God is good. In preparation for our ordination, we had the privilege of spending retreat time at the Community of the Transfiguration – the Episcopal convent in Dayton, Ohio. The hospitality was warm and generous from the Sisters and their rarely seen canine companions (I bonded with Winnie the Pooch). The rhythm of the days was made up of praying and eating together, with ample space and time for silent meditation, reflection and a brisk walk. There was also some excellent time for education and spiritual direction from our retreat leader, the inimitable Bishop Barbara Andrews of the Territory of the People, located in British Columbia.
The chapel at the convent is made of marble and beautifully carved wood. Every pew is unique, lovingly hand-carved by a Sister who worked to the Glory of God for five years to complete her vision.
When one looks upwards, the windows are particularly noteworthy, showing women and men of faith who have inspired this community, including Mother Harriet Monsell, John Mason Neale, St. Hilda of Whitby, St. Bride, St. Clare – whose window bids “Have no fear, little daughters – Trust in Jesus” and a vividly colourful St. Francis window.
From the “Canticle of the Sun” by St. Francis of Assisi, this window caught my imagination in depicting the elements who praise God: Brother Fire, Mother Earth, Sister Water, Brother Sun, Sister Moon and Brother Wind. A little child in the bottom of the window gazes lovingly up to the Christ figure at the top. The light emanating from this Christ figure reveals that this is the Messiah: all creation is praising God.
This image speaks a thousand words: it calls, invites and beckons us to a theology of creation care, an entwined relationship with our environment in which we live and move and have our being. “We are one human family, one earth community, a common destiny for all,” says the United Nations Earth Charter.
Our well-being as sisters and brothers in Christ, as members of the human family, as sentient beings, is caught up with the well-being of the whole earth community: the little rabbit in the bottom corner of the window, the golden flowers in the Christ’s hands at the top of the window, the wind and waves. We are all connected and depend on each other. We are in communion with one another and with our Triune God. We are all related: a welcomed and familiar epiphany.
It is in the return of the light, as we move from the dark and hibernating days of winter into the new light and awakening as the days grow longer again, that we can see with fresh eyes our world around us.
As the light streamed through the jewel-toned window that day, it now streams into my mind’s eye. The light of the world is both a memory and a reality. It is said that St. Francis, near the end of his life, was blind when he dictated this canticle: he saw nature through the eyes of his mind. When we cannot see with our physical eyes, our epiphanies still awaken and enliven the eyes of our minds and hearts. The Light of the World shines loving kindness and mercy into our experience-darkened hearts and hurt-closed minds. We are on holy ground together. May this New Year be one of gentle enlightening and grace-filled new life.