On this Holy Innocents Day, my mind goes back to Salisbury Cathedral where I was ordained. The cathedral is twinned with Chartres Cathedral, and the year after my ordination a huge new East window was put into Salisbury – an incredibly beautiful and powerful window, made in Chartres at the famous workshop of Gabriel Loire – and incorporating that marvelous blue so characteristic of Chartres. The window is called “Prisoners of conscience” and it was dedicated by Yehudi Menuhin, who had worked so tirelessly for Amnesty International. Continue reading
The Winter 2014 issue of Cowley continues the theme of the Reconciliation focusing on reconciliation with the Creation.
- Br. James Koester delves into the scriptural meaning of gardens and how they reflect our deepest longings.
- Can we “own” any part of Creation? Br. Mark Brown relates the Brothers’ experience of stewardship at Emery House.
- The renovated Cloister Garden at the Monastery opens the door for a new relationship with Creation, which Br. Robert L’Esperance shares.
- Br. Jonathan Maury tells of his journey to the Monastery: a slow conversion of being called to wholeness of living.
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“So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you
do not give up all your possessions.” – Luke 14:33
The Brothers have been here since the 1950s, when this farm, which dates from 1635, came into our care, thanks to the generosity of the Emery sisters. But it was not only generosity to the SSJE that motivated these remarkable women. Sarah, Mary Elizabeth, Frances Louisa, and Georgiana Emery were devout Episcopalians who lived modestly on this farm, even after coming into a large inheritance. The legacy they received enabled them to be active in a number of ministries to the poor; in time, their paths crossed with Brothers from the SSJE, who were involved in some of the same charitable work. Continue reading
Gardens and farms have been associated with monastic communities since the beginning of the monastic movement in the Church. We read stories of the Desert Ammas and Abbas tending their gardens. We know from the history of gardening that the monasteries of Europe were always associated with gardening (and in some cases plans and inventories have survived telling us, for instance, that garlic was one of the most popular things grown in English monasteries before the Reformation!) This connection between monasteries and gardens was for practical, theological, and spiritual reasons.
Practically speaking monasteries needed to feed themselves and the extended communities that grew up around them. As they are today, monasteries were centers of hospitality and mission, and there were always people who needed a bed, a meal, and a listening heart. Then, as now, food played an integral role in the daily life of any monastic community. What could not be produced by the monastery needed to be purchased, and so a surplus of what could be produced was used to buy or trade for what could not be produced. By the late middle ages, some monasteries in Europe had become great landholders, employing hundreds of people to farm and tend the land. In some cases land management and tenant relationships became a major preoccupation for many of the monks. Continue reading
Most High, all – powerful, all good, Lord! All praise is yours, all glory, all honor and all blessing.1
There is a cost to being in touch with our natural world. Like just about anything worth having there is a cost to it. There is real joy in discerning nature and its wonders, yet there is also pain in knowing this.
How utterly removed many of us are from nature that we don’t even seem to have a care for what we are looking at. On the one hand we see the autumn colors in the fall and we think “What a pretty picture!” What a glorious creation. Or we see the first spring green in the woods and say to ourselves, “How thrilling!” What a glorious creation. But we know the names of nothing. And that makes our lives easier. Once you learn the name of things, maybe you will see the early fall color along New England roadsides and think, “Oh, my, look at all those choking vines aglow in yellow: oriental bittersweet, everywhere.” That first spring green in the woods? Japanese barberry. The downside to knowing the names of things can be an element of disenchantment.
To witness the Creation truly, it should be an honor to know the names of things, to know our world by name. Naming the world was one of God’s first gifts to humankind. We should be able to name Creation, even though it might sometimes mean introducing new heartache or anxiety into our lives where before there was none, where before there were just pretty pictures.
Learning the names of things also deepens our appreciation for the sugar maple, the white oak, the tree or the shrub we may before have regarded as just some tree or bush like all others. The tree and the shrub become individuals, which is what they are, with an identity in the Creation that is unique and fantastic, with an ancient lineage all its own. A lineage like your own that brought you to this place, time, and moment in Creation. That tree, that shrub is an inheritor of billions of years of survival and each also is a giver to pollinators, birds, and the myriad upon myriad of icky things from which we would rather turn our gaze.
Birders can tell a sparrow from a sparrow, or a gull from a gull – and the world becomes richer, truer, more real. And what might be thought of as a dull sparrow becomes a source of excitement and joy.
All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Earth, our mother, who feeds us in her sovereignty and produces various fruits with colored flower and herbs.
On an August afternoon during the Monastery’s renovation, the Brothers made a field trip to Garden in the Woods, located in Framingham, Massachusetts, about twenty miles west of Boston. That trip constituted a turning point for the community in thinking about how to restore and renovate the Cloister Garden after the site was cleared of the construction materials that were housed there during the renovation. Up to that point, we had been thinking along quite conventional lines. That trip to Framingham helped us to begin to imagine something that would seek to bring other values to our idea of what our garden should be like.
It was in that visit that the idea of a naturalistic, native plant garden was born. The results of that vision are now visible from the cloister windows.
With hundreds – no maybe thousands – of hours of careful research, planning, and design, the community’s friend, Patrick Smith, helped us bring to birth (the process sometimes felt just like that!) a vision of the cloister space that has been a transforming and life-giving experience for the entire community and our guests. Like so many other notions about the earth, the environment, and our role in that great interchange, ideas about what a garden is and should be are undergoing great changes. The garden design that Patrick developed for us tries to take many of these new understandings seriously and put them into practice.
We have been encouraged to think of our garden as an opportunity for us to be the best stewards of the land that we can be. Each plant was chosen with the site in mind, bringing into play the current thinking which advocates choosing plants that are appropriate to the existing environment rather than trying to artificially modify the environment to accommodate a less appropriate choice. This is about working with nature and what nature has already given to the site, rather than imposing something out of place. We also saw our garden as a being that should be life-sustaining to itself, us, and the other living beings with whom we share this space. This impulse lies behind much of what motivates any gardener to sink her hands into the soil: the desire to cultivate and connect with life itself.
Our garden is also intended to be a marker of time. We live our life according to a liturgical calendar that marks the natural rhythms of the seasons by recalling the great salvific acts of the Creator. Through the four seasons, the garden is designed to be a grand calendar, from snow covered limbs, through the bud-break of a million shining chalices, the steamy heat of summer alive with crickets and katydids, and then through the cool and refreshing fire of autumn’s colors.
Finally, the garden is a way of extending monastic hospitality to non-human guests. We are blessedly close to the beautiful Mount Auburn garden cemetery, the home or migration ground to so many birds and animals. Our garden’s berries, water, and shelter are already drawing wild birds that we have never seen before on the Monastery’s urban-enclosed grounds. In a sense, those visiting and lodging birds have become ambassadors by carrying those seeds and berries outside the garden perimeters into the wider world. As a nourishing and nurturing place, the Cloister Garden has in common with other native plant gardens the capacity of existing beyond its borders for the benefit of all.
The new Cloister Garden is a palate that will hopefully help each of us grow more and more into relationship with the individual plants. We hope guests who come will learn, as we Brothers have, to name and know the beautiful and varied forms and flowers of native dogwoods, sourwood, sweet-bay magnolia and autumn witch hazel, old man’s beard, ironwood, serviceberry and paw-paw. We hope you’ll spot the divine presence along the paths that wind through an understory of viburnum, rhododendron, holly, spice-bush, and mountain laurel.
Praise and bless my Lord, and give him thanks, and serve him with great humility.
1. [The italicized lines throughout this article are taken from Francis of Assisi’s Canticle of the Creatures (The Society of St. Francis, Little Portion Friary, Mt. Sinai, NY: 1926).]↩
When I was a young chorister in my parish, I became fascinated by the church’s history and very caught up in its worship. Although only half aware of it at the time, I do remember being very drawn to images of monastics as depicted in books or films. When my brothers and I would play together, they’d always want to be the knights, and me the friar! Also early on, growing up on Nantucket Island, I became aware of a contemplative component to my emerging personality. I spent much time on my own, in solitude and communing with God in nature. Often I had a sense that I was being called to a different kind of life. And hearing the gospels, I knew that Jesus invited people to a different way of being in the world, renouncing individualism and violence, and dedicated to community and mutual love. Continue reading
Christmas is here – this silent and holy night. We are all gathered here in this lovely church to be still – before a great and mighty wonder. “While all things were in quiet silence, and the night was in the midst of her course, thy Almighty Word leapt down from heaven, from thy royal throne.” (Wisdom 18:14) And we have come to adore Him.
Spread out before us is this beautiful crèche, lovingly made from olive wood by woodcarvers in Bethlehem. I love to just stand and gaze at it – with wide-eyed wonder, like a child. I love the flickering candles. It reminds me that it all happened in darkest night. Those shepherds were keeping watch over their flock by night. And that deepest darkness was suddenly shattered by an intense light. “The angel of the Lord stood among them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them.” (Luke 2:9) Continue reading
I have to admit that I haven’t seen that many Christmas pageants. (The truth is, we brothers don’t get out much.) But of the Christmas pageants I have witnessed or been a part of, I am certain that I have never seen one where Joseph is the star of the show. The spotlight is always on Mary and the baby. Joseph stands off to the side, in the shadows, as a necessary, if somewhat embarrassing, appendage, an actor without lines and without anything to do, really.
But in Matthew’s account of the birth of Jesus, Joseph, not Mary, is the primary human actor. Matthew’s narrative takes great pains to identify Joseph as the father of Jesus, tracing out his link to King David in the elaborate genealogy that opens the gospel. And in our gospel lesson today, even if Jesus’ birth is clearly a miracle of God’s power through the Spirit, still Joseph is the real father, who by naming the child according to God’s command, in effect adopts this child as his own. Continue reading
In various apocryphal writings of the early church, this young Mary is presumed to be about fourteen years old when the angel Gabriel visits her with the astounding news we’ve just heard. Mary is betrothed, not yet married. Betrothals, which were legal and binding, were usually arranged between families when girls were still quite young, not accustomed to making decisions for themselves. (1) With the angel’s announcement to her, she is perplexed. She gives some resistance. How this can be, she to be the birthmother of the Son of God? She questions this, and she is afraid, as well she should. Continue reading
Today is the third Tuesday of Advent and the third installment in our Preaching Series. The topic is desire and longing, which I’d like to approach by way of what is sometimes called the Third Advent. The First Advent was the coming of Jesus 2000 years ago, the Incarnation. A physical, human presence that could be seen and heard and touched. We are now waiting for the Second Advent, that is, the Second Coming of Jesus Christ in glory, on clouds descending, every eye beholding.
Of course, Christ is not confined to the past or the future; all time and eternity belong to Christ. Christ comes to us even now, in this life: the Third Advent. In the Gospel of John, as we heard, Jesus promises not only to be with them, but to be in them. We are in him; he is in us. He is the light of the world, the light of all people. Christ comes to us, abides in us, even now. Continue reading
For my first two years here in SSJE, I was the only new man, the sole postulant and then novice with professed brothers. Those were very good and relatively easy first years for me. I enjoyed using my gifts and learning our ways. After two years, our prayers for new men were answered as Jim and John arrived and several more since.
I had not wanted to be the only new man. There was a clear call to come when I did. Before Jim and John arrived, I was fairly comfortable with my experience and perspective of SSJE. New men challenged that. I felt confused, lost—yet with time, more alive—as their presence and relationship further revealed my limitations. Their perspectives broadened my understanding of the community and more importantly challenged me to see and honestly share more of myself. Continue reading
In the calendar of the church we commemorate today the life and ministry of a late nineteenth-century Canadian priest, Simon Thomas Gibbons. (Our community has close ties with the Anglican Church of Canada, with many of our brothers having served over the decades in outpost ministries in Canada and with two of our current brothers being Canadian.) Continue reading
Advent is a time of expectant waiting. We wait for the coming of the Savior, the birth of Jesus. We expect that when the Savior comes – and He will come – He will lead us in the way we should go. The prophet Isaiah reminds us, “Thus says the Lord, Your Redeemer: I am the Lord your God, who teaches you for your own good, who leads you in the way you should go.” (i) Yes, we who follow Jesus can expect Him to lead us; but first, Advent reminds us, we have to wait. We have to wait for the Savior. We have to wait before He can lead us in the way we should go. Continue reading