St. Paul’s Monastery in Minnesota has asked us, as part of our affiliation process, to send them a monthly report on our life here at Transfiguration Monastery. When appropriate, we thought we’d share these reports with our blog readers. What follows is the report for December, 2014.
Advent and Christmas: Community Outreach
We always find that there is a delicate balance between keeping Advent as a time of silent inwardness as we wait for the Lord’s coming, and participating in the many convivial activities to which we are invited in anticipation of Christmas. The first of these events was the ecumenical “ladies only” Advent/Christmas celebration, held each year at one of the churches in Windsor, on a rotating basis. On December 3 of this year, Zion Episcopal hosted the service and subsequent party, while the Catholics were responsible for the liturgy, a responsibility that was passed on to the three of us. Sr. Donald prepared a talk based on the idea of giving Jesus our heart, as expressed in the Christmas carol, The Little Drummer Boy, Christina Rossetti’s poem, In the Bleak Midwinter, and the round, Pauper sum ego. The congregation joined us in a couple of verses of Gustav Holst’s setting of In the Bleak Midwinter, and for Pauper sum ego, we recruited some of the Methodist choir members and well as the Episcopalian organist to help us out.
On Sunday, December 7, we participated in a parish outing to Syracuse, where one of the oldest friends of our community, Charlie Rock, was receiving the Immaculata Award at the cathedral, in recognition of his outstanding contributions to the life of the parish. The church was packed with family and friends of those receiving the awards, among whom were a couple of other friends of ours, and we were happy to be able to be there to support them.
The following Thursday, we were invited to another annual event: a festive lunch with members of a local ladies’ prayer group, many of whom are among the oldest friends and benefactors of Transfiguration Monastery. Sr. Donald typically gives a short spiritual talk, and small gifts are exchanged. We managed to forget to bring the case of 12 bottles of our homemade raspberry wine vinegar for the group, so the following week, Sr. Donald brought our gifts to their weekly prayer breakfast (more about that later).
On the 12th, a group of young people, all lay ministers to prisoners and the homeless, came for a day of recollection, accompanied by a deacon and former student of Sr. Donald. The theme of the day was Jesus’ words in Revelation 22:16: “I am the bright and morning star.” The Moravian star in the window of our chapel provided the backdrop, and Sr. Sheila taught the group the Moravian Christmas hymn, Morning Star, O Cheering Sight.
On December 17, Charlie Rock and his wife, Carol, invited us to be present as Fr. Dwyer, our chaplain, blessed the manger scene in front of their house. Charlie and his (and our) good friend, Ron, had built a beautiful little wooden stable to house the crèche figures, which were placed on a bed of straw, and the whole tableau was surrounded by little white lights. Charlie’s neighbors reportedly stop in front of the crèche to pray on their way home. (There’s very little traffic on this road.) Charlie’s effort inspired us to set up a little yard art of our own, something much simpler that we could manage on our own:
On December 21, Sr. Donald traveled to Mt. Saviour Benedictine Monastery near Elmira (home of Mark Twain, about an hour and 1/2 from here by car), to give a talk on Thomas Merton to the Friends of St. Benedict. As usual, her talk was very well received.
Guardian Angel Activity
Our Guardian Angels, always on the ball, were called upon to work overtime this month.
The deacon candidates, together with other friends of the community, had been raising money to buy a vehicle to replace the dying Subaru that Sr. Donald had been using for her trips back and forth to Syracuse. They’d reached about $15,000, enough to buy a good used car, and one of the local Knights of Columbus had said he knew the Subaru dealer near Binghamton and would ask him to give us a good deal. When Sr. Donald drove to the ladies’ prayer breakfast on the 18th, she sensed that the old Subaru was not long for this world. She told the ladies that she was off to see the Subaru dealer, and they said, “We’ll say a Hail Mary that you get there.” Sr. Donald replied, “Maybe you should say last rites.” As she pulled into the dealership, the car gave up the ghost, leaking transmission fluid all over the parking lot. The dealer gave Sr. Donald another car to drive home as a possible purchase for her to show to Sr. Miriam and me, and the following week the car was ours.
Our Guardian Angels also came to the rescue in the bookkeeping department. Sr. Miriam, who is new to this job, had done all of her calculations on paper, knew what she wanted to enter into the computer, but was stuck when she tried to get Quickbooks to coöperate. As it happened, Sr. Donald had overheard someone in the parish mention that she worked as a bookkeeper, and then it turned out that this Jennifer lives across the road from us. She came over after work one day, solved the problem in short order, and offered to come back any time we need help.
We begin our liturgical observance of Christmas with Christmas Eve Vespers at 4:00, which ends with the chanting of the martyology and full prostration at the end for those whose knees can manage the effort. At 6:00 we celebrate Christmas Matins, an hour-long service which we sing from start to finish, including the readings, with the exception of the collect at the end. The haunting Gregorian chant tone for the Gospel is very close to that of the Hebrew genealogy in the Book of Ruth, which St. Matthew’s Gospel incorporates. Traditionally, the superior chants the Gospel, but we’ve decided to have everyone sing it together.
At. 9:00, we have “Midnight Mass”, or “Mass in the Night”, as it’s now called, with traditional carols, followed by a party in the refectory for any guests who come to the Mass. This year, we had a full house. Fr. Dwyer wore for the first time a gold chasuble, donated by a friend of the monastery, in memory of her daughter who was killed in the 9/11 attacks.
On Christmas morning, we have Lauds at 8:00, followed by Mass in the parish at 9:30. A friend offered to cook our Christmas dinner this year, which took the pressure off Sr. Miriam. As usual, a number of friends joined us for the festive noon meal.
May the Angels continue to accompany all of us during the coming year!
A Healthy and Happy New Year to All!