You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘tradition’ tag.

It was 1957. Near midnight, shivery blasts rattled the convent’s double casement windows and dumped mounds of snow upon blue spruces and towering oaks. Swirling, cracking, snapping sounds rubbed against the erstwhile silence and quickened the steps of hundreds of black-laced low-heeled shoes along the long hardwood floors, polished for the occasion: New Year’s Eve. The swish of long black choir cloaks fastened at the chin heightened the drama.

Further ahead, I made out the great doors of the Gothic chapel opening out to the older nuns who bowed before the Superior, toed the wooden kneelers of their choir stalls, knelt down, and opened their libers. As the procession inched toward the chapel, steam sizzled from occasional radiators affording oases of warmth.

Four months into my postulancy in the noviceship, I watched, bug-eyed, so as not to make a mistake. Finally, I opened my liber with the others and waited for the pitch pipe’s tone from the Mistress of the Choir. After I adjusted my wool skirt on the kneeler, I gazed at the sanctuary, where thick beeswax candles shadowed the altar and other furnishings.

Then a short beep signaled everyone to grab their opened libers and stand facing each other as the Miserere was intoned, a psalm pleading God’s forgiveness for sins committed in the year, 1957. Then, followed another ancient Latin hymn, the Te Deum, heartfelt thanksgiving for its graces.

Just as the tower bell gonged midnight, the Jesuit celebrant began Mass, in union with the praying church all over the world. No matter the blight of racial integration in our country, no matter Sukarno’s expulsion of the Dutch from Indonesia, no matter the world’s excesses—deep Peace’s embrace revealed another realm and we were in it.

I’ve never forgotten that night.

The eve before the birth of Jesus, we remember his very pregnant mother, Mary. Few scriptural accounts tell her story. Yet, thanks to the rich imaginations of the first followers of her son, stories of her abound.

James, some say the half-brother of Jesus, collected these accounts circulating about Mary and published them in The Protoevangelium of James (145 CE). One of these treats of Mary and Joseph’s arduous four-day journey to Bethlehem from Nazareth:

And he saddled the ass, and set her upon it; and his sons led it, and Joseph followed.

From that source, the fourteenth-century artist and monk Theodore Metachites replicated Mary and Joseph’s journey in late Byzantine mosaics, found in the inner narthex of the Church of the Holy Savior in Istanbul, Turkey. Ahead of them walk Joseph’s two sons from a previous marriage. Because robbers infested the roads, travelers joined caravans for safety.

Instead of a lowly donkey, however, the artist, has Mary astride a white horse, then, only owned by the wealthy or used by generals in warfare. The horse’s bridle and saddle blanket offer a human touch.

So, it’s ultimately about story, which ones you choose for inspiration, for inner enrichment, those with purpose and meaning.

The Infancy Narrative has always spoken to me.

“If you love the truth, be a lover of silence. Silence like the sun will illuminate you in God.”—a trenchant saying attributed to Isaac the Syrian, the seventh-century Bishop, theologian, and monk, regarded as a saint by the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Simple words, if pondered, reveal the unseen caught in the flux of time. Key to this process is passion, whose firelight, like the sun, ignites inner worlds. But who cares to go there? To discipline unruly instincts clamoring for expression? That would be like dying. Such flies in the face of our cultural mores, engulfed in denial and rationalization. The predictable is more comfortable, yet soulless.

It does not take much to see who is truly alive among us: their quickening gaze, their resonant voices, their authority, of whatever age and background.

That’s what happens when you sit in the fire.

Available on Amazon

%d bloggers like this: