A Lenten “Sostenuto”


This is the season to downshift and linger on moments of meaning. Hit “pause” and cultivate the art of stopping time. 

Lately, in prayer, I hear the instruction to “look and linger.” The fruits of doing so can be summed up in one word – awe! Driving west toward Clermont, Fla., from Orlando, Linda and I have often been treated to arresting sunsets. Deep oranges, and yellows and, later, indigo marked by flourishes of red, all dance into view. For a moment, all other thoughts subside. We can only say, “look at that!”

A few nights ago, we arrived home after midnight. Our neighborhood is especially dark at night with few street lights to wash out the sky. It was profoundly quiet. I grabbed some packages to bring inside and started walking toward the house. Then, as if someone had gently laid hands on my head to tilt it upward, I saw the stunning canopy of stars. Only one word came to mind: Wow! 

I was looking straight at the Great Nebula in Orion. The stars were especially bright and I could almost see the great Nebula M53, a nursery of stars, at the center of the constellation. In that moment of wonder, there was no need to hurry inside. Time itself had stopped.

Recently, I was doing some paperwork and stopped briefly for a short walk. I was startled when, out of the corner of my eye, something moved. There, very slowly climbing up the outside wall of our house, was a frog. Remaining completely steady, I walked close to catch a photo. I was mesmerized by this little creature, able to climb so deftly straight up the wall and going about his mission so silently!

Awe is defined in one dictionary as “a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder.” In fact, the origin of the term from Old English, “ege,” refers to terror and dread. Research is now revealing that awe is more nuanced than that. In last year’s July issue of New Scientist, science journalist Jo Marchant refers to the first scientific definition of awe, “the feeling we get when confronted with something vast that transcends our frame of reference that we struggle to understand. It’s an emotion that combines amazement with an edge of fear.”

In various studies, researchers are finding that true awe changes us. After an awesome experience, people are more positive overall, more ethical and generous, and they feel more connected to others. They report feeling happier and less stressed. Surprisingly, they feel that they have “more time.” Awe, it seems, stops the clock, or surely slows the tempo.

In music, Italian notations are used to instruct performers on the composer’s intent when it comes to mood and tempo. One term especially comes to mind this month: “sostenuto,” the instruction to slow it down and move to legato playing or singing, (that is, from one note to the next on one smooth, uninterrupted breath). For Lent, I am working to cultivate the “sostenuto,” to linger more, peering more intently at all things, large and small. The goal is clear as I move through the 40 days to Easter: practice the slowing until I reach the state of “fermata,” a musical full stop, a note to be held and sustained.

Wishing you and yours such times of awe as we move to the moment of Christ. 

 ~ Brother Anton Armbruster, TSSF



February 2018 - I Hear His Voice in You

Februum, Latin for purification, is the historical root of the name for this month. Its traditional symbols include the amethyst birthstone, signifying piety and spiritual wisdom. As the last month of meteorological winter, it is also the transition to the rebirth of spring. We are quite literally told by history and timing to get ready, to prepare and to purify.

With this in mind, I’ve been thinking a lot about the joy of anticipation and what it means to get ready for the miraculous. At Thanksgiving, Linda and I were on pins and needles awaiting the big “reveal” of the sex of our first grandchild. A friendly local baker received a secret notification from the obstetrician’s office, keeping the baby’s gender from everyone, including the parents. We picked up the cake and, with family and friends dialing in via video Skype, our daughter made the first cut: the icing inside was a vibrant pink. So, after weeks of wondering, with a single slice, we were celebrating the coming of “Zoey Ava.”

Wednesday, Feb. 14, opens our 40-day Lenten season of anticipation that carries us to Easter, the ultimate “Divine Reveal,” the great consummation of the promise celebrated at Christmas: new life in Christ. 

In the Franciscan Rule of Life, one of the nine elements of daily practice is self-denial. Postulants usually relate to this as giving something up (like those addictive fudge brownies). Perhaps self-denial can take the form of curbing cell phone use. One postulant recently chose to give up romance novels. These are all certainly fine and fasting is a customary part of self-denial, but we are encouraged to go so much farther. Getting ready for a blessed event means jettisoning all that distracts us from the Sacred main events in our lives. 

Real Februum, interior purification, is denying oneself altogether. It means putting our own thoughts and preoccupations aside and placing others in center view (listening, learning, appreciating, being fascinated by their stories and their worlds). The LI Fellowship of The Third Order of the Society of St. Francis is launching a Province-wide search for members with whom we have lost contact. As part of this, we are establishing the “Emmaus Travelers” program, identifying companions who will stay in touch with those who have been out of touch. Many are unable to participate in fellowship meetings owing to personal or family illness or great distances. Some have been out of touch for as many as five or more years.

I spoke on the phone to one brother in his 70s, home with his wife who has been ill. He is a therapist and a person with a wonderful story of continuing spiritual growth and adventure. I discovered, in this one call, that, like me, he has long wanted to see a marriage of sacramental worship and Quaker silence. Another, we just learned, was an engineer that helped NASA put a man on the moon. How is it that their stories went silent? 

We are asking these folks to write for us and share their stories, and we now have well over 100 stories pledged that we will compile as a book on Amazon. So powerful is this movement among us, that we are extending it to all brothers and sisters (with emphasis on those who are ready to tell the story of how religious life has evolved as they’ve aged). 

My Lenten ritual will be a time of deep listening to the stories of others; celebrating the wisdom of age spoken in the diverse voices of soon to be new friends with extraordinarily rich and diverse occupational, social and spiritual backgrounds all bound together in Saints Francis and Clare. May you too find Christ in others whose stories are a great blessing.

 ~ Brother Anton Armbruster, TSSF