1 Kings 8:22-23, 41-43
Many of you will know that four of us brothers recently returned from leading a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. With the exception of that wild and dangerous frontier to the north of us known as Canada, it was my first trip out of the country. And for my maiden journey across the world, it was epic. I have been asked many times what part of the experience was most significant for me. I’d like to say it was touching the rock of Golgotha; or renewing my baptismal vows on the banks of the river Jordan; or perhaps even the celebrations of Eucharist on the Mount of the Beatitudes and at Emmaus. And yes, all of these were greatly poignant but in a way that I expected them to be. Continue reading →
In the year 1883, on the 14th day of October, the Episcopal Church ordained Henry Winter Syle to the priesthood. Mr. Syle was born in China, the son of missionary parents, and became deaf at an early age after contracting scarlet fever. He went on to be educated at Trinity College in Hartford – the same institution from which Dick Mahaffy received his undergraduate education – and at Yale University.Syle was a student and a parishioner of Thomas Gallaudet and through Gallaudet’s influence, he became more and more involved in Christian ministry with Deaf people. Henry Winter Syle was the first Deaf man to be ordained in the Episcopal Church, and the first to be ordained in the United States. He went on to become the founder of All Souls’ Church of the Deaf in Philadelphia. Continue reading →
1 Cor. 10:1-4, 16-17
“Blessed, praised, hallowed and adored be our Lord Jesus Christ on his throne of glory in heaven, in the most Holy Sacrament of the altar, and in the hearts of all his faithful people.” So goes a prayer said by some priests when they return to the sacristy after a Eucharist.
Today we celebrate “The Body and Blood of Christ”, or “Corpus Christi”. It’s a feast added to the calendar in the 13th century as a way to celebrate the institution of the Eucharist outside Holy Week. Maundy Thursday, of course, celebrates the institution of the Eucharist, but there’s so much going on otherwise that day that it was felt we needed another occasion to commemorate this event and in a more festive way than is possible in the shadows of the Passion. Continue reading →
In the summer of 1991 the members of the North American Congregation of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist made a pilgrimage to Great Britain to mark the 125th anniversary of the founding of our Society. We began the pilgrimage in Oxford, where the Society was founded in 1866, and proceeded to Iona, an island off the west coast of Scotland with a long monastic history. The boundary in Iona between heaven and earth is considered very thin. We spent a week on Iona in retreat. From there we returned to Oxford for a final week of conversations and services. Continue reading →
Today we celebrate an idea—an idea that represents our best understanding of the mystery and paradox of God: the Holy Trinity. There is one and only one God; and this God is a trinity of persons.
There’s a delightful poem about the Trinity called “The Creed of St. Athanasius”. Whoever wrote it (it wasn’t St. Athanasius) probably didn’t mean to write delightful poetry, but I do find it both delightful and poetic. Here are a few lines from the Creed of St. Athanasius:
“… we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons; nor dividing the Essence. For there is one Person of the Father; another of the Son; and another of the Holy Spirit. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, is all one; the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal. Such as the Father is; such is the Son; and such is the Holy Spirit. The Father uncreated; the Son uncreated; and the Holy Spirit uncreated. The Father unlimited; the Son unlimited; and the Holy Spirit unlimited. The Father eternal; the Son eternal; and the Holy Spirit eternal. And yet they are not three eternals; but one eternal. As also there are not three uncreated; nor three infinites, but one uncreated; and one infinite. So likewise the Father is Almighty; the Son Almighty; and the Holy Spirit Almighty. And yet they are not three Almighties; but one Almighty. So the Father is God; the Son is God; and the Holy Spirit is God. And yet they are not three Gods; but one God. So likewise the Father is Lord; the Son Lord; and the Holy Spirit Lord. And yet not three Lords; but one Lord… And in this Trinity none is before, or after another; none is greater, or less than another. But the whole three Persons are coeternal, and coequal. So that in all things, as aforesaid; the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity, is to be worshipped…” Continue reading →
The feast we are celebrating today is distinctive from other feasts in the Church’s calendar. On this day we do not revere a particular saint or recall an event from the biblical narrative, as we do on so many other occasions. Instead, this feast day points us to a specific date in the history of Anglicanism – June 9, 1549, the feast of Pentecost – when the Book of Common Prayer was introduced in the Church of England. It draws us back to the time of the English Reformation and the brief reign of Edward VI, son of Henry VIII, and to an event which set the direction and course of Anglicanism for centuries to come.
Why are this date and this particular event so important as to warrant a feast day of their own? What cause do they give us today for celebration? I might suggest three treasures this feast holds for us: First, it is a celebration of our faith. Second, it is a celebration of our unity. And third, it is a celebration of our mission in the world. Continue reading →
I must confess that I have always been more than a little envious of those who, at least to me appear to be able, to acquire another language with hardly any effort. I have always struggled to learn a second language.
As a child my parents enrolled all my siblings and me in private French lessons, but when French became available at school, it was like starting over again. Each year was the same, I would struggle all year to learn a few basics, scrap by with a pass at the end of the school year, and then forget everything in the summer and start from square one again on the Fall. I finally dropped out of Latin in high school. In the first year of seminary, I enrolled in Greek. Early in the term of first year the Greek professor arranged for us all to take a language aptitude test. My years of struggling to learn another language all came together with that test, and finally made sense. Continue reading →
As we draw near the Feast of Pentecost it is a time for us to think deeply about the gifts of the Holy Spirit given at Pentecost and what they mean for us as members of the Church.
Jesus in his discourse at the Last Supper promised that an Advocate would be given the disciples. He did not say much then. We know that in those words he was giving his disciples the promise of the Holy Spirit. Through their words it is given to us. Continue reading →
An ancient monastic principle about inner freedom: freedom to be fully alive is found in the context of limitation. This is quite counter-cultural. In western society we are identified as “consumers” in a market economy that is constantly alluring us with dissatisfaction, where what is next or what is new is promised to be better than what is now. We hear the pitch, “You can have it all … and you should,” as if more is more and never enough. Monastic wisdom counters this delusion with the elixir of “contentment,” a word which comes to us from the Latin contentus: to be satisfied or contained. Less is more. The grace of contentment presumes that what is, is enough. Continue reading →
How did you first become interested in the monastic life?
One day back in October 2003, I started exploring the “links” section of the website for the church I was then attending, and I found there a list of monastic communities’ sites. I already knew that there were monastic communities, but for some reason, on this day, the fact that they had websites intrigued me. I wondered, “What the heck do they put on them?” So I started clicking through – the Franciscans, the Benedictines – and, you know, there weren’t really any surprises; it was just monks and nuns. But the last website I visited was SSJE’s. And it had this line on the front page: “We’re men living traditional vows in a non-traditional setting of Harvard Square. We’re learning to pray our lives.” And for some reason that is what struck me: Tradition in a non-traditional place and praying our lives. Continue reading →
As Director of the Fellowship of Saint John, over the years I have received – from committed members of the FSJ and from probationers trying the rule – a request to temporarily suspend their participation in the Fellowship. Most often the reason given is a perceived inability to “keep up” with their personal version of a rule of life. In the past, I’ve been inclined to accept this view without argument. But more recently I’ve tended to push back. Here’s my reason why.
In the gospels, Jesus is criticized for failing to “Keep the Sabbath day holy,” both for his acts of healing and for his disciples’ “work” on the Sabbath in plucking grain to eat. Jesus answers his critics by stating that God’s loving desire to help and heal all creatures overrides a rigid interpretation of the written law. Jesus teaches that the Sabbath observance is a gift of God: the Sabbath was created to serve humanity, not humanity to serve the Sabbath.
Similarly, I’ve come to believe that keeping a personal rule of life is to be seen as a gift of God, a way for becoming fully alive in Christ. By means of our baptism into Christ’s continuous dying and rising, we participate in God’s own life as members of a beloved and redeemed community. Thus the FSJ rule is not a task by which to achieve some self-styled perfection, but an invitation to companionship with God, the SSJE Brothers, and other members. The moment when we’re feeling least able to “keep” our personal rule on our own is the very time to breathe deeply of God and ask for help to creatively, lovingly adapt the rule to our present circumstances.
I wonder if there might be readers of Cowley who have delayed or denied themselves the chance to become members of the Fellowship for similar reasons, out of a sense that they were not somehow, or in some way, “enough” just at this moment: not committed enough, not prepared enough, and so on. If so, I would encourage you: Consider whether becoming a member of the Fellowship might be, not a marker of your arrival at some destination, but a way of a joining companions on the journey. We truly are joined to the Fellowship, even when – and perhaps especially when – during difficult times and fear of failure, we gratefully accept it as Christ’s gift for us.
To learn more or apply to become a member of the FSJ, visit www.SSJE.org/fsj
Pat’s spontaneous evaluation of our recent six days at Emery House: It was “magical.” Both of us have years of experience sitting grueling 7-day Zen sessions while faithfully attending Trinity Episcopal Church here in Bloomington, Indiana. God decided last year it was finally time to have our cake and eat it too. Long days and nights of perfect silence and stillness before the Buddha with chanting and simple meals became at SSJE periods of contemplative solitude before icons on demand, amplified by 4-5 services a day including Eucharist, extraordinary food, the wonderful hospitality of the Brothers, and a lovely rural New England setting. More specifically we remember Br. Nicholas’ warm greeting at Emery House, Br. John’s quiet introduction to the Virgin Mary, and Br. Curtis’ daily routine of helping Pat, who has difficulty balancing on stairs, down into the main dining room. We remember building and feeding daily fires in our hermitage, eating breakfast, reading and enjoying quiet together listening to an intern chop wood outside: an intimacy like a spiritual honeymoon. We remember reciting psalms in congregation, then chanting psalms, then breaking into harmony with hymns (the latter even more thrilling in Cambridge). We remember frosty country walks, and night reflections on the Merrimack River at flood stage. Despite a long drive, we remember coming home rested.
My collaborative practice group spent four days in retreat at the Society of Saint John the Evangelist’s Monastery in Cambridge in October of 2015. The experience was much more than I could have ever imagined. The peace and tranquility shown by each of the Brothers and most particularly, the compassionate guidance of our retreat leader, helped me to become more prepared to deal with the bustle and demands of my job as I help families in pain and transition. I was overwhelmed by the generosity and humility of these men who have dedicated their lives to making a difference in the world and who challenged me and showed me, through example, how to pause in my day to breathe and move forward with gratitude and self-awareness. I am deeply appreciative of the opportunity to learn from the Brothers and experience the beauty of this place.
SSJE has been a beacon of prayer, hope, and joy for me for more than thirty years. In my first days in seminary, it was a place of solitude and respite amid the storms of learning. Serving the church as a young priest, I awaited the Cowley Publications catalog like gardeners look for the spring seed catalogs. A decade in New England reconnected me to the community through spiritual direction and retreat. Now, while a little farther away, the digital world keeps me connected and I count the days until my next trip to Emery House or the Monastery. Good worship, good counsel, good hope; I have received them all from the Brothers.
I have been a lay reader at my church for fourteen years. I also do pastoral visiting at seniors’ residences and nursing homes as well as with shut-ins. I am still on call to the Hospice of Windsor and Essex County, where I have volunteered for twenty-five years. Sometimes people ask me, “How do you do it?” I reply “with prayer and with God’s help.” As I have aged I have valued prayer more, and it is good to be connected with people who have a discipline of prayer. The Brothers’ words convey that. As a cradle Anglican from Canterbury Kent UK, I like that connection and I like the depth of thought in what I have read from the Brothers. The Brothers’ online teachings keep that connection for me.
At the suggestion of my parish priest, prior to my marriage, I attended the “first retreat in silence” at Emery House. My five-day experience changed my life in many ways, but most importantly put it in correct perspective. Learning to “be” was a huge risk in my mind. Being with myself, at peace, became comfortable as I discovered Christ within. Through prayer with the Brothers and some private counseling while on retreat, I realized that I am loved by God through Christ and that is the most important aspect of my existence. I am not alone! My prayer life was revitalized and following the Fellowship Rule has become a routine, a passion. My singing in my parish choir, vestry involvement, eucharistic ministering and my marriage took on new meaning. I now love my church and feel fully at home both here and with the Brothers and look forward to and long for my next visit.
I’ve known SSJE for over forty years and, in that time, I don’t think the community has essentially changed at all. The community has always been doing its utmost for its mission to witness to Christ for everyone who comes by, or who is invited, or happens in. It’s a wonderful thing that SSJE is so steady – so steadily aware of itself and its mission to be an inspiration, a guide, a sort of spiritual home for the laity.
And yet, at the same time, I’ve also always appreciated how SSJE is forward-looking. A document like their Rule of Life is an inspiration to those who want Christianity to be imaginative, innovative, and always looking for signs that God’s will might be different from what it has been heretofore. I’ve always felt well, if SSJE is doing it, it’s okay. I had a spiritual director elsewhere for about ten years, but when that ended, I did not succeed in finding another one. Instead, now I test things against what the monks are doing, or saying, or preaching. I have a number of sermons printed out from what the Brothers make available online. There are some that I return to on a regular basis because they seem to be so clear and so applicable to what I’m experiencing. In a way, SSJE has filled in as my spiritual director. Now with Brother, Give Us a Word, I look forward to contacting my “gurus” every morning when I start my prayer session.