The Radical Practice of Enclosure – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester

My parents would certainly never have used the word enclosure, nor thought that the practice they were inculcating in their children was a monastic practice, but growing up I lived in a house that lived, to a certain extent, by a limited rule of enclosure.

One of the ways we practiced this was that our bedrooms were off limit to our friends. Bedrooms were not regarded as play areas, and while we could play there quietly on our own, we could not invite our friends into them. We entertained our friends in the living room or the basement, but not in our bedrooms. I was always a little uncomfortable when visiting a friend’s house to be invited into their bedrooms. I had the feeling that I shouldn’t be there. Continue reading

The Advent Crisis and Invitation – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Winston Churchill was reprimanded at one point by Lady Astor for ending a sentence with a preposition.  Churchill responded, “This is the kind of thing up with which I will not put.”[i] Well, I’m thinking here about endings, lots of things coming to an unexpected end in our world and in our nation, some of it surprising, or relieving, or galvanizing, or frightening.  And this coincides with the church year having just ended. Today, the first Sunday of Advent, marks the beginning of the new year for the church, Advent being observed the four Sundays prior to Christmas. Continue reading

I Dream the Dream of the Dream of God – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester

Jeremiah 23: 1 – 6
Canticle 16 or Psalm 46
Colossians 1: 11 – 20
Luke 23: 33 – 43

Those of you who have been on retreat with me in the past, or heard me preach, especially at Emery House, will know that I frequently go back to the same starting point over and again. I often begin with what is my favourite collect, the collect for the Second Sunday after Christmas:

O God, who wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored, the dignity of human nature: Grant that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity, your Son Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.[1] Continue reading

Love One Another – Br. John Braught

Br. John Braught

Luke 21:5-19

These are the end times. I said that to be provocative, though for some people, today, it may hit a little too close to home;[i] but it really is an end time.It’s the end of the liturgical year. In two weeks it will be Advent. Advent is the beginning of the liturgical year – a time of expectant waiting for the Savior to come into the world for the first time. But that’s in two weeks. Now, it’s the end of the liturgical year, and so our readings are apocalyptic in tone in anticipation of Christ’s Second Coming. When will the Second Coming take place? Jesus said, “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first…. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.”[ii] Continue reading

Co-workers Walking in the Truth – Br. David Allen

davidallen_1

3rd John (1-4) 5-8

Today’s First Reading gives us a brief glimpse at life in the second generation of the Early Church.  If we look back to the beginning of this Letter, (3rd John) we can see that it is unique among the Epistles of the New Testament.  It is a letter written by an Elder (perhaps John) in charge of a congregation of Christians, presumably in Asia Minor, probably early in the second generation of the spread of the Church.

This letter is unique because it is not addressed to churches in that region, as most of the Epistles were.  It was addressed to an individual, whose name was Gaius. Continue reading

Saints of the Old Testament – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-12, 23-28, 32-12:2

 Almighty God, in the midst of your people Israel you raised up many saints who through faith in your eternal covenant conquered kingdoms,did justice, and won strength out of weakness. Grant us to hold in glad remembrance their holy lives and fearless witness, that by your grace we may press on towards the goal for the prize of our heavenly calling;through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Studying history is both illuminating and humbling: illuminating because of the great benefit of perspective.  Life in-the-present can leave us quite myopic.  What’s going on in-the-now is very close to us – it’s “in our face” – so much so that we often can’t see around it.  Our perspective is inevitably blocked in some ways.  We could take, for example, the political campaign rhetoric during this past year.  Without the benefit of an historical perspective, the long view, we could simply react to various campaign statements just for their “face value,” but miss the wisdom gleaned from history.  Studying history can also be quite humbling.  It can put us in our place as individuals and as a nation in a very long line as life unfolds down through the centuries.  Today’s celebration of the Saints, the holy ones, of the Old Testament takes the long view, and that’s important for several reasons[i]: Continue reading

Our Prayer becomes “We” – Br. Keith Nelson

Br. Keith Nelson

Luke 20:27-38

In that open field
If you do not come too close, if you do not come too close
On a summer midnight, you can hear the music
Of the weak pipe and the little drum
And see them dancing around the bonfire
The association of man and woman
In daunsinge, signifying matrimonie –
A dignified and commodious sacrament.
Two and two, necessarye coniunction,
Holding eche other by the hand or the arm
Which betokeneth concorde.[i]

The poet T. S. Eliot once paid a visit to the little English village of East Coker, the home of his distant ancestors. It was a kind of pilgrimage, and in an open field with the remains of an ancient stone circle, he imagined a simple, peasant wedding, and a bride and groom long since dead dancing around a fire,

Keeping time,
Keeping the rhythm in their dancing
As in their living in the living seasons
The time of the seasons and the constellations
The time of milking and the time of harvest
The time of the coupling of man and woman
And that of beasts. Feet rising and falling.
Eating and drinking. Dung and death.[ii] Continue reading

Silence is a way of life- Tim Lawrence

IMG_2845I came to the Monastery seeking discipline and refuge. I came to navigate the love that had been offered so beautifully by the Brothers, and assimilate it into my being. I came to worship in community; to find commonality and a shared sense of grace with a small band of brothers and sisters. I came not to escape the world, but to find a new way to be a part of it.

In my time at the Monastery my spirit was hit over the head with a crowbar. I was struck by how much the experience challenged me, frustrated me, and changed me all at once. There were several components of the journey that taught me a great deal about myself, yet there is no doubt that nothing affected me quite like the practice of silence.

Although I had been on numerous monastic retreats, I had never found myself having to commit to long periods of silence, every day, for months on end. I welcomed the challenge, yet I had no idea whether I’d be able to handle it. Much to my surprise, it quickly became a source of great refuge and inner strength for me.

Within days, I found that I was far more present on a moment-to-moment basis. When I was faced with the grief of a friend, I found myself far more available to her. When I would have the opportunity to talk for extended periods of time, I’d speak more slowly and with far more honesty than I normally would in the outside world.

What I learned is that silence forced me to change because I was literally living differently. I became more confident because I was less inclined to seek out the approval of others through empty words. I also chose my words carefully when I did speak, and I spoke with far more authority.

Over time, I came to look forward to it. I looked for ways in which I could be silent and relished the peace that silence would bring me when I was engaging in the mundane matters of life. When I was stocking a kitchen, or raking leaves, or setting a table, I often found myself actively enjoying these activities much more than I had in the past. This happened because I wasn’t just being quiet, I was actively engaging in silence. Silence wasn’t merely the absence of words, it was the activation of an internal intention; a desire to see the world as it really was, and to see myself as I really am. This proved to be much more difficult than it seemed on the surface, but its practice brought about repeated experiences of catharsis, revelation, grief, and joy. It protruded the walls I often placed around my spirit and in so doing gave me a renewed sense of life. It pierced apertures in my self-absorption and forced me to pay attention to my motivations. In short, it did not allow me to hide from myself. I had no choice but to allow myself to be exposed to myself; to stand in the interior of my own soul and to resist the urge to flee into the darkness.

This occurred because I was taking myself out of the comfort of my own inner indulgences in order to face both the gifts and the horrors of my own mind. Over the months, silence became a mechanism by which I accessed a part of myself that I didn’t even know was there. Silence became a means of meditating upon the world in a way that encouraged continual self-reflection, the denial of the ego, and focused discipline.

Words are powerful. Words are our friends. Words are our teachers. Yet they are also often superfluous, distracting, and insidious. They are just as often architects of destruction as purveyors of peace. Silence doesn’t take away these proclivities, as our words are preceded by thoughts, which silence makes us all too aware of. But what silence does is to take us into our thoughts – around them, alongside them – and forces us to pay attention. It demands our presence; our active, unfiltered presence. It does not allow for anything less.

Observing the Greater Silence every night took my focus away from the trivialities of life and laid my soul’s eye directly onto what really mattered, both internally and in community. My inner life was caressed with grace, and my external life was opened with new possibilities. The Brothers’ constant encouragement and invocation to examine my role in this world more honestly served as a source of beauty and strength that I would return to daily until I left.

In the end, I left my monastic journey with the knowledge that silence wasn’t merely a practice; not simply another tool to be added to my arsenal. Instead, I came to see it as something far more powerful: a way of life.

I’ve “learned a lot” – Hannah Tadros

IMG_9355There was a Sunday afternoon when I was a child that I sat my mother down and demanded to know about life and death, where babies come from, and where we go. When my mother had answered all my questions to my satisfaction, I announced, “I’ve learned a lot today,” and left the room confident in my grasp of existence.

To say I’ve “learned a lot” from the Brothers, from the other interns and residents, from the time spent here in prayer and silence, would be a simplification of the same sort. To give in to my tendency to itemize and label each “revelation” and new awareness seems to me to be my thirty-three-year-old version of that same seven-year-old confidence: an only slightly more grown up “I’ve got this.”

During the nine months in the Monastic Internship Program, I always found it difficult to answer the question most commonly posed by guests during Sunday talking meals: “Why are you doing this program?” I think one particularly taxing week I may have responded with, “I heard there was treasure buried under the Chapel.”

As an adult, I haven’t been blessed with the same gift of certainty I had as a child. I cannot claim many affirmative statements about God, myself, or the world. I entered the Monastery with a list of questions ranging from the subject of theodicy to the definition of love. I guess my response to the guests’ repeated question should have been that I came here wanting an index of answers, one monolithic truth about who and what God is, a tremendously long, Roman-numeraled outline entitled “How to Be a Human and Do This Whole ‘Life’ Thing.”

But better than a great big cosmic sense of “I’ve got this” was the invitation to get comfortable in uncertainty. And more relevant than a clearly delineated blueprint of reality were often the quiet truths couched in the negative. “Love is not coercive,” a Brother told us interns. “Force is not of God,” a hymn repeated. And finally, from a James Martin, SJ book we read as a group, words that now speak to me from three Post-It notes on my mirror, “You’re not God. This isn’t heaven. Don’t be a jackass.”

Besides my being sleepy, my most intense experience of my time at SSJE has been one of gratitude. In the understanding I had of faith for most of my life, calling me an unbeliever would be generous. (A generosity often extended to me by those blessed with religious certitude.) By their doing and not doing, by their words and silence, mostly by their astonishing expression of grace, the Brothers have helped heal and widen the damaged and limited awareness of God, self, and faith that I brought with me nine months ago.

                                                                                          – Hannah Tadros