Monday, April 9, 2012


Altar at St. Mary's
Beginning with Palm Sunday, I’ve been the deacon at several services at St. Mary’s Convent here on the Mountain, concluding with the Easter Vigil which began at 6 a.m. yesterday. To get ready for the Easter Sunday service, I had to arise at 4 a.m. and was a little sluggish in my greeting of “He is risen,” when I addressed Sister Julian before the sunrise Vigil and began preparing for a two and one-half hour service.

Prior to Easter Sunday, I served and preached at the Maundy Thursday foot washing service, and several people asked me for copies of the homily I delivered at that time. Over the past five years of blogging, I have very infrequently published homilies because I really believe that sermons or homilies are best heard than read. One thing I did say and that bears repeating: “real perfection lies in the readiness to own one’s own imperfection as mentors of yours and mine did – and to love with the kind of humility expressed in foot washing – a love as radical as Christ’s own.”

However, rather than the homily, I’m publishing a meditation I once wrote about St. Mary’s Convent and a photo of the interior of the chapel and one of the angel in the garden beside the chapel:

CHAPEL AT THE MOTHER HOUSE OF THE ANGLICAN SISTERS OF ST. MARY, SEWANEE, TENNESSEE. Community founded in 1865. Stone Construction. Architect: Robert Seals. New Chapel consecrated 1988.

They teach us about living in stillness and fullness with the “One Who Is” in a community guided by St. Benedict’s Rule. The Sisters, dressed in their unadorned white blouses and blue jumpers, awaken to a gray world of mist, chanting the words of Benedict: “Let nothing be preferred to the Word of God.” At 7 a.m., a bell that has been transported from the original Mother House and placed in the tower of the stone chapel, calls them to Morning Prayer and the Eucharist, one of four offices they celebrate each day.

Angel swinging on convent grounds
The white-walled chapel is the cathedral of our faith where we feast at The Table with this group of chosen women. Three cats and three dogs lurk in the shadows, waiting for one of His crumbs to drop from The Table. Through the clear glass window behind the altar, we see the mist rising over the rugged steep overlooking the Cumberland Valley. Outside, a black locust tree welcomes the rain now pattering on the blue tin roof. The rain drenches the garden of roses where a stone angel sways on a small swing, surveying her domain.

At the plain oak altar with a small cross carved in center front, we gather for The Eucharist. The scent of Easter lilies and candle wax from the Pascal candle persists in the chapel, along with the words of The Rev. Susanna Metz, who exhorts us to practice inclusiveness and justice. The Sisters offer the world their Prayers, Presence, and Hospitality. They are the inheritors of an order established by four Sisters, known as the Martyrs of Memphis or Constance and Her Companions, who died nursing victims of a yellow fever epidemic in Memphis, Tennessee in 1878.

Sister Mary Zita, a Filipino nun, sits with bowed head over the Book of Common Prayer, deep in praise for having been called to the convent on the bluff after the Sisters went on a mission to the Philippines where they established their order at Banga-an, Sagada in a mountain province.

“Life,” the Sisters say, “is best lived in community. The Church is the body of which Jesus Christ is the head, and our community, though small, is a microcosm of the Church. We live in dependence on God for all that is needed, using what is given with care and simplicity, as good stewards of God’s gifts. Let nothing be preferred to the Word of God.”
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