When war broke out in heaven, Scripture tells us, “Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the world – he was thrown down to earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.”[i]
But just because Satan, literally God’s adversary, was cast out of heaven and thrown down to earth, does not mean the war is over. Just that the front line has moved.
In the calendar of the church, we keep today the feast of Saint Michael and All Angels. Michael is the angel who led the battle against God’s adversary in heaven. Michael’s name is the war-cry of the angels in heaven. Michael’s name means, “Who is like God?” It’s a question; a rhetorical question. No one is like God. When Satan desired in pride to be like God, he faced Michael. The name makes clear that no one is like God but God. Continue reading
Although it doesn’t seem possible, this is already the fifth year of our Monastic Internship Program, in which we invite young people to live alongside us to share our rhythm of life: prayer, worship, work, service, life in community. We have the largest group ever this year: a total of eight, four here and four at Emery House. They come from Australia, Colorado, Texas, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, New York, Maryland and right here in Massachusetts. The program is for me a source of great joy and satisfaction. One of the deeply gratifying things about it is the sense that in participating in the spiritual formation of young people we are participating in the future: the future of the Church, the future of the world.
The internship program is also a source of continual amazement: this year’s group is nothing like any other year’s. Each group of interns has brought to our life a unique combination of qualities and gifts, its own particular vitality, its own particular flavor, its own savor, its own particular “salt”. Jesus is talking about salt today: “For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” [Mark 9: 49-50]
This may be one of the more obscure sayings of Jesus. Sometimes I think he must have taken pleasure in leaving people scratching their heads. Be salted with fire? Have salt in yourselves? “You are the salt of the earth…” [Mat. 5:13] Have salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another? Continue reading
The first time I saw it – and really looked at it – tears of sorrow welled in my eyes. I had been running on a trail through Maudslay State Park near Emery House. A massive, ancient tree with a sprawling network of gnarled roots and a soaring canopy greeted my gaze in a silent embrace. Almost every inch of its bark was covered in deep, jagged scars where names, dates, profane words, and crude drawings had been gouged. Over this surface the garish colors of spray-painted graffiti formed another layer of human commentary on this mute, living canvas. In what might have been a plot of inviting shade beneath its branches stretched a graveyard of empty beer cans, cigarette butts, and other garbage. I sighed deeply, and I knew that in this desecrated parody of a tree I beheld an icon of Christ crucified.
“Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands.” In a manner of speaking, God became public property in the person of Jesus. Of course, God belongs to no one in the sense of ownership. But if we consider God’s desire to become radically accessible and available to all, as we see that desire made manifest in the life of Jesus, the image works. Land held in public trust for the good and access of many, such as a state or national park, is subject to the wise and careful maintenance of those who cherish it, just as it is equally vulnerable to the negligence or abuse of those who treat it as an endlessly available commodity. Just as God was entrusted into human hands in the Incarnation, hands that carefully, lovingly swaddled, fed, caressed and held him, so also the Son of Man is betrayed into human hands that will slap, bind, torture, and nail him to a cross. Continue reading
Sergius was born early in the 14th Century in Radinezeh, Russia, a village near Moscow. It was a time of poverty and hardship in Russia brought about by war. It was also a time of spiritual activity in the Christian World. It was the time of Dame Julian of Norwich and other Mystics in England, and Catherine of Sienna in Italy.
When he was 20 Sergius and his older brother Stephan began living as hermits in the deep forest near their home.
After a time Stephan moved to a monastery in Moscow, but Sergius continued to live in the forest as a hermit. Learning of his deep spiritual knowledge other monks started to come to him for direction, and built their own cells. Eventually they persuaded him to become their Superior. Continue reading
Today we remember and give thanks for Saint Matthew, an apostle and evangelist, called into companionship with Jesus and sent out to share the good news. Matthew’s story reminds us Jesus calls and sends all kinds of people. Matthew worked as a tax collector. Tax collectors were considered traitors to the Jewish people because they worked for the occupying Roman Empire. In league with the enemy, tax collectors were outcasts, barred from Jewish community. Even more striking than uneducated fishermen, Jesus invited Matthew.
Jesus particularly liked and looked out for the least and last on the religious leaders’ list. Especially in Jesus’ day, eating together was a sign of acceptance and belonging. Companion literally means sharing bread. The Pharisees asked Jesus’ disciples: “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus answered them directly: “Those who are well have no need of a physician but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’” Continue reading
Why does Jesus speak in parables? And what is the purpose of this parable that we have before us today? On the one hand, we could say that parables, because they draw on everyday experiences, can be understood by everyone: even children could recognize that seed sown on a hard path or into a patch of weeds would not produce fruit. But if the meaning of the story is that obvious, why tell it at all? In fact, the parable is meant to tease the listener into further reflection. The listener recognizes at once the obvious, literal meaning — but has to ponder more deeply its significance.
Biblical scholar C.H.Dodd offers this definition of a parable: “At its simplest, the parable is a metaphor or simile drawn from nature or common life, arresting the hearer by its vividness or strangeness, and leaving the mind in sufficient doubt about its precise application to tease it into active thought.”[i] So the purpose of a parable is to “tease [the mind] into active thought.”
Today we celebrate the life of Edward Bouverie Pusey, a key figure in the 19th century movement often called the Catholic Revival, or the Oxford Movement. As the word “revival” suggests, this movement was, at its best, about reviving a church that had become sleepy. Pusey was in the very epicenter of the controversies that come with challenging the status quo, but showed heroic patience and perseverance in the midst of it all. He is also remembered for his extraordinary generosity in contributing his family fortune for the re-founding of religious orders. (There had been no monasteries in England since Henry VIII shut them all down and confiscated their land—so, great country houses called “such-and-such Abbey” were built on land that had belonged to monasteries.)
The Society of Saint John the Evangelist is part of Pusey’s legacy: his ideas and the movement generally were the air Fr. Benson and the other founders breathed in Oxford. The early stages of the Catholic Revival, incidentally, might be distinguished from the later Ritualist Movement and high Anglo-Catholicism of later in the 19th century—into which the SSJE was also absorbed (probably not without a certain amount of skepticism of Fr. Benson….) Continue reading
Hildegard, Abbess of Bingen and Mystic, 1179
We remember today a remarkable woman in the history of the church, Hildegard of Bingen, who died on this day in 1179. Hildegard was many things: visionary, monastic, preacher, doctor, herbalist, theologian, musician, composer, author, prophet, correspondent. While she certainly was not obscure in her lifetime, she became obscure in succeeding generations. It is only in the last few decades that she has emerged from the mists as the church has rediscovered the priestly, prophetic and pastoral ministry of women. In many ways, as she has become known to us in the 21st Century, we have discovered in her a very modern woman. Her concerns are our concerns, and she speaks to us with the same force and immediacy as she spoke to her contemporaries. Continue reading
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“Have you ever fallen in love before?”
What could this question have to do with discovering a vocation to the monastic life? Br. James Koester, the community’s current superior, explains why he likes to ask this question of men inquiring into SSJE: “Falling in love is one of the most profoundly spiritual experiences a person can have.” However we live, he explains, and wherever, we are all called by God to be lovers.
Whenever a man expresses an interest in our life, David, who is the novice guardian, invites him to make a few visits to us here to the monastery. Over these visits he gets to know us, and we him. During those visits, he has a brief experience of our life. He joins us for the Offices and the Eucharist, shares in some of the household chores that need to be done to keep this place running, and is invited for countless walks along the river or endless cups of tea, so that individual brothers can have a conversation with him.
For a number of years now, when it is my turn to have a conversation with a prospective member of the community, I ask him the usual questions. Where is he from? What does he do? How did he find us? What is he looking for? I wait for him to ask me questions. Eventually I ask him the one question, indeed really the only question that I am interested in. I ask him if he has ever fallen in love before. For whatever reason, most men, when I ask that question are completely taken aback. It is not a question they are expecting. But for me the question, or in truth the answer, is essential.
Now, just to be clear, I am not interested in the ins and outs of his love life. I don’t want to know the gory details of his romances. I just want to know if he has ever fallen in love and what that experience was like for him.
Throughout 2016, the Brothers will be reflecting on how our relationship with Creation can deepen and shape our life with God. This Cowley takes up that theme.
In the Monastic Wisdom article on “Living in Rhythm,” Br. James Koester marvels how the rhythms of the creation can draw us into deeper life with God and greater balance within ourselves.
Download a PDF here: Living in Rhythm: Following Nature’s Rule
Click on the links below to read selected articles from the 2015 Fall Cowley.
- Br. Keith Nelson shares how his season at Emery House has shaped his vocation.
- Br. John Braught discusses how his connection to the natural world at Emery House informs his prayer.
- This year’s Grafton House Interns reflect on the graces and joys of their internship experiences, living surrounded by the beauty of creation.
- Do you embrace change or resist it? In an interview, Br. Luke Ditewig narrates his journey to the Monastery and looks forward to a lifetime of change.
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Q: When did you first begin to have a sense of a monastic vocation?
I went to seminary right after college because an internship made me think I wanted to be a hospital chaplain. After my first year I got a real taste of chaplaincy in Clinical Pastoral Education and found I did not want to be a hospital chaplain. It was quite a shock: everything I had expected – the very reason why I’d come to seminary – turned out to be not as I thought.
I continued my seminary studies and chose a full-time, year-long internship so that, like CPE, I could learn and discern further by doing ministry outside the classroom. I’m from California and studied near Boston and in Princeton. God sent me on a cross-cultural adventure of parish ministry immersion in western Nebraska. I returned for a second year after seminary alongside a different priest. Then I moved to a desert island. Campus by the Sea, a Christian camp on Catalina off the coast of Los Angeles, is a special home and thin place where I’ve encountered God all my life. I grew up frequenting it as my dad led collegian retreats, later volunteering as a teenager. Leaving Nebraska, I followed a long-held dream by returning to camp for a whole year on staff. Continue reading
This year, three exceptional young people took part in the Monastic Internship Program at Grafton House, living, worshipping, and working together for nine months. We asked them to reflect on what they will take away from the experience.
Above all I have been completely and utterly overjoyed by the people with whom I’ve shared this internship experience. We only have six people living here on the Emery House property: three Brothers and three Interns. It’s a much smaller community than at the Monastery, more like being part of a tight-knit family. Continue reading
Living at Emery House for a time is something of a rite of passage for every SSJE novice. Here are some reflections on my experience of prayer and life here as this season of my formation draws to a close.
It’s been said that monastic life is simply the ordinary Christian life but lived within a uniquely intentional “frame.” That frame consists of a particular Rule of Life, the vows, the ancient wellspring of monastic tradition, a definite charism, and the collective experience of a particular community. Physical space is another such vocation-shaping frame. Continue reading
On a recent visit to Emery House, a friend humorously remarked that waking up to his dawn simulator alarm clock with recorded birdsong is not quite the same as the real thing. What my friend said is funny, because it goes without saying. Of course it’s not the same! There is a lot more to the early mornings at Emery House than the gradual light of the sunrise and the frenetic clamor of birdsong. Waking up in clear and observable nature gives a person an awareness of being part of something larger, greater than one’s self. That’s why I like to pray here. Continue reading
Is there anyone here this morning who does not want to be wise?
It seems a silly question; who wouldn’t want to be wise? And yet, the picture we have before us from the book of Proverbs suggests there are those who spurn wisdom and stubbornly choose to remain in their foolishness.
The opening chapter of Proverbs imagines Wisdom as a woman calling out in public places – in the streets, on busy corners, at the entrance to the city (v.20,21) – making herself accessible to all. She longs to be listened to, to be heeded, but her counsel is ignored. She calls to the “simple” who don’t know any better, to the “scoffers” who delight in cynicism, and to the “fools” who despise knowledge; but they do not listen (v.22). If only they would change their ways, she would make God’s ways known to them (v.23). But they are unwilling to heed her rebukes or accept her counsel (v.24,25). Instead, they laugh at her. Continue reading
The summer before last, I had a lot of trouble with a fox at Emery House. Over the course of a few weeks the fox managed to kill about half my chickens. Every time I tried to “out fox” him, he succeeded in figuring out a new way to kill the chickens. One Saturday, just after he had killed two of my chickens he was scared off by John Smith, one of our guests. John came down to the house to report this to me, but by the time I got up to the coop the fox had returned and killed two more. As John and I were inspecting the carnage he turned to me and said: “James, there’s a lot of death on a farm.”
In a way, farms and monasteries aren’t all that different. There is a lot of death in a monastery. It is not that foxes are leaping over the cloister wall and killing unsuspecting monks, but many of our monastic rituals remind us of the present reality of death. This would be true even if we hadn’t just celebrated the funeral of our brother Eldridge, or weren’t anticipating the year’s mind of our brother Tom. There is just a lot of death in a monastery. Continue reading
“Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” [John 12:25]
I find these words about hating your life in this world troubling taken at face value. Isn’t life a precious gift that we should cherish? And if we’re all supposed to hate our lives in this world, are we also supposed to hate each other’s lives? Should we prefer never having been born?
The way I make peace with this hard saying is to think of it as provocative exaggeration: the challenge is to discover the truth for ourselves, much like in a parable. There is such a thing as healthy self-care, healthy self-regard and healthy enjoyment of this life. Jesus did, after all, come as healer and giver of new life—and he is remembered as enjoying dinner parties to the point of being accused of gluttony and drunkenness. Continue reading
Micah 5:2-5a; Romans 8:28-30; Matthew 1:18-25
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, one of a few Marian Feasts that is revered by some and viewed with suspicion by others. It is a Feast that is celebrated in the Roman Catholic, Anglican and Eastern Orthodox traditions, but is not in most other mainline protestant traditions. The reason for this is complicated, but in brief Medieval Divines insisted that in terms of Marian devotion there be a distinction between hyperdulia and latria; hyperdulia meaning ‘strong reverence,’ and latria meaning ‘worship,’ which belonged to God alone. However, the line between hyperdulia and latria, between reverence and worship was often easily blurred and Marian devotion sometimes slid into what was termed “Mariolatry.”[i] On a personal note, I grew up in an Evangelical Protestant tradition in which hyperdulia AND latria were blasphemous and those who did any of that were a part of the ‘cult of Mary!’ Continue reading
There’s a scene in the movie, Walk the Line, that is worth remembering. Walk the Line is the story of country singer Johnny Cash and in one of the early scenes, the boy Johnny and his older brother Jack are getting ready for bed. Jack is given to reading the Bible, as he’s doing now, and he dreams of becoming a pastor. Johnny turns to his older brother and asks, “Why do you spend so much time reading the Bible?” Jack considers the question and then replies, “You can’t help people unless you know the stories.”
“You can’t help people unless you know the stories” — which suggests that stories like the ones we have in today’s gospel reading have something to give us, something to teach us; they’re meant to help us. So what might these two stories – the story of the Syrophoenician woman and the story of the deaf man – have to teach us? Continue reading