Monday, July 29, 2013


Pope Francis in Brazil

Recently, Father Scott, our chaplain here at the monastery, told me that as he gets older, he finds the need for more simplicity in his life especially in his reading and his prayer. He finds more consolation and joy in simplicity than in difficult to understand theology.

This past week, Pope Francis in his visit to Brazil for World Youth Day made a similar statement to our modern Church especially to the clergy:  “perhaps we have reduced our way of speaking about mystery to rational explanations; but for ordinary people the mystery enters through the heart...The Church needs to make room for “God’s mystery” so “that it can entice people, attract them.”  …

…Another lesson the Church must never forget, is that “it cannot leave SIMPLICITY behind; otherwise she forgets how to speak the language of Mystery … At times we lose people because they don’t understand what we are saying, because we have forgotten the language of simplicity and import an intellectualism foreign to our people. Without the grammar of simplicity, the Church loses the very conditions which make it possible “to fish” for God in the deep waters of His Mystery.”

3 million on the beach at Copacabana, Rio
"It needs to learn to be simple again, warm people’s hearts and rediscover the maternal womb of mercy."  Those of us in the contemplative life know, that if our lives are too "cluttered" there is not room for the Lord to speak to our hearts.  It is refreshing to know that our new Holy Father is a true contemplative, as well as a missionary to all peoples.

While the Holy Father addressed millions of youth, his message is for all of us to be "missionary disciples" and spread the faith. "Bringing the Gospel is bringing God's power to pluck up and break down evil and violence, to destroy and overthrow the barriers and selfishness, intolerance and hatred, so as to build a new world," he said.

With indigenous people- Brazil

Thursday, July 25, 2013


In my "picture travels" I have found a very interesting African artist. GLORIA SSALI is originally from Uganda. At age eleven she moved to the United Kingdom with her family. She trained as a pharmacist, but after attending a local workshop in ceramics in Harrow Weald decided to give that up and follow her dream. She found her own way into painting, drawing and sculpture.

She has also become renowned for her ceramics.  It was during a class she took in her senior school year that Gloria was first introduced to clay modelling and was instantly drawn to this art form.

 To achieve her goal of becoming a full-time artist, six years ago Gloria returned to college to train as a ceramicist experimenting with techniques and learning about the different types of clay. 

Describing her career change as a new chapter in her life, Gloria uses her art form as a platform to share her life experiences and reflect the beauty of the world around her through the diverse cultures that have had an influence. In 2010 she was awarded the ‘Best Tile Cultural Heritage’ award from Elit-Tile, an invitation only international tile competition held every two years in the Dominican Republic.

The dotted patterns prevalent throughout her work remind one of batik techniques and the effect that the wax and dye have on the finished fabric.

She does also does intricate drawings, paintings, and photography.

Her Catholic faith is a big inspiration and shows in her work.  She loves biblical depictions but also likes to explore world culture. Gloria can convey such powerful works with just a few lines. I find her colors amazing, reflecting her heritage.

Wise Virgins

Wise Virgins


I love her Madonna with birds
The only woman in the book: Five Christian Asian Artists  (see July 8 Blog) is internationally known artist from Sri Lanka, PROF. NALINI M JAYASURIYA. She  has exhibited her soul-stirring paintings in Manila, London, Bangkok, Paris, Toronto, Tokyo, Jerusalem and New York. She has also lectured on sacred art in many universities, including Yale Divinity School in New Haven, Connecticut, and Tokyo University, Tokyo, Japan. She was artist in residence for two years at the Overseas Ministries Study Center (OMSC) in New Haven.

Nalini started her career as a teacher at St Thomas College Mount Lavinia Sri Lanka. She was awarded Sri Lanka's highest honour for the Arts by the Government of Sri Lanka. Numerous books featuring her paintings as well as her poetry have been published in several languages.

Three Kings
Solomon & Sheba
She was featured in the 2007 exhibition "The Christian Story: Five Asian Artists Today" at the Museum of Biblical Art in New York City.
I love the flowing lines of her art as well as the vivid colors she uses.

"I come from a land of rich, ancient, and diverse cultures and traditions. While I carry the enriching influences of both West and East, I express myself through an Asian and Christian consciousness with respect for all confessions of religious faith."

She once wrote: As Time spread lighted wings and flew over all the world, the Voice spoke, and I heard, as I stood listening on the Seashore of the world: "Go," the Voice ordered. "Do not walk in the footprints you see. Make your own footprints in the Sand. This will be your Covenant and your Reward."

"She is unafraid of any tension between the spiritual styles of East and West. Her art, its colorful flow and simplicity, is often a fusion of traditions. She has made a vocation of pursuing the world’s secret beauty and its savior God, sharing her responses and inviting ours". (Ray Waddle, Yale U)

Mother & Child

Flowers & Prayers
"In an age when our cultural image makers manifest an almost pathological preoccupation with the terrible, the dysfunctional, and the tragic, relying as they do for their very livelihood on the human fascination with shocking spectacle, Nalini offers us, through her art, the gift of peace," writes OMSC executive director Jonathan Bonk in the preface to A Time for My Singing.

Birds Singing & St. Francis
Reigning Lord
"Art imitates, sublimates, and exalts life," she writes in A Time For My Singing, "freeing the vision from anecdote and offering its radiant peace to all who would receive it."

Friday, July 19, 2013


Fra Angelico
St. Benedict- detail

While doing recent blogs on St. Benedict I was amused to see how Catholic art has changed through the ages. In earlier art, rarely was St Benedict alone, but usually surrounded by other saints, especially founders of the great orders, like Sts. Francis and Dominic.

St. Benedict of Nursia lived in the sixth century, and in spite of his many followers, no contemporary painted his portrait, and, we have no specific description of his features. While there was really nothing from his era, we do have the famous frescoes of Subiaco, which were painted in the 13th century by Master Conxolus, of the Roman school. This painter contributed nearly all the frescoes in the Lower Church.  

Sts. Benedicta and Scholastica with Virgin- Nursia

As with most early medieval figures, it has fallen to later artists and their imaginations to provide us with images of St Benedict. He is almost always depicted as gentle, wise and fatherly and many of the paintings show him surrounding the Virgin Mary, with other saints.  A beautiful example is Fra Angelico’s "Coronation of the Virgin" (1436) which is found in the Convento of San Marco, in Florence. We see St. Benedict ( 2nd on left)  with St Thomas to his left and Sts Dominic, Francis, Peter, and  Mark to the right.  (see above)

One of my favorites, and where St. Benedict is alone in his adoration, is "Adoration of the Child with St. Benedict and Angels" (1478) by Vincenzo Foppa. Note the wonderful sheep on the hill in the background.

V. Foppa

 Bernardino di Betto Pinturicchio (c.1452-1513) painted Sts. Benedict and Gregory the Great together with the Virgin in Glory.


Sts.Peter, Nicholas of Bari & Benedict-
Cima da Conegliano- 1504

Another interesting painting is "Madonna and Child with St. Anne
and the Sts. Sebastian, Peter, Benedict and Philip" (1529) by Jacopo da Pontormo.  One wonders  who chose which saints the painter would mount onto his canvas.  Was it patron saints of the one who commissioned the painting? We must remember that in these eras, the artist one did not usually paint what he wanted, but rather what he was commissioned to paint.  I would venture to guess that many were commissioned by the great Benedictine Abbeys of Italy.

J. da Pontormo

Pictured with another great Benedictine of a later era is "Christ in Glory with St. Benedict with St. Romuald" by Domenico Ghirlandaio (1492). 

"Madonna with  Sts. John the Baptist, Gregory the Great, and Benedict" by Andrea Mantega, which was actually begun in 1492, but finished in 1506, is from the same years.



Note that all the above paintings are of the same era, and all from great Italian artists.  There is not a lot in between the 15th Century and the present age showing our saint with other saints- other than his twin sister Scholastica..

In our modern times, since St. Benedict has been named one of the patrons of Europe, we have some lovely examples of our him with other great saints of the Church. The beautiful painting by John Armstrong (England) of "Our Lady Protecting Europe",  illustrates the Christian roots of Europe, and shows Our Lady surrounded by the six patron saints of Europe: Sts. Cyril and Methodius, St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), St Benedict, St Bridget of Sweden, and St Catherine of Siena. Robert Schumann, one of the founding fathers of the European Union, looks on. St Benedict offers the monastery of Canterbury to the Blessed Virgin and St Cyril writes of the conversion of the Slavs.

Another modern icon shows again the patrons of Europe. St. Benedict on the left with Sts. Cyril & Methodius, Bridget, Catherine and Teresa Benedicta.


Sunday, July 14, 2013


Becky Nielsen, NY

For the past year, I have been feeding a pair of ravens outside the kitchen, off the upper deck.  Watching them has been interesting. I am sure the male knows my voice as he often sits only a few feet away from me watching intently as I drop the food down over the railing.

As Benedictines one of our favorite stories in the life of St. Benedict is the narrative of the "man of God" and the RAVEN, as related by St. Gregory the Great. In the wilderness Benedict fed a raven with  a portion of his bread.  When a jealous and wicked priest tried to kill the saint with poisoned bread, Benedict coached the raven to take the deadly bread to a place where it couldn't harm another.

Simon Krogan

St. Martin's Abbey- Lacy, WA

St. Gregory in his Dialogues writes, "Then the raven, opening its beak wide and spreading its wings, began to run around the bread, cawing, as if to indicate that it wanted to obey but was unable to carry out the order. Again and again the man of God told him to do it, saying, 'Pick it up, pick it up. Do not be afraid. Just drop it where it cannot be found.' After hesitating a long time, the raven took the bread in its beak, picked it up and flew away. Three hours later it came back, after having thrown the bread away, and received its usual ration from the hands of the man of God."

In ancient times- and even to this day- the raven is a symbol of death or evil. In our Northwest Native culture the raven is seen in a more positive light. Raven in these indigenous peoples' mythology is the Creator of the world, but it is also considered a trickster god. For instance, in Tlingit culture, there are two different raven characters which can be identified, although they are not always clearly differentiated. One is the creator raven, responsible for bringing the world into being and who is sometimes considered to be the one who brought light to the darkness. The other side is the childish raven, always selfish, sly, conniving, and hungry.

Another raven story from the Puget Sound region describes Raven as having originally lived in the land of spirits (literally bird land) that existed before the world of humans. One day Raven became so bored with bird land that he flew away, carrying a stone in his beak. When Raven became tired of carrying the stone and dropped it, the stone fell into the ocean and expanded until it formed the firmament on which humans now live.

Raven & the first  man- Bill Reid
My favorite story is of  Raven stealing and releasing the sun, and tempting the first humans out of a clam shell.

David Lange, OSB- St. John's Abbey
In Western Christianity the raven is presented in a positive light, associated with saints. The raven is a symbol for solitude, especially since ravens fed several saints  in the wilderness, namely,  the Desert Fathers, St. Anthony Abbot and St. Paul the Hermit

Ravens also brought food to St. Chelidonia, a Benedictine hermit of the XIIth century,  who lived for more than fifty years in a cave of the Aniene River valley.

The raven’s submission to the will of God, despite what we may see as its disagreeable habits, is an expression of redemption.  The raven symbolizes filial gratitude and affection, wisdom, hope, longevity, death, and fertility.

The 9th century hermit St. Meinrad, who regularly fed ravens, was murdered by thieves. Ravens pursued the murderers into the forest, their loud caws alerting the villagers to come and apprehend the men. (The Benedictine monastery of Einsiedeln in Switzerland, which claims this saint as their founder, uses ravens in its coat of arms).

According to legend, after being martyred (304), ravens protected St. Vincent of Saragossa's body from being devoured by vultures, until his followers could recover the body.

Tim Mispagel- St. Ben. College, Atchinson, KS

When I visited Subiaco (the birth place of our Benedictine heritage) many years ago, ravens were kept in the courtyard. I am not sure if thy are still there.  But the spirit of our founder lives on in these intelligent birds. I like to think of St. Benedict and his twin, St. Scholastica, as birders, since they are so often pictured with their birds. (St. Scholastica with a dove).

(For more information on this bird's family which includes crows and Stellar jays see blogs:  Jan.16, 2013,  Aug. 27, 2012 and  May 29, 2012).

Thursday, July 11, 2013


Today we celebrate  the feast of our founder ST. BENEDICT.  He was born in Nursia in Italy and lived from about 480 to 550 AD. After studying in Rome, he tried to live in solitude as a hermit in a cave at Subiaco, but was soon joined by others eager to learn from him. Eventually he organized these followers into small communities, bound together by a common rule of life. St. Benedict is regarded as the founder of Western monasticism and he is the patron saint of Europe.

He left us a Rule which is still is use today, by monks and nuns everywhere and which has many implications for our modern world. The Rule of St Benedict is essentially a simple and practical guide for daily living: a balance between physical work, intellectual study and common prayer. During the 1500 years of its existence, it has become the leading guide in Western Christianity for monastic living in community.
The spirit of St. Benedict's Rule is summed up in the motto: pax ("peace") and the traditional ora et labora ("pray and work").

Beyond its religious influences, the Rule of St. Benedict was one of the most important written works to shape medieval Europe, embodying the ideas of a written constitution and the rule of law. It also incorporated a degree of democracy in a non-democratic society, and dignified manual labor.

S. Dimitrova

To find peace and happiness, St. Benedict calls us to “listen carefully” for the voice of God speaking in the depths of our hearts.  By making our hearts attentive in trust and hope toward the heart of  Jesus, we become more and more capable of hearing God’s will for us. 

Listening with our heart is key to spiritual growth, but it has to be more than a passive hearing. We must actively put into practice the tenets set forth in the Rule, with humility and obedience to Christ.

St. Benedict’s rule is a practical, down to earth guide to community living and spiritual growth.

One might say  he is the author of common-sense living!  Balance is what so many of us strive for these days and St.Benedict has much to teach us all !!

Monday, July 8, 2013


S.C.- Lost Sheep
S.C.- Lost Son
 Today we celebrate the feast of St. Augustin Zhao Rong and 119 Chinese Martyrs, who were canonized by Bl. Pope John Paul in 2000.  They were part of the hidden Christian church which, even to this day, is persecuted in parts of Asia. These saints were martyred between 1648  and 1930.  St. Augustin himself died in 1815. He was one of 29 priests (including six bishops) martyred for their faith. Their witness to the Christian faith, ties in with the last blog regarding religious freedom for all peoples.

Of late I have been fascinated by the Christian art that comes from Asia- You have seen many of the paintings and drawing of Sadao Watanabe and Dr. He Qi in past blogs.  I came across a book that deals with five of these artists, one who I will present here.

Information on him and other Asian artists are in a book titled: The Christian Story: Five Asian Artists Today.  It presents paintings by leading contemporary Asian artists Sawai Chinnawong (Thailand), He Qi (China- now USA), Nalini Jayasuriya (Sri Lanka),  Nyoman Darsane (Bali), and Wisnu Sasongko (Thailand), and highlights the different ways in which artists of diverse cultures today perceive Biblical tales. 

Although the artists represented share one medium, they tell their stories very differently, depending on visual forms, signs, symbols, and features that appeal to their particular cultures.

While they may not be well known in their native lands, these artists are known throughout the world in other places, esp. by discerning patrons of the arts, and their work is featured in museums in many countries.

These  contemporary Asian artists are all Christians, working as members of a minority religious tradition on a continent where Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam command the largest share of loyalty. This has not stopped these artists from producing biblically inspired art that expresses deeply held religious beliefs. 

SAWAI  CHINNAWONG of Payap University, Chiang Mai, Thailand, is well known in Asia for his portrayals of Biblical imagery in a traditional Thai graphic idiom. After completing his art studies, he attended the McGilvary Faculty of Theology at Payap University in Chiang Mai, Thailand. He was the Paul T. Lauby artist in residence at the Overseas Ministries Study Center in 2003-2004, and was one of five artists featured in the 2007 exhibition, "The Christian Story: Five Asian Artists Today" at the Museum of Biblical Art (MOBIA) in New York City.

"My work represents influences from many styles...I believe Jesus Christ is present in every culture, and I have chosen to celebrate his presence in our lives through Thai traditional cultural forms".

"My belief is that Jesus did not choose just one people to hear his Word, but chose to make his home in every human heart. And just as his Word may be spoken in every language, so the visual message can be shared in the beauty of the many styles of artistry around the world."

Sawai said the goal of his art was to “bring Christianity into his own culture.” All biblical characters are portrayed as native people of Thailand. Their clothes are traditional of Thailand, as are the plants and foods that are present in each scene.

He portrays Christianity and Thai culture in harmony. In the caption under one painting he writes, “Buddha is never seen suffering in our iconography, but as a Christian I have to depict the suffering of Christ, which is the hardest spiritual concept for us to understand or accept. Christ is not a Westerner, however. He is Thai.”

The love for art  began when he was he child while he watched old men painting on a Buddhist temple wall. His interest in art persisted into adulthood. He studied art in a vocational school in Bangkok, Thailand. It was at this time that Sawai became a Christian. He says that a missionary was witnessing on the street one day, and soon after he began to study the Bible every day after art class. 

After completing his art studies, Sawai studied at the McGilvary Faculty of Theology at Payap University in Chiang Mai. He was deeply influenced by a series of lectures on the history of Christian Art given there in 1984 by artist and professor Nalini Jayasuriya. He began creating liturgical art while attending seminary and designed the artwork for the chapel there. Today his art is appreciated in many places for its portrayal of Christian themes through a Thai graphic idiom that is inspired by Thai culture. He was the Paul T. Lauby artist in residence at the Overseas Ministries Study Center in New Haven, USA, in 2003-2004. and was one of five artists featured in the 2007 exhibition "The Christian Story: Five Asian Artists.