Ask, Search, Knock: Passionate Persistent Prayer – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Luke 11:1-13

“How do you recruit new monks?”someone asked me the other day.  The answer is: we don’t recruit new members of the community.  We make ourselves known – on the internet – but I would never encourage a man to come as a postulant.  In fact, I often try to put people off!  It’s really important, that if someone wants to join the community they have to ask – and maybe ask several times, before we say yes. Continue reading

Weeds Among the Wheat – Br. Curtis Almquist

curtis4Matthew 13:24-30

The thought of an enemy sowing weeds – typically, a particularly strain of weed whose early blossoms looked very much like wheat – into a farmer’s field was so real and so common that its punishment was codified into Roman law in Jesus’ day.  This actually happened, an enemy sowing weeds among the wheat. There are three lessons we can draw from Jesus’ parable about the weeds and the wheat. Continue reading

Mary Magdalene – Br. Jonathan Maury

Jonathan Maury SSJEAs human beings and Christians, our life of faith and relationship has its source in divine Love who eternally delights in each one of us as an image and likeness of God unlike any other. God’s yearning for companionship and union with all creatures has been, is now and always will be drawing us into the fullness of our created being, into the glory of the divine Life itself. Even now, divine yearning is active drawing us into community, to experience relationship with God and one another through shared worship and service. The present reality of our connectedness to one another in God, therefore, also rests on the foundation of all those who have gone before us as believers. There are some whom we have known personally, who have been instrumental in forming us in the love of Christ and our neighbor. Continue reading

Mary or Martha – Br. Mark Brown

Mark-Brown-SSJE-2010-300x299I wonder if Isabel Myers and Katharine Briggs ever considered adding a Mary and Martha continuum to their MBTI: the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.  What type of person are you? Are you an introvert or an extravert?  Are you sensing or intuitive, thinking or feeling, judging or perceiving? Those are the various “dichotomies” in the Myers-Briggs test, which measures how far you lean to one side or the other or if you hit the sweet spot right in the middle.

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Resources for the Journey – Br. David Allen

DavidA_2008_031Ex. 12:37-42; Mt. 12:14-21

At today’s Eucharist our scripture readings gave us examples of two journeys, each of which has some of the elements of a pilgrimage; a journey of prayer, of faith and of hope, with salvation as the ultimate goal.

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Jesus’ Revelation to Infants – Br. Curtis Almquist


Matthew 11:25-27

‘At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants…’

Who are “the wise and intelligent” to whom Jesus is referring?  Any one of three groups who held power.  One, the scribes and Pharisees who were the educated, Jewish elite.  Second, the Greeks, whose intellectual prowess was recognized even by Rome.  And thirdly, Rome, which was the occupying and controlling force in Palestine.  To a Roman ear, when Jesus, the peasant, prays aloud to the God whom he calls “Father,” – Papa – I thank you, Papa, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things – his revelation – from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants – Jesus is an idiot to the Greeks[i], blasphemous to the Jews, and treasonous to the Romans because Caesar, only Caesar Augustus, was called “God from God.”[ii]

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Summer 2013 Cowley

The Summer 2013 issue of Cowley continues the theme of the Reconciliation focusing on reconciliation with God and one another.

Click on the links below to read selected articles from the Summer 2013 Cowley Screen Shot 2013-04-22 at 9.04.09 AMMagazine:

  1. In the Monastic Wisdom insert, Br. David Vryhof invites us to the challenging, essential practice of forgiveness.
  2. How can solitude help our relationships? Br. Jonathan Maury suggests that times of retreat can contribute to reconciliation.
  3. After more than fifty years of living in community, Br. David Allen reflects on some of its challenges and rewards.
  4. Br. Eldridge Pendleton reflects with gratitude on his vocation to SSJE, as he tells the story of his winding path to the Monastery.
  5. This years monastic interns (Andrew Sinnes – Waylon Whitley – Seth Woody) share some of the riches they will take away.

There are many ways to read and share this Cowley magazine:

Tell us what you think of this Cowley Magazine in the comments below.
We welcome your comments, letters, or ideas for future articles.

Life in Community: Challenges and Rewards – Br. David Allen

Early in my time in the SSJE one of the older members of the community was interviewed by a student journalist. He was asked what life in community had been like for him the fifty years he had been professed. He answered in a quavering voice that it had been a struggle the whole way. I had known him for a while at that point. I think that answer was an exaggeration. Fr. Johnson was known to take life seriously, but I know that underneath was a sense of joy.

Now that I have lived in community for nearly fifty-five years I can say that community life consists both of challenges and joys. Being able to meet the challenges and to enjoy the rewards has enabled me to survive without feeling that it has been a struggle the whole way. There have been times of struggle, and times of great rewards. It is our ability to “hang on” during the times of struggle and to rejoice in the rewards that enables us to persevere.

I mentioned to one of our staff members that I had been asked to write this article. He asked me, “Well, how has it been?” I answered quickly, with my tongue in my cheek, “It has been a bumpy ride!”

Yes, there have been bumpy times. But life in almost any setting has its bumpy times. The secret is to try to keep one’s balance and hang on.

Fr. Richard Benson, the founder of SSJE, wrote in one of his instructions on the religious life that we should not expect a monastic community like ours to be made up of like-minded individuals. When we come to try our vocations it is in response to a call from God. We come from different backgrounds and environments. We learn to live with one another and appreciate the differences that we find in one another. We enter at different times. This sometimes results in generation gaps. Sharing the history of those times can be a reward.

When I was a novice and the romantic side of living in a monastery had begun to wear off, I had occasion to speak to the conductor of our annual retreat about difficulties when some in the novitiate had different opinions from mine. The retreat conductor was Novice Guardian of another congregation of our Society, and was experienced in dealing with such questions. He answered that the novitiate was like putting rough stones into a bag and shaking it. Eventually the rough edges of the stones wore off and they became smooth.

Another time similar problems began to bother me. I asked our Novice Guardian if I might try some other community to see if it was better for me. He was going away for a week and asked me to wait until he got back. A few days later I was on the subway in the early morning on my way to one of the convents to preside at the Sisters’ Eucharist. As I hung on the strap in the crowded subway car, suddenly words came to my mind, “If I leave, I shall miss all of this.” Later that day the Superior called me into his office and said he had been told that I was thinking of leaving. I told him my experience on the subway, and he said, “I am glad! I was going to talk you into staying. Some of us need community life for our salvation.” Soon after that the one who bothered me left the novitiate.

One of the reasons that I was drawn to the SSJE as I perceived a call to monastic life was work SSJE then had in Japan. I had been to Japan while I was in the Navy between college and seminary and liked what I saw there. I hoped that there might be a chance of being sent there. Later I reached the point when it didn’t really matter where I served the Lord. That winter I learned that my younger brother was to be married in Sweden in the late spring, so I asked the Superior if I might go there for my vacation instead of to Spokane, Washington, where my family lived. Fr. Williams told me, “Then you can fly from Sweden over the North Pole to Japan. I plan to send you there.” That was a real reward. I served in Japan for over thirteen years.

In July 1975 the Society made the difficult decision to close the work in Japan. I was the only American member of the SSJE in our work there at that time. That was my most difficult struggle with the vow of obedience. I had grown to love Japan and the Japanese people. I prayed all of that summer that one of the Japanese Bishops might ask me to stay in Japan and serve there. In the end my sense of obedience and monastic stability prevailed, and I returned to America that October as I had been asked.

I went through a difficult period of mourning. But in a few months I began to find compensations. I got involved in the Episcopal Asian American Ministry. Eventually I helped to found the Episcopal Boston Chinese Ministry at St. Paul’s Cathedral, where I still assist about twice a month.

I think the main reason why any of us who have faced challenges in community life have persevered is the realization that Jesus’ words, “you did not choose me, but I chose you,” spoken to his disciples at the Last Supper, are also spoken to each of us who is truly called to the monastic life (John 15:16). Along with Jesus we can say, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me” (John 4:34b).


Reflecting on the Internship Experience – Seth Woody

In September 2012 to June 2013, three exceptional young men took part in the Monastic Internship Program, living, worshipping, and working alongside the community for nine months. We asked them to reflect on what they would take away from the experience.

COWLEY shots 036The monastic daily schedule is the antithesis of undergraduate college living. Like most people after college, I graduated still in the midst of self-discovery, trying to figure out how to be the best version of myself. This internship was an opportunity to work on pieces of me that were just impossible to work on in the college setting. I knew that, as an extrovert, I wasn’t going to be able to take time to be silent and to live a disciplined, structured life without this experience.

I feel like I’ve learned a lot from just the act of being physically present five times a day for worship. Just having that discipline to show up if I’m not feeling well; if I don’t want to be there; if I do want to be there; if I have other things to do, there’s a lot to be learned in just showing up. That’s so simple, yet I think what the monastic life offers is such simple and profoundly deep practices of life.

I have actually gotten into the rhythm of waking up with the sun and going to bed a little bit after the sun. That seemed like such an impossibility to me coming here: to be able to awake at 5:30 and begin the day! I had never done that, never imagined I could. It goes back to discipline: My natural inclinations are not to stick to a disciplined life. After being able to live in this space for nine months, to experience this structure and discipline, I feel more equipped to go out on my own and put my own practices into place.



Reflecting on the Internship Experience – Waylon Whitley

In September 2012 to June 2013, three exceptional young men took part in the Monastic Internship Program, living, worshipping, and working alongside the community for nine months. We asked them to reflect on what they would take away from the experience.

COWLEY shots 029One of the real beauties of this year for me has been being seen, really being seen and embraced as a person. In this, I think that the Brothers epitomize the best of Christian community: They embrace people as individuals and don’t ask that you live up to a set of standards before they love you. That’s really rare. And it’s what I needed.

So often, as human beings, we settle for less than we deserve. We’ve bought into a commercial version of life where we’re told, “If you get certain stuff you’re going to be really happy; if you get these jobs, you’re going to be happy; if you climb high enough up on the ladder and get a certain house and get a certain amount of security, then everything is going to be okay.” The truth is that none of that is very important. The most important thing is community and love. The SSJE community really exemplifies those values, which are a central theme in Johannine spirituality, but which I’d always dismissed as sort of Hallmark stuff. But love, in its fullest sense, is what God wants for us. This kind of love is accepting and it’s warm and it’s forgiving and it’s very spacious and it allows us to be fully human and not need to put on airs or pretend like we’re something we’re not or to strive in some way for achievements or possessions. When you’ve lived in a place like this, where you’ve been shown great hospitality and abundant love, you begin to realize that love does have the potential to transform us as individuals. No material things can do that. No amount of security or money in the bank is going to really transform us. But love has the ability to really transform people.

That certainly has been my story here: To be loved, as I’ve experienced this year by this community, wakes up a part of you that makes loving other people possible. And I think that, as a church, or just as people on a very human journey, our capacity to love is really the most important thing that we can develop. If we’re going to spend time in life doing anything, this is the one thing that really has the potential to transform us the most, and to transform the lives of everybody around us.

Reflecting on the Internship Experience: Andrew Sinnes

In September 2012 to June 2013, three exceptional young men took part in the Monastic Internship Program, living, worshipping, and working alongside the community for nine months. We asked them to reflect on what they would take away from the experience.

COWLEY shots 032Coming to the Monastery I had this idea that it was going to be rapturous holiness all day long. I found it is a very welcoming environment here with really kind, authentic people, but it isn’t anything magical. I wasn’t hearing Jesus talk in my left ear or seeing visions like Teresa of Avila. I became aware that this is a mundane environment, like every environment.

That got me thinking: “If I keep trying to go to more exalted locations, like maybe Mt. Athos, after spiritual highs, then I’ll probably only end up anxious that I haven’t had one.” I kind of freaked out: “What am I going to do with the rest of my life if I don’t have a Message to share after I leave?” I reached a breaking point: “Well, I could just say, ‘I might not have a plan, but there may be a plan bigger than me, and I’m just going to go with that.’” I don’t have to keep seeking more rarefied experiences until I have known some exalted state of mind in which I’m pure, and then I’ll have a spiritual experience, since I will be free of all the things that are holding me back from living a full life. I can do it right now. I can just decide “I surrender my life to something bigger than me.”

The Monastery is not magical, but it is different. It’s a place where you might find God, or you might not. They give you that space to play. The liturgical life here just says, “Show up; the rest is up to you.” So, I’m in a better position than I was before I came here, despite not having discerned a clear call. You could say that I’ve had a conversion experience.

The People We’re Supposed to Be – Br. Eldridge Pendleton

Q: When did you first experience a call from God? 

I grew up in Texas, in a small town dominated by the southern Baptist church (whether you were Baptist or not you were Baptist in that town). In church one Sunday, when I was twelve years old, some missionaries were giving a talk about their work in the Philippines. At the end of the talk, the woman who had been speaking said, “You know, God calls people to special service. He may be calling someone here today to give their life to work for the church.” And when she said that I just started shaking my head, thinking, “Well, not me. It’s not going to happen to me.” And you know that famous poster of Uncle Sam pointing: “Uncle Sam Needs You”? Well, I felt right then like God was behind me with his finger pointing at me. I could almost feel that finger. I said, “Oh, this can’t happen to me. This is not what I want.” So I went on arguing with God, saying, “I just refuse. I will not do anything like that.”

Q: How did you eventually accept that call?

In college I discovered the Episcopal Church. I lived in a dorm with all Roman Catholics and, although I went to Mass with them every Sunday, I just didn’t feel like I fit. As we were coming out of Mass one day, I looked across the street and saw people outside another church in a procession, all dressed up in vestments, with incense and everything. I decided to check that one out. So the next Sunday I left for Mass with my friends but just walked across the street. As soon as I came to the Episcopal Church I knew I had found home. It was everything that I had always looked for: the mysticism and beauty of the liturgy. I found the chaplain at my university and pretty soon I was confirmed and became an Episcopalian.

In the meantime, I had a really good friend, a young woman, who was from was Framingham, Massachusetts. She invited me, “Why don’t you come up here for the summer, get any kind of job you can get – in a factory or waiting in a restaurant or something like that – and during your free time we’ll run around and play and just have the summer.” So I did, because I had always wanted to see New England. The Episcopal chaplain said to me, “Well, if you do go to Massachusetts, there are two churches in Boston I want you to see.” So one Sunday I visited the Church of the Advent. The next Sunday I visited St. John the Evangelist on Bowdoin Street. I had trouble finding it at first, and when I finally got there, I felt like I was racing up the long steps leading to it, and kind of falling into the church. Once inside, I looked around and noticed that everybody was there: There were rich people sitting next to people who looked like they had slept on the street; there were white people and black people – and this was in 1961, before civil rights; gay people and straight people; just a whole mix of everybody. Through the music and the clouds of incense, I thought, “Wow, this is the closest thing I’m going to get to the celestial banquet.”

During the course of that summer, I got to know the Cowley Fathers. Toward the end of the season, as I was getting ready to go back to school, one of them suggested that I make a retreat at the Monastery. I had never made a retreat in my life, yet because he suggested it, I felt that maybe I should try it, so I arranged it and went. I was the only one in the Guesthouse, and everything was so different than it is now. It was just the barest, most austere place you’ve ever seen. The walls had never been painted; they were just raw plaster. And it smelled like carbolic soap. It was not inviting. I just couldn’t imagine what these men did or what this life was all about. But, you know, when you’re twenty years old, it’s also very romantic, too, to be doing something like that. And they did eat well.

So I spent the weekend with them and, at the end of the weekend, I had this strong sense that God was calling me to be a monk. I couldn’t understand it, but it felt like SSJE was where I was supposed to be.

When I went back to school, I told the chaplain, who had become a really strong influence in my life. I didn’t tell anybody else, but I told him that I really felt as if I was called to this life. And he said, “Oh, you can’t do that.” And I thought he knew me well enough to know that I just didn’t have a vocation to it. What he meant was that at twenty years old I couldn’t make such a big decision. But I was young and listened to him. When you’re that young, you usually have several things you want to do with your life, so I decided that I wanted to be a university teacher instead. Eventually I went to graduate school and got a Ph.D. Once I went on to teach at Princeton and then a new experimental college in the midwest, I felt that I had become too smart for Christianity. I just dropped it and didn’t go to church at all. Yet whenever there was a real crisis in my life, I would find a church that was open and go there to pray.

Q: How did you eventually return to this question of a call to the religious life?

When I got a job as the director of a small museum in Maine – seven years of the most exciting, satisfying work I’ve ever had, really – I met some people who led me to this little, working-class Anglo-Catholic parish in Portsmouth. Again I felt like I had come home. I became active in this church. I even became senior warden, and when they were looking for a new rector, I was head of the search committee. Once we got the new rector, all my life just broke apart. I had become a workaholic – the museum was my life – and yet I felt that God was calling me to do something else. I was so upset, as upset as I had been when I was twelve years old, because I really couldn’t see myself as a parish priest anywhere and I couldn’t even figure out how I would pay for seminary. And yet I also knew I could not keep doing what I had been doing.

The new rector, who was just thirty years old, said, “I think you should go on retreat and just be quiet for a while, to see if you can get some answers. I know this place down in Boston…” So I arranged to go the Monastery again. I hadn’t been there since I was twenty years old.

Q: What was that second visit like?

Well, this time, the Brothers put Bob Greenfield in charge of me. He was an incredible person. He had a DPhil from Oxford, was so bright, and his idea of retreat was lots of naps and ice cream. It was just about what I needed at that point. I remember sitting out in the little Guesthouse garden the next morning – I hadn’t been there fifteen minutes – when all of a sudden I realized, “I know what I’m supposed to do. This is where I’m supposed to be. I knew it twenty years ago, and it’s still true.”

In part, the community drew me. I really wanted to live with other men, because I felt like I could be more who I am working with other people than the kind of life I had lived up to that point. Prayer also drew me, of course, but when I entered the Society, my prayer life was maybe Grade Level 1, so I really learned an awful lot about prayer and spirituality here in the Society. And since I have always felt drawn to listen to people, spiritual direction has been a really satisfying work that I’ve learned since being here.

It’s not as if my life here has been without crisis. But I’ve just always had this overwhelming feeling that this is where God wants me to be and to live out my life. Even though I haven’t understood it at times, I’ve trusted God enough to know that I should try it and see where it leads. I don’t think everyone who joins this Society has the strong sense of call I did. But I have such a sense that God singled me out for this life.

Q: How was the transition to life in the Society?

I entered SSJE at age forty-four, and it was hard making the transition to this life, in part because we did all the physical work – the cooking, cleaning, everything. I lost lots of weight and really looked terrible at my clothing as a novice.

I had a different picture of God when I entered than I gained during my time in the Society. I had this image – not exactly of an old man up in the sky – but certainly of someone who had a plan for each person. Some people were to live long lives, and some people were to live short lives. I thought mine was going to be short. Years before, when I was working on my Ph.D. at the University of Virginia, we were required to have a complete physical every year at the medical school there. As I was going through mine they recognized that something major was wrong with my heart. They asked me if they could do an experimental test on me to see what it was. They did a cardiac catheterization, and I was on the operating table for eight hours. At the end of that, all these cardiologists came in and stood around my bed and said, “We have good news and we have bad news. The good news is we know what it is: congenital heart disease.” It was heart disease that had begun at birth. The bad news was that I might live as much as ten more years. I was thirty years old at that point. And they told me all these horrible things that would happen before I actually died, blindness was one of them, and it was just really, really awful. I felt like I was living with a black cloud over my head.

When I shared this with the Brothers at the Monastery, before joining, I remember Tom Shaw saying, “We want you here. If it means that we carry your suitcases, we carry your suitcases.”

When I was having my retreat before being clothed as a novice, I had just come out of the hospital. I had had a heart infection, and I was really worried that I might not even live long enough to be clothed as a novice. And I really wanted that. But I realized that I couldn’t pray for myself. I could pray for others, but not for myself.

The novice guardian, James Madden, said, “Well, you know, this is happening at a good time because we have staying with us a priest from New York who has healing power. He works with people that the doctors have just given up on. Why don’t you go and talk to him?”

So I did. And the priest said, “Give me your earliest memory; just the first thing that flashes into your mind.” I remembered being four years old, playing in a field high in ragweed. One little girl next to me was resting, with her hoe head in the air, when the train came by. She went running to see the train and let her hoe go. It came down and hit me on the head, and there was a lot of blood. I could remember being taken to my grandmother’s house and really being looked after: my mother coming in, her cool hands on my head. But I wasn’t mentioning my father, and the priest wanted to know why. I started giving him grown-up reasons why my father was not there. But he said, “No, tell me as your four-year-old self.” And it came down to feeling that my father really didn’t love me. The healer said, “Well, did you ever tell him about that?” I said, “No, he died when I was twenty-five, and I can’t tell him now.” And he said, “Yes, you can.” So he had me imagine my father sitting across from me and made me tell him that I had thought he didn’t love me. He told me to listen to my father talking to me. And I heard my father telling me that he did love me.

In the process of all that, the distant figure of God the Father became loving arms that were holding me. I felt like I could ask God for anything that I needed.

I continued to work with this healer for an extended period of time and well, to make this a lot shorter than it was, when I went for my annual check-up that year the doctor said, “Well, there’s no change.” And it was true the next year, and the next, and the next, and the next. The deterioration of my heart and my lungs had just stopped. By the time I was fifty I was in such good shape that I celebrated by swimming twenty-five complete laps in an Olympic-sized swimming pool. I was so proud of myself.

Q: What’s been the most gratifying thing about accepting and living this call?

I feel like I’ve had an incredible life, and a big part of it is being in the Society, living and working with so many great people from the States, England, and Africa.

There was never another community that I thought maybe was the one instead. I never had any second thoughts. Of course, there were times when things were really difficult at SSJE. But right now we’re at the best point in our recent history, I think. It just seems like everything is working the way it should: We have a really good Superior who is challenging, and people want to be here; they love each other and can speak to each other’s faces rather than behind their backs. And while the community is small, it has always been small. Yet out of that smallness we have a pretty big bang in the world, I think.

I wake up here in this nursing home in Somerville, Massachusetts every day with such a sense of joy in my heart that, if I could, I would get down on my hands and knees and kiss the floor. The people here are so wonderful to me. I feel like I’ve had a charmed life. And it’s not over. I’m here for a reason, too, not just to be cared for because my physical body is breaking down, but I’m here for a reason. God has placed me here for a reason.

I really feel like I was aiming at SSJE from a very early age even though I didn’t know anything about it. And I don’t think I’m done yet either. I think I’m still growing and changing, and people along the way are helping me to become who I’m supposed to be. That’s what happens when we accept the life we’re called to: We become the people that we’re supposed to be.

Taking Time for Reconciliation: A call to retreat – Br. Jonathan Maury

If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself… entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.  –2 Corinthians 5:17-20

In Christ, each of us is made a minister of reconciliation in the realizing of God’s vision for a new creation in which all creatures are made one with God and each other, freed from the bonds of evil and death. Grace-filled, transforming reconciliation, therefore, both within our own selves and with others, always takes place in partnership with the One who first brought us into being. God has always been reaching out to us and continues to reach out to us, yearning for companionship with us. In this longing, we can see that the essence of both the divine life and our created nature is to be in relationship. In Christ, God has been revealed as a community of reciprocal self-offering love, the Holy Trinity. Thus we, made in the image and likeness of God, can only come to be fully reconciled in and alive to our created dignity through relationship with God. We, like God, find the fullest expression of who we are in community, so our relationships with one another also have their source in God. We become truly who we are only in relationship to others. In lives committed to loving ourselves and one another as God loves us, we fulfill the ministry of reconciliation by beholding and honoring the image of Christ in every person.

6795590081_05f384fcde_oJesus Christ is the exemplar and embodiment of the ministry of reconciliation. Fully human and at one with God, Jesus chooses to bear in himself the misunderstandings and rejections that mar and distort human relationships, and he takes the risk of personal vulnerability and loss in order to redress our brokenness. Jesus looks at the disciples gathered around him and says, “These are my brothers, my sisters, my mother,” that we might come to understand ourselves, in relationship to him and one another, as having been adopted into the family of God. Jesus teaches that relationships involve the exercise of tough love and the willingness to forgive – even before those who have wronged us seek forgiveness. Jesus commands us to forgive as many as “seventy times seven,” to expose ourselves to the same vulnerability toward others in which he lives. It is much easier to avoid difficult relationships and to ignore within ourselves the same traits we despise in others. But Jesus calls us to live into the fullness of our humanity, to embrace what we, in our brokenness, experience as physical, psychic, or spiritual limitations. Jesus urges that, rather than seeking to be cured of our limitations, we ask God to heal us in them, and waken us to the spiritual gifts hidden in them. God desires that each of us live into the particular image of divinity which only we can be, and which God’s world needs in order to be reconciled.

One way to find renewed energy and desire for our role in God’s work of reconciliation is taking time for intimacy with Christ in silence and prayer. The chapter on retreat in the Society’s Rule of Life explains how times of retreat give us an opportunity to “celebrate the primacy of the love of God” in our lives as the sole focus of our attention. Regardless of how fragmented our lives may seem, how alienated from the world or at odds with others we may feel, retreat allows us inner space and time to know that we are beloved of God. Many guests in our houses remark on the experience of coming to a deeper knowledge of themselves and those around them in the silence of retreat. They are learning, as the Rule also says, to cherish “adoring love for the mystery of God,” to “honor the mystery present in the hearts of our brothers and sisters, strangers and enemies,” as well as to revere that mystery present in themselves through the indwelling of Christ. This kind of silence does not see the mystery of self or other as a problem to be solved or as something to be understood. Instead, in silence, we acknowledge the mystery of self and other, like that of God, as a wonder to be adored. Even in the absence of those with whom we seek to be reconciled, praying for them and practicing silence can help us come to truly love them.

Reconciliation takes place within us not so much by what we think as by who we allow God to help us to become. God calls us to emotional honesty with ourselves and others, and we can best find that disposition through intentional relationship with God. In the humility of silence, we can hear the voice which speaks in every human heart, and says, I cannot be the God I truly am without being fully in relationship with you. Times of retreat can help to awaken in us the desire for that time when all people will be drawn into that community of love which is the only God.



Letter from the Fellowship: Natalie Finstad


Left: Natalie and one of Tatua Kenya’s organizers, Koi Wangui, at a TatKenya Celebration. Right: Natalie plants kale seeds alongside the community. Young adults from Tatua’s “Be the Change” Initiative organized the planting of a community garden at a local children’s home.

In August of 2010 I packed my life into three suitcases, left my internship with the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, and moved to Nairobi, Kenya. During twenty-seven hours of plane travel, my world turned upside down. I traded the groomed cobblestone roads of Cambridge for poorly paved roads wandered by a population ailing from 45% unemployment, where children roam looking for food in the ditches and the endless traffic is a perpetual reminder of the failed Kenyan government.

For the past three years I have made my home in Kenya. Like Jeremiah commands, I have settled down, planted gardens, eaten their food, and grown to love Kenya (Jeremiah 29:5). That love spurred the launching of Tatua, an organization reversing the traditional method of international aid by cultivating the power of the local community. Our work is to build the capacity of local leaders and local organizations to address poverty from the ground up.

Our work is exciting, innovative, yet exhausting. I spend days and nights wondering if we will heal Kenya. Will people have jobs? Will children be fed by parents? Will Kenyans be served by a just government?

These questions trouble me, and like Isaiah, I carry God’s people’s pain heavy on my heart. Though my mind knows I am not responsible for healing Kenya, my human longing to fix everything interferes, and I feel responsible.

This feeling of disproportionate responsibility often clouds out all else, even the presence and power of God. In that place, despite the inherent joy of my work, I can feel tired and small.

Thankfully, my supervisors know this mind-set is likely to occur and they schedule breaks for us to return home to our places of rest. SSJE’s stone walls and quiet chambers are that place of rest for me. It has become a practice of mine to spend at least two weeks out of my home visit living in community with the Brothers of SSJE.

In writing this piece my mind drifts back to the heavy wooden stalls where we sit to pray as the sun rises behind the stained glass. I hear the words of psalms sung by the ancients, feel the presence of the thousands of seekers of Christ who have sat there before, and I am reminded that I am not alone. I see myself walk to the altar, offer my hands to accept the Eucharist, taste the bread in my mouth, the wine on my lips, and I am comforted by the strength of all who walk with me. I am not alone.

More so, I am not responsible, I am just one of many. There is something incredibly comforting about the strength of SSJE – despite me or any individual, the community of SSJE stands strong. In that view I see myself as God sees me, unbelievably precious, yet one among many. Here, the psalmist’s words are in reach: Be still and know that I am God. 

As I come back into contact with the almighty hand of God I am reminded that the world hardly depends on me. This humility check is vital if I am to stay grounded in the truth that it is God, not me, who desires to heal Kenya. That it is through God’s grace and power that I am acting, and it is through God that we hope to prevail.

So I will continue to come. I invite you to do the same.

Natalie Finstad, an Episcopal Missionary serving in Kenya as the Executive Director and Co-Founder of Tatua Kenya, shares the role SSJE plays in her life.

The Good Samaritan and the Other Good People – Br. Curtis Almquist

curtis4 Luke 10:25-37

There are two lessons to be gleaned from this story Jesus tells about the robbed man, the priest and Levite who pass him by, and the Samaritan who is kind and caring, the hero of Jesus’ story.  The first lesson is a theme to which Jesus returns again and again in so much of his teaching: his preferential option for the other, for the stranger, for least and the last and the lost person.  Continue reading

Do Not Be Afraid – Br. David Vryhof

davidv150x150When we listen to these words from Matthew’s gospel, we are listening in on Jesus’ counsel to his twelve disciples as he prepares to send them out to proclaim the kingdom news.  And we are listening in as Matthew uses these words of Jesus’ to reassure his readers in their witness for the gospel.  And we are, in fact, listening too to the voice of God, speaking to us today in the Word of God, offering us comfort and inspiration to help us face the difficulties of being a Christian in today’s world.

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Wise As Serpents – Br. John Braught

Br. John BraughtSee, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.   Matthew 10:16

Jesus’ words to his disciples as he prepares to send them out into a hostile world are, “Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” This phrase is intriguing, but perplexing to us, as it may have also been to Jesus’ disciples.  For we know that from the beginning, in Genesis, the serpent is cast in an adversarial role, having tempted Adam and Eve with the promise to be like God. So what could Jesus mean when he asks us, his disciples, to be wise as serpents? What wisdom did the serpent possess that Jesus is asking us to adopt? Continue reading

Formed by Community – Br. Jonathan Maury

Jonathan Maury SSJEToday’s scriptures parallel one another in presenting us with images of brothers in community. Genesis portrays the sons of Jacob who are blood brothers, though born of different mothers. In Matthew, Jesus is gathering a community of “brothers” as followers. Some of these are pairs of blood brothers, namely Peter and Andrew, James and John. The others in the group have been paired together as “brothers” to share with the blood brothers in Jesus’ itinerant ministry of exorcism and the healing of diseases. But this group of twelve also has a representative role. Their number and gender symbolize a reconstituted Israel, the nation of twelve tribes descended from the patriarch’s sons. They are being chosen and given authority to act as a focus for the gathering Jesus movement. In company with other “brothers”—and sisters too—they are being empowered to proclaim in word and deed that the kingdom of heaven has come near.

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Fresh Beginnings – Br. Mark Brown

Mark-Brown-SSJE-2010-300x299“So he said to him, ‘What is your name?’ And he said ‘Jacob.’ Then the man said, ‘You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans and have prevailed.’”

Jacob wrestling the angel until daybreak is surely one of the more mysterious and dramatic episodes of the Bible.  Jacob not only prevails, but he is given a new name, a new identity: Israel. Continue reading

On a Mission from God – Br. David Vryhof

davidv150x150In his Spiritual Exercises, St Ignatius of Loyola asks us to imagine a charismatic leader whom we admire and whose life and mission have been an inspiration to us.  Think for a moment of who this person might be for you.  Whom do you admire?  Who has inspired you?… You believe in this person’s values and priorities.  You admire his/her integrity.  You are convinced that the cause he/she represents is so true, so important, so worthy, that you are ready to offer your full support.

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