But Grace Awaits – Bishop’s Blog

Bishop Prior is the Episcopal Bishop of Minnesota. I commend his Advent meditation to you.

The Advent season invites us, dare I say challenges us, to NOT fill our waiting space. I know that sounds incredibly inefficient at best and uncomfortable at worst. However, when we allow our waiting space to be an empty place, in my experience, God’s grace begins to seep into our souls.

Source: But Grace Awaits – Bishop’s Blog


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Cross Formed by Clouds | Art for Advent 1C

Luke 21:27 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory.

Christ on the Cross Formed by Clouds
Christ on the Cross Formed by Clouds, 1734
Oil on canvas, 73 x 52 cm
Gemäldegalerie, Dresden
(b. 1675, Sceaux, d. 1760, Paris).
Click image for more information.

Commentary by Hovak Najarian


Christ on the Cross Formed by Clouds, 1734, Oil on Canvas, Louis de Silvestre, 1675-1760


In the motion picture based on Irving Stone’s novel, The Agony and the Ecstasy, Michelangelo was asked by Pope Julius II to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo resisted. He worked on the fresco for a short time and then left. He went into hiding and while the Pope was trying to locate him, movie goers were given “the inspiration scene.” Michelangelo was on a mountain when he saw clouds come together to form an image of “The Creation of Adam.” Being given a sign and a direction, he returned to paint the Chapel’s ceiling. The scene in the movie was the result of creative license but we all have had moments when we noticed images in rock formations, reflections, or even in mechanical objects. Leonardo da Vinci suggested artists use these images as points of departure when developing compositions for paintings. Louis de Silvestre did just that and his title, “Christ on the Cross Formed by Clouds” lets us in on the source of his inspiration.

Louis de Silvestre, a French artist of the Baroque Period, excelled in portrait painting. His patrons were primarily the wealthy noble class; among his patrons was Louis XV, King of France. He accepted a position of honor as painter at the court of Augustus II, King of Poland and worked there primarily as a portraitist for thirty years.

“Christ on the Cross Formed by Clouds” contrasts greatly from the rich color and baroque style found in de Silvestre’s portraits. The painting is simple in composition and subdued in its colors. There is no Roman soldier with a spear at the base of the cross or angels in the sky. Mary is not there nor are there people standing nearby in despair. None of the additions that artists have included typically in the crucifixion can be found in de Silvestre’s painting. Christ is alone. If we were not given the fact that it was painted in 1734 it would be difficult to place it in a time frame and it would be equally difficult to determine the artist. The style is neither characteristic of the baroque period nor of de Silvestre’s usual style. “Christ on the Cross Formed by Clouds” is related stylistically to some aspects of early nineteenth century Romanticism and would not seem out of place in an exhibit of early twentieth century Surrealism. There is a sense of mystery in its starkness. Louis de Silvestre was not interested in painting a series of cloud studies as did John Constable. It was this single unusual cloud formation that received his attention. Scientists could explain undoubtedly the cause of the phenomenon but for de Silvestre it was an inspiration. The cloud served as a catalyst to a spiritual moment that he painted to share with others.


“Pareidolia” is the psychological term used to describe the seeing of images such as animals in clouds, faces in rock formations, or the familiar man in the moon; such observations seem to be an innate human response and universal. In 1996, the face of Mother Teresa was discovered on a cinnamon bun (dubbed the “nun bun”). An image of Jesus discovered on a grilled cheese sandwich was placed on eBay in 2004 and sold for $28,000. There tends to be an increase in religious image discoveries during holidays.

On the Way | 11/29/15

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O Antiphons (Dec 17-23)

The exact origin of the “O Antiphons” is not known. Boethius (c. 480-524) made a slight reference to them, thereby suggesting their presence at that time. At the Benedictine abbey of Fleury (now Saint-Benoit-sur-Loire), these antiphons were recited by the abbot and other abbey leaders in descending rank, and then a gift was given to each member of the community. By the eighth century, they are in use in the liturgical celebrations in Rome. The usage of the “O Antiphons” was so prevalent in monasteries that the phrases, “Keep your O” and “The Great O Antiphons” were common parlance. One may thereby conclude that in some fashion the “O Antiphons” have been part of our liturgical tradition since the very early Church. Read more: What are the O Antiphons from Catholic Education Resource Center

Sr. Joan Chittister has provided an entire page to help you pray the O Antiphons (from December 17th through December 23rd). Each meditation is accompanied by a women’s choir chanting the Antiphon in English. Use this online meditation to deepen your prayers as Advent comes to a close and the Nativity arrives.

The Flood | Art for A Advent 1

Matthew 24:39-40 …and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left.

The Flood
(b. ca 1500, Cherbourg, d. 1564, Sotteville-lès-Rouen)
The Flood
Ceramic mural composition
Musée National de la Renaissance, Écouen
Click image for more information.

Commentary by Hovak Najarian

The Flood, ceramic tile, 1550, Masséot Abaquesne, c.1500-1564

Clay often is regarded to be a lowly substance. It is formed by decomposed rock and organic matter and is used to make bricks and drainpipes. It is underfoot as pavers, and in art it is a material associated with pottery and the crafts. It is not used regularly by artists as a surface on which to paint. Masséot Abaquesne’s “The Flood,” depicting the landing of the ark, is an example of the problem with categories when art is shoe-horned into being either “fine arts” or “crafts.” Abaquesne used tiles, glaze, and metal oxides to create a painting on clay; not on wood panels or canvas.

Abaquesne had a successful ceramics business in Rouen, France. His studio specialized in majolica (muh-JAHL-i-kuh) and faience (pronounced fay-AHNS – French for Faenza, a major ceramic center in Italy), and he was influenced generally by Italian art. For “The Flood,” Abaquesne used a tiled surface instead of a large single piece because clay shrinks when it is fired and in the process, large pieces will tend to warp and not remain flat.

To make “The Flood,” a majolica technique was used. The earthenware tiles were fired at a low temperature then covered entirely with a white glaze but not fired again until after Abaquesne created his painting (on the unfired white surface) using coloring pastes made with oxides: cobalt for blue, iron for dark reddish brown and antimony for yellow. It was then fired in the kiln a second time. The work shown here is one of three created by Abaquesne on the subject of the flood. [Building the ark and boarding it are the subjects of the other two works.] This scene depicts the flood after the water has subsided and the ark has landed. In a dramatic depiction of the aftermath of the event, drowned figures are strewn about and a carrion-eating bird is dining on a dead horse. On the right side of the sky, a dove is returning to the ark with an olive branch and God is in a cloud on the left side observing everything below.


Majolica ware originated in Spain and during the Renaissance it became very popular throughout Europe. The name is believed to be derived from the Spanish island, Majorca.

In addition to a glazing technique,” faïence,” is a term given to a low fired non-clay material used in ancient Egypt for crafting objects such as small blue scarabs and hippopotami. When archeologists discovered these objects, the color reminded them of the blue glaze that was made famous in the town of Faenza, Italy. They referred to the material as “faience.” Although Egyptian faience is not glazed clay, the term has remained in use.

Hovak Najarian © 2013

Three Lauridsen Pieces

Morten Lauridsen’s O Nata Lux, Ave Maria, and O Magnum Mysterium are easy favorites among choral music nerds aficionados. They are relatively new pieces, so they might not be as widely known as more traditional Lessons and Carols standards. However, I feel that his compositional style perfectly captures the essence of the Advent season–a balance between exultant and somber.

In each piece, listen for dissonance. He often has different voice parts sustain intervals of a second. In many works, these close intervals are a challenge to listen to, but in his, they add richness, depth, a blend of bitterness and sweetness. (Yes, Advent is a glorious thing, but we know that it brings us closer to Lent and to remembering His sacrifice.)

Listen also for a melody. It’s there, of course, but it’s kind of hard to sing back, isn’t it? His pieces almost saunter through the text. It’s not just about arriving at a cadence; it’s about what happens along the way. These works invite the listener to sit and muse for a bit on what it’s all about–the mystery of the Incarnation, the devotion of Mary and Joseph, the humility that caused the King of Kings to take the form of a helpless baby–it’s almost as if Lauridsen wants us to hit the pause button and just sit for a minute. (And during this busy season, couldn’t we all afford to just sit for a while?)

So I hope these pieces bring you some joy–and a little stillness–as you go about your Christmas preparations. Enjoy!

O Nata Lux
O Light born of Light
Jesus, Redeemer of the World
with loving-kindness deign to receive
suppliant praise and prayer.

Thou who once deigned to be clothed in flesh
for the sake of the lost,
grant us to be members
of Thy blessed body.

O Magnum Mysterium
O great mystery
and wonderful sacrament
that animals should see the new-born Lord
lying in a manger!

Blessed is the Virgin whose womb
was worthy to bear
Christ the Lord.

Ave Maria
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, mother of God,
pray for us sinners,
now and in the hour of our death. Amen.