Illuminating Easter: The Resurrection

Easter Sunday Reflection
John 20:1-23

Resurrection, Donald Jackson, Copyright 2002, The Saint John’s Bible, Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota USA. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Resurrection, Donald Jackson, Copyright 2002, The Saint John’s Bible, Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota USA. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

As you take a few minutes to look at the illumination, what is the first thing that catches your attention? Is it the contrast of the light and dark colors between Jesus and Mary Magdalene?  Is it the gold lettering? Maybe it is the crosses and the tomb in the background of the illumination.

Easter is a season of movement and layers of divine revelation, which are reflected in this Resurrection illumination of John 20:1-23. This illumination tells the story of the journey from Good Friday to Easter Sunday. Starting on the left side of the illumination with the three crosses, our eye then travels to the empty tomb. There has been a physical movement of Jesus’ body from the cross to the tomb and from the tomb to the resurrection.

Taking a second look at this illumination, we now focus on the movement between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, who arrives when it is early in the morning and it is still dark. She does not recognize Jesus. She is caught up in her own sadness that Jesus, her Rabbi and Lord is not in the tomb. Jesus addresses Mary Magdalene and asks her why she is weeping. Her response is one of distress because she is frightened. She does not realize that she is talking to Jesus; she thinks that she is talking to the gardener.  Only when Jesus calls her by name does she realizes that she is talking to the Risen Christ. Recognizing him as her teacher, she responds immediately, saying, “Rabbouni” (John 20:16). This is depicted to the right of her shoulder with the three Aramaic characters, translated to mean “my Rabbi.”

Imagining Jesus calling our name moves us deeper into the scene of the illumination, allowing different aspects to catch our eye. The hues that lead us to the image of Jesus are dark; they begin to lighten as our eye starts moving to Mary Magdalene. She is portrayed in red. Her arm is pronounced in gold as she reaches for Jesus and there is gold and light under her feet. When Mary Magdalene recognizes Jesus’ presence and the light he exudes, the gold in Jesus’ garments stands out and divine revelation starts to take over the story.

Next Jesus says to Mary Magdalene, “Don’t hold onto me I have not ascended to my Father. Go and tell my brothers that I am going to ascend to my Father” (John 20:17). Mary Magdalene is commissioned to go. According to John’s Gospel, Mary Magdalene does not walk. She runs to tell Peter and the others what she has seen and what she has been told. During this Easter season may we pay attention to the movements from darkness to light, from death to life in our own lives. And may we run with zeal to share our own divine revelation of the Risen Christ.


Tracy Dereszynski, OblSB is the Director of Adult and Family Ministry at St. Francis Borgia Church in Cedarburg, Wisconsin. She is an oblate of Saint John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota.


Illuminating Triduum: Creation, Covenant, Shekinah, Kingdom

Holy Saturday Reflection
Wisdom 10-12

Creation, Covenant, Shekinah, Kingdom, Donald Jackson, Copyright 2006, The Saint John’s Bible, Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota USA. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Creation, Covenant, Shekinah, Kingdom, Donald Jackson, Copyright 2006, The Saint John’s Bible, Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota USA. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Today is a day that demands patience, waiting, and commitment to enduring our present reality. We embrace our uncertainties. We reflect on the human condition, wherein neither the good nor the bad is quick to dismiss the other—both remain.

In this illumination we see four panels reminiscent of the four classic elements—earth, water, fire, and air. First is a revision of the Creation illumination, in which we see God bring order from the chaos for the first time. In the second panel, the dove is the symbol of peace emerging from the story of Noah and the great flood. Third, there is the word Shekinah, meaning God’s presence, which is written in black, red, and gold and is enflamed in the representation of the pillar of fire. Lastly, there is the rendering of Ezekiel’s vision of the kingdom, where water flows out from the temple causing life to flourish and the leaves on the trees bear healing for all.

To the right of the final panel we see “I WAS THERE.”  It is faint and you may do a double take to notice it. It is not written on any one panel, but it is in the white space, the negative space, the space that is otherwise I was therenot filled and likely not regarded until we see the words, “I was there.” God manifest in Wisdom has been, continues to be, and will always remain ever-present in all of creation.

Yesterday we heard the words of Jesus recounted—and perhaps sometimes we find ourselves muttering or even groaning them aloud—“my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” These words linger as today we are asked to rest in the depths of the chasm between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, the negative space of the Christian story. What do we make of this day? How do we hold these contrasting words—“I was there” and “why have you forsaken me?”—together at once? I suggest we give our minds a rest today and ponder this in our hearts and bodies instead. How is God present in God’s absence, or absent in God’s presence? How has God been both present and absent through our agonies, times of abandonment, rejections, and our labored breaths?

Tonight after the sun fades out from behind the clouds the whole sky will become dark. Only then does the Vigil take place, beginning with the service of light. We gather around a blazing fire with the rest of our faith community. As evidence of the fire’s spontaneous flickering, we see the light dance upon the faces of those crowded around it. Just as the four elements are depicted in this illumination, we encounter them in the liturgy of the Easter Vigil. After the service of light ignited by flames casting away the darkness, the liturgy of the Word begins. With the air filling our lungs, seven passages are read from the Old Testament, attesting to salvation much like this illumination attests to the presence of Wisdom throughout history. Then purifying and renewing waters are poured over the catechumens as we celebrate their initiation into the Church. Finally, all come together around the table, united by the fruits of the earth—bread and wine, Jesus fully present.

As we stand today, caught between our sins and our sanctity, may we surrender our insatiable desires to be always in control and reconcile differences. Like the four elements of earth, water, fire, and air, our God does not move and act in predictable ways. For that we are thankful. We praise you Lord for your promise to reorder your new creation from chaos once more. Amen.


Rachel Gabelman is a Master of Divinity candidate at Saint John’s School of Theology and Seminary. She serves as a graduate assistant with Seeing the Word.


Illuminating Triduum: The Suffering Servant

Good Friday Reflection
Isaiah 52:13-15; 53: 1-12

Suffering Servant, Donald Jackson, Copyright 2005, The Saint John’s Bible, Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota USA. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Suffering Servant, Donald Jackson, Copyright 2005, The Saint John’s Bible, Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota USA. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

A Blessed Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion.

This is the day to gaze on Love—a day, in the words of the Palmist, to “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps.46:11). What other stance can we take before this ancient text attributed to an anonymous poet who prophesied the fate of the Servant of God? Despised, discounted, and erased, the Suffering Servant descends into a terrifying darkness depicted in this illumination by ominous storm clouds. Yet, one cannot be with this text without hope. From the very first verse we hear, “See my Servant shall prosper; he shall be raised high and greatly exalted” (Is. 52:13). We are encouraged to hold the entire Paschal Mystery of suffering and triumph here—yes, even as we behold the Crucified One. This great messianic oracle is fulfilled in the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. Be still, and gaze on the Love that from all eternity is poured out for us. Hold the Mystery.

Living in a world where countless people feel despised, discounted, and erased, we pray for the grace to hold Hope for them. From ancient times, God’s revealed word calls us to hold the entirety of this Mystery as one. With words of mercy, Pope Francis calls us to behold the Suffering Servant in our brothers and sisters who are in anguish: “Jesus invites us to behold these wounds. Through these wounds, as in a light-filled opening, we can see the entire Mystery of Christ and of God, filled with compassion for the weak and the suffering” (2015 Divine Sunday Homily).

Gaze on the emaciated figure with his back to the viewer and holding his head. He appears to be confined to a cell of some sort, surrounded by a fiery, terrifying darkness. Yet he is standing and at gazing at the illuminated cross. The Mystery of suffering and glorification is here.

Where is the Suffering Servant to be found today? In Flint, Michigan? In African American teens fearing to be shot by the police? In refugees in search of home? In immigrants living in fear of deportation? In the homeless and the hungry? Am I being called to enter the terrible darkness with them and carry the illuminated cross to the suffering? Can I hold the entire Mystery for and with them?

Gaze into the wounds of the immigrant, the homeless, men, women and children poisoned by the water they drink,
Gaze and you will learn the Mystery of dying and rising.
Gaze, “Be still and know that I am God.”


Mary Frances Reis, VHM is a member of the Visitation Monastery of Minneapolis. She and her community are engaged in contemplative prayer and non-violent presence in North Minneapolis. She is an alumna of Saint John’s School of Theology and Seminary.


Illuminating Triduum: Life in Community

Holy Thursday Reflection
Acts 4: 32, 34-35

Life in Community, Aidan Hart with contributions from Donald Jackson, Copyright 2002, The Saint John’s Bible, Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota USA. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Life in Community, Aidan Hart with contributions from Donald Jackson, Copyright 2002, The Saint John’s Bible, Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota USA. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Ask any monk or nun to name the best and the worst parts of their religious life and you will likely get the same answer: life together in community.

Community can be difficult, regardless of the form it takes. Living together, studying together, working together, praying together takes an immense amount of work. In an age such as ours, which prides itself on individualism and uniqueness, it is often—always, even!—a real challenge to share space with another.

On the other hand, there is something absolutely holy and formative about community. When we live intentionally with other people, we privilege the needs and desires of others before our own. Not because our needs and desires are wrong or harmful or selfish, but rather because the experience of the whole is more important than the experience of the individual. Living in community allows us to step back, to take check of our lives and the lives others, and to respond with spiritual detachment. We become detached from our own agendas in order for collective wisdom—always inspired by the Spirit—to emerge. Our weaknesses are met by others’ strengths. Our gifts build up others’ weaknesses. Individually, we are small players in an awfully large and daunting game. In community, we have substance, we have gravitas, we have a body.

And Jesus had a body. In fact, Jesus’ body has been, is, and continues to be of absolute importance for Christians. Our God is the God who took on our human flesh, who was born of a woman, who was raised in a family, who engaged with others, who lived a human life, who died, and who rose again. Ours is a God who looks like us, who is re-membered, re-fleshed in every human being.

And that is the real gift of community: when we live together, study together, work together, pray together, we do so surrounded by God incarnated in the other members of our community. God makes Godself known—physically, literally—in those with whom we share our life.

This is the gift the Church gives us today: a vision for an incarnated community—a community who prays together, serves together, holds life in common together, breaks bread together. We gather tonight in our churches, monasteries, and cathedrals to begin practicing the good, hard work of living together in community. We will break bread together, pray for the world together, give to the needs of the poor together, and wash each other’s feet.

And, as a community who shares life together, we will move into the darkness of Holy Week. We will clear the altar tonight, removing the candles and cloths and contending with a naked and broken table stripped of everything comfortable, everything sacred. We will take the Eucharist from its usual place of reservation and move it—together, in procession—to a temporary place of holding, a place removed from the heart of our liturgical life.

The only way we can contend with Holy Week—the awful crucifixion, the terrible rejection, the silent abandonment—is to come together around the altar of our God who, in a few short days will smell like fiery hell and musty tomb, but who tonight smells like soap and oil and bread.


Cody Maynus is studying monastic spirituality and history at Saint John’s School of Theology and Seminary. He is presently discerning monastic life in the Episcopal Church.


Illuminating Lent: The Courtyard of Mercy

March 20, 2016 – March 23, 2016

Week Six•Palm Sunday

This visio divina reflection was done at Saint William’s Catholic Church in Naples, FL this Lenten season. I spent prayerful time at their newly established Courtyard of Mercy with this sculptured art crafted by artist Scott Lampitt of Pine Island, FL. I was deeply moved by the sculpture and provided a reflection for the parish. I am offering it as a reflection into Holy Week for the Seeing the Word community.  

Sculpture by artist Scott Lampitt

Sculpture by artist Scott Lampitt

This sculpture in the Courtyard of Mercy invites me to rest and fix my sacred gaze on the crucifix, the tablets, and the garden of stone and bubbling fountain of water at the foot of the cross. Not to be missed are the pilgrim people, Sunday after Sunday who pass through this courtyard to open the church doors and join the pilgrimage to the Eucharistic table for a community celebration.

This Courtyard of Mercy contains the same ritual movement used for blessing the Opening of the Door of Mercy that began this Jubilee Year of Mercy designated by Pope Francis: the solemn procession, gathering of the assembly, blessing of the door, the recognition of Christ as the gate through which we enter salvation, baptismal renewal, sharing in the Eucharistic feast, and a renewed sense of responsibility to be a living sign of the Father’s love in the world.

I pause before the cross, standing in the rock garden.  I remember those times when I had hit rock bottom and whispered, “Jesus, I have sinned, forgive me” and then I reach out to Jesus as he asked me to put my wounds into his side, into his hands and feet.  I enter the wounds of Christ, seeking refuge in the wounds of his love. He bears my afflictions. For now, I no longer have to avert my eyes.

I return my sacred gaze to the three tablets:  one holding the corpus, and the other two—one to the left and the other to the right standing tall and blank. They reveal the very mystery of the Holy Trinity and the response is a fountain of joy, serenity, and peace bubbling up. The tablets are pounded, rippled and dented while a shimmering patina of red color is shedding through the surface.

Mercy comes to meet me in the middle tablet where Jesus is nailed to the cross. The tablets inspire images of the old law, and the new law which is mercy. The tablets, shaped architecturally as doors, invite me once again into the life of God. Before I can enter these doors I need to lay down my stones, my judgmental words, and stop using the law as a weapon.

I lift my eyes to the crucified Christ and notice the bold and funky hands that gesture an invitation to repentance and gratitude. Jesus, with arms outstretched, extends an invitation to me to proceed through the doorway of mercy where I am commanded not to sin again.  I pass through the fountain of bubbling holy water, reach out my hand and make the sign of the cross from the waters of Baptism—the first sacrament of the new law—through which I was joined with Christ in his death and resurrection and became part of his Body.

From the bench, I see the shimmer of water on the rocks, washing over and reshaping the nature of them, making rough edges smooth. The water twinkles in my eye and I am joined to the heart of God. This Courtyard of Mercy holds a rock garden—an image of paradise, drawing me towards eternal life with Christ—where all the rocks have been released, cleansed and laid down.

I pray Merciful God as I cross from this rock garden to the threshold of the sanctuary that I may be filled with a sense of forgiveness and drawn to see and respond to the suffering of people that surrounds me. Move my heart to respond with the same mercy that I have received from you. Amen.



Sculpture by artist Scott Lampitt.

Sculpture by artist Scott Lampitt.

“We need constantly to contemplate the mystery of mercy. It is a wellspring of joy, serenity, and peace. Our salvation depends on it. Mercy: the word reveals the very mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. Mercy: the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us. Mercy: the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person who looks sincerely into the eyes of his brothers and sisters on the path of life. Mercy: the bridge that connects God and people, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness.” 

-Pope Francis, The Face of Mercy, 2



Crucifixion, Donald Jackson, Copyright 2002, The Saint John’s Bible, Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota USA. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Crucifixion, Donald Jackson, Copyright 2002, The Saint John’s Bible, Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota USA. Used by permission. All rights reserved.





“At times we are called to gaze even more attentively on mercy so that we may become a more effective sign of the Father’s action in our lives.”

– Pope Francis, The Face of Mercy, 3







Road to Emmaus, Sally Mae Joseph, Copyright 2002, The Saint John’s Bible, Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota USA. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Road to Emmaus, Sally Mae Joseph, Copyright 2002, The Saint John’s Bible, Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota USA. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


“The practice of pilgrimage has a special place in the Holy Year, because it represents the journey each of us makes in this life. Life itself is a pilgrimage, and the human being is a viator, a pilgrim travelling along the road, making his way to the desired destination. Similarly, to reach the Holy Door in Rome or in any other place in the world, everyone, each according to his or her ability, will have to make a pilgrimage. This will be a sign that mercy is also a goal to reach and requires dedication and sacrifice. May pilgrimage be an impetus to conversion: by crossing the threshold of the Holy Door, we will find the strength to embrace God’s mercy and dedicate ourselves to being merciful with others as the Father has been with us.”

– Pope Francis, The Face of Mercy, 14





Barbara Sutton, D.Min. is the Director of Field Education and Ministerial Formation and Adjunct Faculty at Saint John’s School of Theology and Seminary.


Illuminating Lent: The Women Taken in Adultery

March 13, 2016 – March 19, 2016


John 8:1-11

What word stands out to you?



I hear a narrative in which Jesus moves from the Mount of Olives to the temple in order to teach. A crowd immediately gathers to listen to what he has to say. Not just some people, the text says that all the people came. Then the scribes and Pharisees brought a woman in front of him to test him. They cite Moses and the law and ask Jesus to make a judgment regarding her. He takes a moment before he responds, but when they press him, he neither condemns her nor undercuts the law. This is a story of mercy. This is a story that points to our role in carrying out judgment on earth. There is no doubt this event made a big impact on the woman. She rightly expected to be stoned that day. She was not, and that makes all the difference. Expecting to die, Jesus gave her new life.




Jesus says, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way and from now on do not sin again” (John 8:11). The Gospel recounts that he said it, as in it is written in the past tense, but I cannot stop myself from reading it in the present tense: “Jesus says…” During this season of Lent, we are more aware of our sins. We are called to repent and believe in the Gospel. We are especially aware of our weaknesses. When we come to this passage in John’s Gospel, we hear Jesus encountering our sin. Jesus does not brush it aside. At the same time, he does not seek the punishment we or others might put on ourselves. He shows mercy. This unexpected act commands our attention, and the solidarity it shows can move us. The only one without sin was the one left alone with the woman, Jesus. We all sin, and there are times when we find motivation to fulfill the punishment we see fit, be it on ourselves or on others. But instead of punishing the woman, Jesus puts her on the same plane as the scribes and Pharisees and reveals God’s mercy.




When I look at this illumination, I immediately notice that it has two frames. The first one is a bit darker, and the second one points me back to the first frame when I see the stones on the ground. As I look back and forth, I see Jesus in a humble position in the first frame and I see the curtain open to the woman in the second one. When I see Jesus bent down in the first frame, it communicates the difficulty of the situation. How will he respond? I’m drawn to the second frame because it seems that there is peace and confidence in Jesus’ decision. I see the open curtain in two ways. The first signifies that Jesus is pointing the way out of the temple, instructing the woman to go back to her life with the mission to sin no more. The second shows Jesus pointing her into the temple where she can be closer to God. She may want to offer a sacrifice to God after such an event. Whereas before she was separated from God, this act of mercy gives her the chance to be in deeper relationship with God.




God of all mercy,
My sins are exposed before you.
You see them plainly,
And I know pure justice would leave me dead.
Even before you speak, I heap shame upon myself.
I even seek my own punishment and carry it out.
But you, O God, you show me mercy.
You touch me in my inmost being.
You speak truth in my heart.
You remind me that you are there with me.
You refute my desire to punish myself
And inspire within me self compassion.
Despite my resistance, even to this, you persist.
Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness.
Teach me the wisdom of self compassion.
Inspire me to reach out to my neighbor,
With the same compassion and mercy
you showed this woman.
Let this be my song of praise and thanksgiving
for your everlasting mercy.
This is the music I make to you while I live!
Continue to dwell with me
all the days of my life.





As I contemplate this story, I feel a certain solidarity with all people. When the scribes and Pharisees dropped their stones and walked away, they told me that they had also sinned. It reminds me that we are all struggling. Each one of us has a challenge to bear, and I feel support remembering that. Imagining the many ways in which I might observe the sins of others, this story gives me a real sense that everyone from the highest scholars, gurus and religious leaders all the way down to the people labeled as the biggest sinners need the mercy of God. All are one in our need for relationship with God and in our need for God’s mercy. It moves me to be more merciful daily because opportunities to give mercy abound. What observations remind you of the opportunities to give and receive mercy?



Becoming Christ-like

When I hear that the accusers went away, one by one, beginning with the elders, I encounter the wisdom of mercy. I see the accusers deferring to the wisdom of Jesus. When I ask God to teach me wisdom, it is dangerous because it may require me to refrain from my typical pattern of punishing others or myself. It is dangerous because I am praying for an experience to gain wisdom, which will surely challenge me to grow and change. This work of transformation is painful. Christ’s way that we follow, being extensions of Christ’s mercy, is not just a feel-good story of positive self talk. The implications are huge.

How do we respond to people we think have broken the law—to people who have divorced and remarried, to people who have abused children, to people with addictions? Like this woman in the story, these people might expect to be “stoned” for their actions. It is no simple decision, but Jesus, as he does on several accounts in the Gospels, imagines a creative and inspiring third way forward. What is the third way you need to find? When all you see is either letting yourself and others “off the hook” or punishment according to the law, how will this story stimulate your imagination? The structures that upheld the law then still exist to uphold the law now. The structures are reinforced within us and within the wider Christian community. This passage calls us to pause for a moment, to listen to God’s voice of mercy, and to act from God’s wisdom in our inmost being.


Chris Morgan is in his second year of studies for the Master of Divinity degree at Saint John’s School of Theology and Seminary. He grew up in Denver, Colorado, and graduated from Saint John’s University in 2011. His ministry interests include hospital chaplaincy, ministry in the outdoors and work with people with disabilities.


Illuminating Lent: The Prodigal Son

March 6, 2016 – March 12, 2016


Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

What word stands out to you?



We can easily relate to the two brothers in this story. We understand the impatience of the younger brother who asks for his father’s inheritance upfront, his giving into temptation, his inability to be a good steward of his resources, and the shortsightedness that ultimately leads to his demise. The life he has chosen for himself, which may have seemed a dream come true to him at first, leaves him quite literally hungry and unsatisfied.

Then there is the older brother, who is responsible, practices an exceptional work ethic, follows the rules, and respects his father. Yet, because of this, he develops a complex that causes him to think he is better than others, at least better than his younger brother. He finds it unfathomable that his father would celebrate the return of his younger brother, who squandered his inheritance, when he has been so diligent and responsible all along.

Indeed, there are moments when we can see and hear ourselves in the very human and real laments and frustrations that both these brothers give a voice to in this parable. How do you find yourself reacting to and identifying with each brother?




It is no mistake that this parable is read during Lent. Like many of the stories we see depicted in this illumination, this is a story about resurrection and renewal, about death and coming back to life. The younger brother thinks he has it all, but when he loses all that he has, he is humbled. What is more humbling than being willing to eat the food that pigs eat and yet not being offered any? To be sure, he is also embarrassed and ashamed at the thought of having to share the news with his father that he lost his inheritance and is now incapable of supporting himself as an adult. But he goes back to his father anyway, because that is all he knows to do. He begs for his father’s mercy. He pleads for compassion. And what awaits him is an unexpected, surprising celebration.

Like the father, God is always waiting for us, ready and willing to accept us with open arms. No matter how badly or how often we fall, no matter how much of our talents we waste, no matter the extent to which the life we seek leaves us hungry and unsatisfied, God is always ready to rejoice with us when we return. Like the father, who tells the servants to quickly bring out the best robe for the youngest son, God promises to clothe us with God’s grace.




In the same diagonal panel in which we see the image of the father reaching out to embrace the son, we also see two gold bars—the Twin Towers. Suddenly, we realize that we cannot divorce our modern reality from this Gospel message. In this illumination, we are confronted with the truth that following Christ does not only mean we are daughters and sons of the abundantly merciful Father. It also means that we are called to do the difficult work of forgiveness. We are called to interpersonal, intergenerational, interracial, and intercommunal forgiveness.

It is not easy to be like the father in the parable. And certainly not every situation calls us to express our regard for others with a physical welcome and embrace. Some relationships cannot be reconciled because they are too abusive and exploitative. But forgiveness is still essential and it is work we can do with God’s grace. These difficult scenarios call for a different kind of openness—one of our hearts rather than our arms. With open hearts we let the offenses of these relationships go, loosening their control in our lives. Rather than keeping our bitterness, resentments, and anger locked away in hearts, we implore that the Holy Spirit guide us to release them appropriately. In doing so, we experience more freedom. By the grace of God, we are then able to live more fully the life to which God calls us in a healthy, safe, and meaningful way.




O God, our world needs more love, mercy, and compassion. Soften our hearts, renew our minds, open our eyes, and allow us to be transformed by the workings of your grace. Free us from the compulsion of jealousy, help us to value the goodness in others, teach us the way of prudence, and lead us along the path of humility. Thank you for always being there for us. Your unearned, unconditional love is always there ready and waiting to be received. Lasting joy is union with you. Amen.




It is often hard to accept another person’s generosity toward us. It is also often hard for us to see someone, besides ourselves, be the recipient of another person’s generosity, when we ourselves did not benefit from that act of kindness. Jealousy and pride go hand in hand. Engrained in our American spirit of rugged individualism is this idea that fierce independence is a measure of strength. But when we value not needing anyone’s help, we also resist when others are helped. This is a vicious cycle that Jesus beckons us out of by offering us the parable of the prodigal son. It is not about taking advantage of generosity by plundering everything we have been given like the younger brother because we know a bail out is on the horizon. Nor is it about striving for perfection in everything we do such that we become haughty like the older brother. Instead, this is a story about the magnificence of God’s love, which lies at the heart of the miracle of our personal, daily resurrections and social transformations. This story calls us, like the two brothers, to contemplate continuous conversion in the face of God’s magnanimous love.



Becoming Christ-like

Jesus summons us to be open: open-minded, open to ourselves, open to daily renewal, open to others, open to transformation, and open to love. In Luke 15:1-3, we see that Jesus tells the parable of the lost son as a way to expand the minds of the Pharisees and scribes, who started to grumble about Jesus’ association with sinners. In doing so, Christ reveals the tender nature of God, who extends a generous welcome to all. Like Jesus, we are called to proclaim this message of good news with joy to the entire world: God’s love is free and available to all! The hope-filled promise of eternal life, which overcame suffering and death on the cross through Jesus Christ, becomes real and transformative in our lives when we love without conditions.



Chet Jechura holds a Master’s of Theological Studies degree from Boston College and works in faith-based political consulting. He lives in Washington, DC.


Illuminating Lent: I Am Sayings

February 28, 2016 – March 5, 2016



Exodus 3:1-8A, 13-15

What word stands out to you?




Theophany is a “big word” for the manifestation of God to man. In Exodus 3, God first manifests to Moses as a burning bush ablaze without consumption. God also reveals himself to Moses in voice. He speaks, calling to Moses. Moses listens. God tells Moses that he will free the Israelites in Egypt, and reaffirms that he is their God. Moses, like many of us, is unsure. What is he to do? Does God have a name?

God responds to Moses’ questions by answering him, “I am who am” (Exodus 3:14). How can he go to his people and say, “I am who am sent me to free you”? How can Moses explain who God is? God simply is. Moses is in the presence of presence. In this passage, God is a verb. God is.

God’s “is-ness” is as impossible to grasp as his name.  In our human experience, we can scarcely comprehend the supernatural, metaphysical, transcendental nature of God, of YHWH. The Tetragrammaton, which means four letters, or YHWH resides at the bottom of our illumination. Resting on top of the letters, we see the words: the bread, the gate, the way, the light, the truth. Jesus, the Word made flesh, often spoke these words with the phrase “I am.”

I am (who am) the bread.
I am (who am) the gate.
I am (who am) the way.
I am (who am) the light.
I am (who am) the truth.

Like Moses before us, we have both a visual and linguistic theophany, telling us who God is. Trusting in the words Jesus proclaims, we know that he is. He is all of these and more for us.




In Exodus 3:14 God reveals himself as “I am who am.” God knows who God is. Do we know ourselves? How do we come to know ourselves? During his ministry, Jesus revealed to us that he is the bread, the way, the gate, the light, and the truth. How does God being these for us help us figure out who we are? Looking at the illumination, ponder the way in which Jesus acts in your life through one or more of these five manifestations.

The bread nourishes us, the way leads us, the gate opens to us, the light illuminates us, and the truth comforts us. How does Jesus nourish you? How does he lead you, and where? What gates have been opened for you by Christ? In which way does the brightness and glory of God illuminate your world? How does truth comfort and ground your essential self? Jesus helps us to know ourselves through being all of this and more for us.




This illumination showcases abstract fractals of color, blossoming discs of light, and cubist expressions of words. The frenetic interaction of words, colors, and shapes help illuminate the words God said to Moses: “I am who am.” At the base of the page, the Tetragrammaton, or YHWH grounds the composition. Word made flesh, Jesus is the bread, the gate, the way, the light, and the truth. Intertextuality of word and form reveal connections between word, spirit and flesh. The energetic juxtaposition of the shards and curves summon us to reimagine both the divine and human natures of Christ.

How does one understand being? What does God mean by “I am who am?” Looking at this illumination, how can we find what it means to be bread, way, gate, light, and truth? In what way does the interplay of light and form on the page reveal the meaning of the Word made flesh? How does that meaning inform the words we use in daily life? Life itself is an energy that transcends the material world. By grounding our life in YHWH, in Christ, we can find and understand our own being.




For some people, prayer is as easy and unconscious as a beating heart. It happens naturally and organically. For others, it is more like breathing; it still happens automatically, but it can also be consciously controlled. And for many, prayer comes hard. This is a prayer for all.

O God, my God, you are
You are in heaven
You are on earth
Be with me, be with us as we come to know you through the words you share
Help us to understand who we are by walking nearby
Be with us, be with us, be with us
You who are the bread, nourish our journey
You who are the gate, be ever open to us
You who are the way, guide us on the path
You who are the light, shine forth brightly upon your creation
You who are the truth, comfort us in our sorrow, draw near in our brokenness
Be with us always





Moses first encounters the burning bush while tending his sheep. He sees it and continues apace.  Soon, however, his thoughts turn to contemplation: What is that bush, which burns without being consumed? The bush is outside the realm of the natural, the possible! It stops Moses in his tracks. When the voice reveals to Moses that the bush is God, Moses turns away in fear. But the bush burns on, without being consumed. In this encounter with God, Moses begins his relationship with I am who am.

Contemplation draws us into relationship with YHWH. When we look at the page and ponder the words and images, how do we move our perception of such into an intimate conversation with ourselves and God? Jesus wants to be in relationship with us. Using the words and the images, be in relationship with Christ. Then letting go of these things, encounter I am who am.



Becoming Christ-like

In his work “On Free Will,” Saint Augustine wrote about the desire for being: “If you begin by wishing to exist and add a desire for fuller and fuller existence, you rise in the scale and are furnished for life that supremely is…If you wish more and more to exist, you will draw near to him who exists supremely.” Listen to I am who am, meditate on the words I am who am, see in the illumination and in others I am who am, pray often (if you are able) to I am who am, contemplate the nature of I am who am. Doing so on our Lenten journey draws us closer to Christ.

Being more Christ-like involves much as is revealed in this illumination. Be the bread that nourishes your friends, family, and community. Keep the gates of your heart always open – embrace the strange, the poor, the needy, the sad, and the lonely. Blaze forth a (path) way for others to follow in your imitation of Christ. Be the beacon of light in an often confusing and shadowed world. Enjoy the truth of true being in order to be “furnished a life that supremely is.” Through our encounters with the Word and our being in the world, we reflect Christ by our very being. Our being is grace given by God. Praise him.


Pamela Larson Sherlock is a M.A. candidate studying systematics at Saint John’s School of Theology and Seminary. She is a wife and mother. A former trainer of thoroughbred race horses, librarian, and herder of sheep chickens, cats, dogs, and goats, she lives in New Prague, MN with her family and Wonder Dog Melvin.


Illuminating Lent: The Transfiguration

February 21, 2016 – February 27, 2016 


The Transfiguration, Donald Jackson in collaboration with Aidan Hart, 2002. The Saint John’s Bible, Order of Saint Benedict, Collegeville, Minnesota USA. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Mark 9: 2-8Mark Transfiguration

What word stands out to you?




As Christians, we are reminded to see God at work in the common occurrences of our lives, in the everyday encounters that we have. We see Christ in the words of encouragement that we might offer or receive, through helping to ease a hurt or assuage fear in the heart of friend, and in the face of the person to whom we have reached out in love and compassion. In Mark’s account of the Transfiguration, however, we are told that Jesus takes his three disciples to a place that is extraordinary: “up a high mountain apart, by themselves.” God reveals something extraordinary to Peter, James, and John in a place quite removed from the ordinary and every day.

Traditionally, the Mount of Transfiguration is held to be Mount Tabor in Galilee. The lone mountain rising from the rolling hills is striking in its solitary grandeur. Climbing to the top of Mount Tabor is not an easy task. It is while they are resting at the summit that this miraculous event happens. Despite being related in the third-person, Jesus’ Transfiguration is meant to be shared with us as an eye-witness account. We become witnesses, also, of this revelation of Christ’s divine nature and the culmination of Law and Prophecy that he represents.

As a participant in this story now, by extension through narrative, I find myself wanting to experience it in deeper ways. What is that place apart, by myself, to which I can retreat and be prepared to encounter Jesus in an extraordinary way?




I find it difficult to find a quiet place, set apart, where I can be alone with God. So much in our lives works against this simple desire of more intimate communion with Christ. The omnipresence of digital media creates an atmosphere in which it is well-nigh impossible to be alone. When we add the busy schedules of our children, the demands of our professions, and the burdens we place upon ourselves to the cyber-word, we realize the difficulties that exist in answering Jesus’ simple call to come to be alone with him. I feel a longing in my heart when I think of the three disciples being with Jesus at the top of the mountain.

I suspect that Peter, James, and John responded to that same longing, glad to be alone with Jesus and awe-struck with the Transfiguration. This is why Peter suggested erecting three tents, to connect the Transfiguration with a place, a place to which they could return for rest and comfort. The story does not record the building of dwellings, nor does scripture recount a return to the Mount of Transfiguration. An essential part of pilgrimage is to know that there is no standing still, only the next stop along the way. Jesus invites us to that next place where he reveals himself to us in new ways. Movement, not stasis, is the essence of pilgrimage.

Part of my pilgrimage of Lent is to set aside all that prevents me from being alone with Jesus and to listen to his invitation to come apart to a separate place.




Jesus’ face attracts my attention immediately in this illumination. It is not the iconic representation of a bearded rabbi with which we are familiar. Rather, this face is something new, something unexpected, something transfigured. There is an energy and freshness to this vision of Christ that is at the same time powerfully attractive and yet strange. Christ’s face is full of humanity; I’m able to see myself in him. While Jesus’ garments, shimmering with dazzling brightness, reveal the essence of a transformed reality, his face reminds me that he is both fully God and fully human. He is part of the world that I inhabit.

Moses and Elijah are depicted very differently, in the Eastern iconographic style—a representation that is rooted in tradition. They, themselves, are not changed. Their transfiguration comes by virtue of being united and fulfilled in Christ. Transformation and redemption are to be found in the “Son, the Beloved”, not in the Law or the Prophets alone.

It is important that Jesus’ feet are not seen in this illumination. He inhabits a place between the earth, upon which Moses and Elijah stand, and heaven, the swirling blue reminiscent of the first day of the Creation illumination. In Christ, we find God’s power to transform our lives on earth. The world needs to know the power of God’s love. I need the transfiguring love of Jesus in my life. To acknowledge that need, that desire, is to begin truly to listen to the voice of Jesus.




O God, you are always ready to hear the voice of our prayers.
Our world is full of violence and hatred; nation against nation,

people against people, belief against belief.

We seek your transforming love to be made manifest

in the midst of the terrible suffering of multitudes.

In our lives we experience fear, loneliness, anxiety, illness, and grief.
Hear the voices of our hearts that seek your loving presence

in a way that transfigures our daily lives.

There is beauty all around us in the world;

our families, our friends, your creation, the joys of work and play.

Help us not to be so overcome with adversity that we fail to see

the blessings in our lives that your love creates.

Too often, in the midst of our busy lives, we fail to notice the faces that surround us.
Give us wisdom not to lose sight of the face of your Son,

in whom we see your glory, the dazzling light that shines in the darkness.

Be with us, in a place set apart, so that we might listen to your voice

and follow the paths of love and service to which you call us.





I love my children. I express that love in many ways. I want what is best for them. I want them not to be satisfied with the way things are, but to always be looking for ways to change the world for the better. Change, after all, is an essential and natural part of life. The old saying is true: When we stop changing, we die.

God loves us. We are described in Scripture as “children of God”. In the beginning, God created us to live in perfect harmony with the world and in full communion with him. God wants what is best for us. Part of that divine desire is for us to actively seek ways to change the world around us and to allow God to change us.

This illumination of the Transfiguration and the scripture that inspires it contain a deep message of change. Moses and Elijah are changed in relation to the Messiah. Jesus is changed in the sight of the disciples. Peter, James, and John are changed in their understanding of their Lord and, therefore, their understanding of themselves.

Part of human nature is to dislike change. The three Apostles attempt to forestall transformation by enshrining the Transfiguration, much like we in the church can avert change through an unhealthy attachment to the institution, rather than to Christ.

We know that God is love. God’s love, in Christ, is dramatically projected in this vision of Transfiguration and is the catalyst by which we are changed. May we so embrace God’s love that we accept the transformation of our lives that God wills.



Becoming Christ-like

One of the most tragic aspects of human civilization is its emphasis on “winners” and “losers.” This stratification can be seen at all levels of society. Children learn this dichotomy between haves and have-nots through the awarding of trophies. While it is true that not every team can win, the emphasis on trophies, rather than on the fulfillment of the game, inculcates an understanding that worth is based upon attainment. The truth of our ultimate worth as beloved of God is obscured.

In the Transfiguration, Jesus’ humanity is shown to be but a part of his true nature: fully human and also fully divine. The brilliance of God’s love overwhelms the earthly manifestations of the incarnation of the Son.

We are not of a dual nature, like Christ. Jesus, nonetheless, dwells within us and the Holy Spirit fills our lives with the fire of God’s love. We, too, have within us the potential for transfiguration, not out of our own power, but through God’s grace. To become more Christ-like, then, is to seek the transfiguring love of God in our lives. Such seeking cannot be merely symbolic, either; it must be practical.

To live in hope of transfiguration is to be purposeful about rejecting the stratification taught by the world around us. There are no trophies for the best or brightest in the kingdom; all persons receive the crown of life. Regardless of any division we could imagine, all persons are equal in God’s eyes. All persons receive God’s love in full measure.

Through the sharing of the narrative of the Transfiguration, is not only Peter, James, and John who are witnesses to this miracle. We are all now part of the story.


The Reverend Mark Goodman, a native of Oklahoma, is Dean of St. John’s Cathedral in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He has served congregations in Ohio, South Carolina, and New Mexico. Before ordination, Mark received degrees in botany, and still maintains an interest in that science. He is a Fellow of Sinai and Synapses, an organization whose work is the deepening of the conversation between science and faith. He is married, with two children, and he enjoys cooking, reading, travelling with his family, and taking long walks with his dog, Jeeves.


Illuminating Lent: Raising of Lazarus

February 14, 2016 – February 20, 2016


John 11:17, 21-27, 32-44

Listen to what word God has for you.




There are many details of this story that easily perplex us. Perhaps the most blaring question is, why does Jesus wait two days before traveling nearby to see his dear friend, Lazarus, who is ill? On the other hand, there are some details that seem more straightforward and therefore cause us to engage them less. For example, when Jesus encounters the mourners, we have the well known line: “Jesus began to weep” (John 11:35). This phrase has become the tagline for Jesus’ share in human emotions and his deep capacity for empathy and grief. Yet this instance of tears that Jesus sheds does not so obviously convey grief over the loss of his friend, because Jesus is about to raise Lazarus from the dead after all. Instead, the passage says “he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved” (John 11:33). He was grieved by their resignation to the finality of Lazarus’ death, by their allowance for death to have the final say.

Jesus came to liberate humanity from the grips of the death—both physically and spiritually. Exclaiming that he is both the Resurrection and the life, he promises not only to resurrect our bodies on the last day but also that each setback we have in life need not send us in a tailspin to a premature death. Belief in Christ and his promises are integral to abiding in the fullness of life. Even though we may continue to question Jesus’ timing and have different ideas of when and how he should act in our lives, let us remain confident that he will act.




When Jesus asks Mary and those accompanying her where they had laid Lazarus’ body, they respond, “Lord, come and see” (John 11:34). It is as if they are thinking that they must show Jesus the tomb in order for him to finally understand the permanence of Lazarus’ death. But Jesus is not satisfied, he commands them to remove the stone from the tomb. With the hope to deter him, Martha then warns Jesus of the stench, which is certain to accompany a body that has been lifeless now for four days. Hoping it would be enough for Jesus to lay eyes on the tomb, the last thing they wanted was for him to actually open it and disrupt their mourning ritual.

Have you ever grown so comfortable with the less than desirable parts of your life that when Jesus offers to touch them and breathe life back into them, you shutter at the thought? Have you grown weary in believing that Jesus can truly do anything for you? Do you ever want take Jesus by the hand and show him all the tumultuous things with which you are dealing so as to prove it is impossible to live with a spirit of hope? Jesus is not ignorant or indifferent to the injustice humans inflict upon one another nor the hardships we face. Just because he does not always intercede during the most critical phases of our suffering, he is still with us and will still restore us to greater wholeness. Where do you place your trust?




The death head moth situated near Lazarus’ figure brings to mind the idiom “like a moth to a flame,” serving to warn us of the dangers of our attractions. When modern journalism splashes the most horrific events that take place in our world across our pages and screens, we can easily succumb to belief that such traumatic occurrences are inevitably the norm. Instead of letting our culture lead us down the path of resignation to things that fail to bring us life, it is crucial to challenge our attractions and hold them up to see them as they are in the light of Christ. We empower the things on which we focus our attention.

As I acquaint myself with the view from within Lazarus’ tomb, I notice that these words “I am the Resurrection and the life” seem to be etched into the stone (John 11:25). But they clearly would not be visible until the stone is rolled away from the tomb and Jesus’ light floods through the tunnel. Because Jesus’ words are so much closer in the foreground than his tiny figure at the end of the tunnel, I am reminded how Jesus’ words often precede his actions in our lives. Many times we receive his promises, his covenant, and his truth before we see the fruits of Christ’s words. We often find ourselves in periods waiting and longing for further fulfillment. In the meantime, let us cling to his light. What words has Jesus written on your heart? Invite his light in today and see what awaits you.




Merciful Lord, you have created us with tender and impressionable hearts. Yet sometimes our circumstances harden our hearts toward you and toward one another. We erect barriers, walls, and fortresses out of self-protection only then to find ourselves imprisoned in isolation. As our gracious protector, show us the way out. We long to emerge from the darkness, but parts of us have grown comfortable here. Your light is alluring; your glory is attractive. Yet sometimes it seems to overwhelm us. You care for us through it all, even when our desire is to retreat from your presence. Thank you for respecting our boundaries and our freedom; your gentleness is astounding. As you call humanity away from the grips of death, and you summon us each by name, strengthen our resolve to accept your healing grace and the helping hands of those you send to unbind us. Gather your people, Lord, so that together we may unite our efforts to loosen the bonds of the most prevalent evils oppressing our brothers and sisters across the globe. We pray that in this season of Lent we may come into deeper alignment with your will and act accordingly. Fortify us so that we may not only point people toward the hope of the resurrection, but also share the good news that life begins anew daily when we abide in you.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.




Jesus, you said to Martha, “Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26). And then you followed this with a question: “Do you believe this?” (John 11:26). Your voice carries over the centuries and your words reverberate within me as I empty myself before you. “Do you believe this? Do you believe me when I speak?” Your voice is gentle, not accusatory. But it is also eager, hopeful, as it is so evident how great your love is for me. I long to believe your words, Lord, more than just saying that I do. Help me in my unbelief. Release me from the cloths that bind me and immobilize me. Fill me with your powerful light that casts out any shadows of doubt. May it spill over and illuminate any darkness I encounter.



Becoming Christ-like

When Jesus told the disciples that he wanted to go to Judea to see Lazarus, they cautioned him because Jesus had just nearly escaped being stoned there by the Jews. He went anyway. When Jesus stood before Lazarus’ tomb, Martha tried to deter him from opening it. He proceeded anyway. Neither the threat of his death nor the ritual uncleanliness, which would occur from entering the tomb of a dead man, caused Jesus to waiver. May we, too, resist acclimating to the culture of death that seeks to entice us every which way we turn. Let us follow after Jesus, whose peaceful assurance to proceed without succumbing to fear is the type of determined presence our world craves.

Today and every day, Jesus summons us to come out. He encourages us to embody the purpose he intends for us. He invites us to rise, to welcome the help of those whose aid we need to unbind us as we recognize that we cannot do it on our own. Further, Jesus sends us to unbind those who are still bound.

Let us pray that we may free the mouths, hands, and feet of your faithful disciples, Lord, enabling all persons to serve you in the ways you have equipped us. And Jesus, as the objections and excuses arise within us as they inevitably will, amplify your truth in our hearts so that we may stand firm in your name. Pour out your blessings upon us so that we may be diligent in seeing your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.


Rachel Gabelman is a Master of Divinity candidate at Saint John’s School of Theology and Seminary. She serves as a graduate assistant with Seeing the Word.