The Politics of Prayer – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester

Hebrews 12: 1 – 4
Psalm 22: 22 – 30
Mark 5: 21 – 43

It’s been quite a week. It’s been quite a week and, no doubt there is more to come. We have seen protests, demonstrations, and acts of witness, support and solidarity. We have seen millions in this country and around the world on the streets, in airports, in front of hotels all voicing their concern, their objections, and their resistance. It’s been quite a week, and there promises to be more to come. It seems that there is a new normal taking root, not just in this country, but around the world. My hunch, and it’s only a hunch, is that what we have seen in the past week, is what the next four years will be like, so we had all better get used to it.

For us a Christians as we watch the news, read the newspapers, talk with our friends and neighbours the questions at times like these is always: “should the Church be involved? Should the Church ever be involved?” There are those among us who would argue that the Church should stay out of politics; that the Church should never take a stand on this issue or that; that the Church must limit itself to the spiritual realm and leave the temporal realm alone. There are those who would argue that Jesus was not political; that he came to establish a heavenly kingdom and not an earthly one; that he opposed the mixing of the things of God with the things of Caesar, and so should we. Continue reading

Fishing for the Fisher – Br. Keith Nelson

Br. Keith Nelson

Matthew 4:12-23

Jesus said, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of people.”

“Fishers of people” – in older translations of the Bible, “fishers of men” – is one of those phrases in the Gospels that I have noticed myself avoiding over the years in my meditation with scripture or when it surfaces in the lectionary. I don’t have much first-hand knowledge of fishing, but that’s not the source of the disconnect, because I don’t have first-hand knowledge of most activities and objects that were common in first century Palestine. When I hear the phrase “fishers of men,” I have mostly tended to think of a certain strategy of Christian mission legitimated by the imperative to “spread our nets” throughout the known world and “catch souls for Jesus” by any means possible. In other words, I think of mission malpractice, tightly interwoven with the history of British and American imperialism. So I have to sink deeper to hear these words from another angle, an angle that will yield the Life and Light I seek in these sacred pages. Thinking of myself or other people as fish is also challenging: fish out of water, hooked, confused, gasping for air and wondering how on earth they got from point A to point B.

But here I realize I’ve gotten ahead of myself. I do, in fact, have some personal acquaintance with fishing, lured up into my conscious mind by the words of today’s gospel reading. For your consideration, I offer you two brief stories from the “gospel of Keith.” Continue reading

Who is Jesus for you? – Br. John Braught

Br. John BraughtThe Feast of the Confession of Saint Peter the Apostle
Matthew 16:13-19

For many prayerful people, God’s love is largely theoretical. They can intellectually grasp that God is love, but they do not feel it. I have been among this class of people, and I have listened to others express a similar lament. When someone tells me they intellectually know that God is love but they do not feel it, I ask them the same question that was put to me when I felt this way: “Who is Jesus for you?” Often, this question takes people by surprise. Often, (and it was the case for me) there is an uncomfortable silence, and a level of uncertainty is expressed. For many prayerful people, Christians among them, even people who love God, and who desire to follow God; many of them remain ambivalent about Jesus. Continue reading

Antony & Adoration – Br. Luke Ditewig

Br. Luke Ditewig

Today we remember Antony of Egypt, the founder of Christian monasticism, who moved out into the desert alone to pray. When Antony emerged from the desert and learned of a great persecution of the church, he returned to the city and cared for those in trouble. Later he returned to the desert but many people came out to see him and hear his wisdom. Judges repeatedly called Antony down to the city to advise them in their rulings.

Solitude for prayer, for focusing on relationship with God, is key to our life and what we offer on retreat. Monasticism like ours is life shared together, a company of friends who prioritize friendship with Christ. Continue reading

Overcoming Discouragement – Br. David Vryhof

Br. David VryhofIsaiah 49:1-7

The words of Isaiah, the prophet: “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity” (Isa 49:4).

We’ve all been there, haven’t we?  In that valley of desolation and discouragement; that place where we start wondering if our efforts have made a difference, if they have been appreciated, if they’ve been worthwhile, if we’ve accomplished anything of value.  Isaiah is discouraged.  The people are in exile and all his efforts to redirect them to God have been met with indifference.  He feels like a failure.  “I have labored in vain,” he sighs, “I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity.”

Discouragement is something we all experience from time to time.  We may feel trapped in a dead-end job or a strained relationship, and have no sense of how to move forward.  We may be enduring a chronic illness, with no relief in sight.  We may find ourselves consumed with worry about our finances or our home or our work, and we wonder if things will ever get better.  A sense of hopelessness settles over us, and we despair of our future.  It’s difficult to imagine our circumstances improving and we’re not sure if we have the strength to go on. Continue reading

Sermon for St. Aelred of Rievaulx – Br. David Allen

davidallen_1

Phil. 2:1-4
Mk 12:28-34a

Saint Aelred, whose feast we keep today, was born in 1109 in Northumbria, England, and became a Cistercian Monk in 1133.

        In August of 1991 members of the North American Congregation of the SSJE made a three week visit to the U.K. to places significant in the life of our Society.  After a week of retreat on Iona we made a short visit to the ruins of Rievaulx Abbey before going on to Durham Cathedral. Traveling east through the outskirts of Edinburgh we proceeded westward across England following the course of Hadrian’s Wall.  At a point where we could just see York Minster at a distance, shrouded with scaffolding, we turned north onto a smaller road through wooded hills heading for Rievaulx. When we descended into the valley we came to the ruins of the abbey, high walls and no roof.  It was hard to imagine what the Abbey Church must have looked like with windows and a roof. Nevertheless, it was thrilling to see the beautiful valley where Aelred had lived and prayed.  After our visit to Durham we went on to other significant places before returning to Oxford and then the USA. Continue reading

Jesus’ Baptism; Our Mission – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

Isaiah 42:1-9
Matthew 3:13-17

The first lesson appointed for today, the reading we heard from the Prophecy of Isaiah, begins with the words: “Here is my servant; …I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.”[i]  Now this reading is like a supernatural transcription of what the prophet Isaiah heard from God: God’s spirit being promised to the long-awaited Messiah, and also, God’s spirit reaching to foreign nations and distant lands, to the gôyîm, the non-Jews, people like many of us.  How will we know?  What will be the evidence of God’s spirit at work?  What will be the outward sign, the fruit of God’s spirit among us?  Justice.  Justice to the nations.  These opening words of Isaiah, God’s prophet, about the forthcoming Messiah, and then, later,when Jesus, the Messiah, begins his ministry, his opening words are about justice.[ii] Continue reading

Test the Spirits – Br. Keith Nelson

Br. Keith Nelson

1 John 3:18—4:6

“You don’t have to believe everything you think.”

It’s a phrase that seems to appear everywhere these days, from bumper stickers to headline articles in the Huffington Post and Psychology Today. It captures, in a brief and memorable phrase, some real wisdom about the nature of the mind. The mind is capable of being held hostage, by seemingly demanding and imperious thoughts and feelings, all day long. “What the hell is his problem?…I need to buy milk!…I love her so much I would die without her…That is the cutest puppy I’ve ever seen!… Why am I so worthless?” The mind is also capable of gentle, inner observation, quiet equipoise, and spacious non-judgment, capacities which can open a space of sanity and healthy detachment in our experience of self. Through the development of an inner, witnessing presence, we can begin to see the truth in that phrase: “I don’t have to believe everything I think.” We can forgive ourselves for the negative thoughts that arise and we can avoid the ego’s swift, smug self-congratulation for positive thoughts that all too quickly dissolve. We can actively engage our thoughts in prayer with a certain level of objectivity, as in the Ignatian spiritual practice called the examen of conscience – also sometimes called “examen of consciousness.” We can cultivate our inner muscle of release or self-emptying of thoughts through even older forms of contemplative prayer. We can begin to find in our thoughts essential clues to our integration and our salvation. We can lay claim to the thoughts that tell our true story. Continue reading

The Power of the Name of Jesus – Br. David Vryhof

Br. David Vryhof

In the ancient worlds of Greece and Rome, the power of a name was very real.  It was widely assumed that the essence of a being resided in its name, and that if people could gain access to the names of supernatural beings they could influence them and perhaps entice them into serving their purposes.  Magicians and sorcerers abounded who promised to reveal their secrets to common people.  Their spells often included dozens of divine names.  It was hoped that at least one of them would “hit the mark” and force a supernatural being to bring about a desired result.

The ancient Hebrews did not normally engage in such magic; in fact sorcery was forbidden under their laws.  But they shared the cultural assumptions of their Gentile neighbors about the power of divine names.  The sacred name of “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” was a thing of immense power, so sacred that it could not be spoken. The essence of God’s being was carried in a four-letter word, YHWH (Yahweh) that could be recited only by a priest and only on special holy days.  Another Hebrew word, Adonai, which we translate as “the Lord,” was used to refer to God in everyday discourse. Continue reading