taken from you... but when you give it, you have given it. No robber can take it from you. It is yours then for ever when you have given it. It will be yours always. That is to give.

-- James Joyce

Advent II

Artist: Edward Hicks

The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.

-- from Isaiah 11

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Wherever we come alive

I believe I have told you before that I had the privilege of hearing David Steindl-Rast speak at an interfaith conference back in the early 70s. He was riveting. I don't remember any other speaker from that occasion but Br. David was simply unforgettable:

Sometimes people get the mistaken notion that spirituality is a separate department of life, the penthouse of existence. But rightly understood, it is a vital awareness that pervades all realms of our being... Wherever we may come alive, that is the area in which we are spiritual.

-- Br. David Steindl-Rast

Friday, December 3, 2010

A river of grace

Artist: Carol Popp de Szathmary

The Great Silence is, to my mind, the most powerful and meaning monastic practice of them all. Normally this period during which all talking ceases begins after Compline (the last prayer office of the evening) and continues until after breakfast the next day. Remember, of course, that by breakfast time, the monks or nuns have already participated in early morning meditation and the office of Morning Prayer as well as the Mass. Monastic communities also have other times and places for which silence is the rule.

Here's something quite wonderful about the practice:

Silence is like a river of grace inviting us to leap unafraid into its beckoning depths. It is dark and mysterious in the waters of grace. Yet in the silent darkness we are given new eyes. In the heart of the divine we can see more clearly who we are. We are renewed and cleansed in this river of silence. There are those among you who fear the Great Silence. It is a foreign land to you. Sometimes it is good to leap into the unknown. Practice leaping.

-- Macrina Wiederkehr

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Asking the right questions

Artist: Sperindio Cagnola

I see much suffering related to the truly cruel teaching that if we believe the right things and do the right things that we'll prosper and have no serious difficulties in life. And so I find the following approach to be profound in a very powerful way:

In the final analysis, the questions of why bad things happen to good people transmutes itself into some very different questions, no longer asking why something happened, but asking how we will respond, what we intend to do now that it happened.

-Pierre Teilhard de Chardin