About Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Brother Geoffrey Tristram is the superior of the Society of St. John the Evangelist (SSJE), an Episcopal religious community in Cambridge Massachusetts. Brother Geoffrey was born in Wales and studied theology at Cambridge University before training to be a priest at Westcott House theological college. He came to the United States eleven years ago to join SSJE and has pursued a ministry of teaching, spiritual direction and retreat leading, and for three year years he has served as chaplain to the House of Bishops. Before coming to SSJE he served as parish priest in the diocese of St. Albans, as well as the head of department of theology at Oundle School, a large Anglican high school in the English Midlands.

Authority – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Br. Geoffrey TristramMatt. 21:23-37; Psalm 1

How dare you come into this sacred place?  How dare you claim to heal the blind and the lame?  How dare you vandalize this holy place, throwing tables onto the floor, with money flying in every direction?

How dare you – who are you anyway?  You’re a nobody from Nazareth of all places.  How dare you?  And then the really telling question.  Where does your authority come from?  The chief priests and elders know where their authority was from: They had the legal qualifications to prove it.  But what about Jesus?  He had no documents – no legal qualifications.  You’ve got no authority.

But he did.  And it was recognized constantly.  Earlier in Matthew, at the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, we read, “the crowd was astonished by his teaching because he taught them as one having authority – and not like the scribes.” (Matt. 7:28) Continue reading

Funeral Service M. Thomas Shaw, SSJE – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Ezekiel 36:22-28
Philippians 1:3-11
John 11:21-27

It was three weeks ago, on one of those stunningly beautiful fall days.  I was sitting at Tom’s bedside in his beloved hermitage at Emery House, with his sister Penny.  We had just anointed him and prayed with him, and he was looking out, gazing up through those huge windows at the brilliantly blue sky and the trees.  He wanted all the shutters open, so he could see – see the golden leaves dazzling and shimmering in the sunlight.

We gazed with him, in silence, and it seemed that the whole of creation was on fire with God’s glory.  At that precious moment it felt like God was gifting us with just a glimpse of the glory that awaits us all – the glory which I have no doubt Tom is now enjoying.   Tom, who loved St. Paul, believed and trusted absolutely, that “this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory.” Continue reading

Time: Redeeming the Gift – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

SSJE144We are probably more aware than any previous generation of how we have polluted and exploited our beautiful planet. Every day, the news brings fresh evidence of the ravages humans have exacted upon the spaces we inhabit. We recognize now that we are in the midst of an ecological crisis.

What we are, perhaps, slower to recognize is that our ecological crisis also reflects a theological crisis. The earth we have polluted is none other than God’s creation. The Book of Genesis expresses in unforgettable language the great act of creation: With power and love, God brings forth dry land from the watery void, and in successive stages creates a wondrous world filled with every kind of plant and animal, and at creation’s climax, makes humankind. To these humans is entrusted the incalculably important task of caring for this dazzlingly complex and precious work of God. “Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”(1) Continue reading

You Are the Light of the World – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Br. Geoffrey TristramMatthew 5:13-16

Ever since I was a child I have always been fascinated and moved by the Olympic torch – the light which is lit several months before the opening of the Games at the site of the ancient Olympics in Olympia, Greece.  The light is then carried by torch-relay across the world to the site of the Games.  Traditionally, it has been carried on foot by athletes.  But it first traveled on a boat in 1948, across the English Channel, and then by airplane in 1952 to Helsinki.  In 1976 the light was transformed to an electronic pulse and laser beam.  And in 2000 divers carried it underwater near the Great Barrier Reef.

It’s a very powerful image.  I used to imagine the responsibility of carrying this precious light.  It must not go out.  And every four years there is a new and exciting way of transmitting that light. Continue reading

The Profession in Initial Vows of Br. James Martin Woodrum, SSJE – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Ezekiel 34:11-16 / Psalm 87 / 2 Timothy 4:1-8 / John 21:15-19

Today is a day which we have been hoping for, and praying for, for a very long time.  A day of rejoicing.  Our dear brother Jim is to make the vows of poverty, celibacy and obedience, as a professed brother of our community.  And what a wonderful day, the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul, for the profession.

When these two great apostles first met Jesus: Simon the fisherman by the Sea of Galilee, and Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus, neither of them could have imagined how Jesus would change their lives.  When they said yes to Jesus’ invitation, “Come follow me,” their lives would never be the same again.

Jim, when you first said ‘yes’ to Jesus’ invitation to “Come follow me” as a twelve year old at Abingdon Baptist Church, Virginia, could you ever have imagined the adventures that lay ahead, and that eventually would lead you to this day – this day, when you will become a full member of this community, and our brother? Continue reading

Come, Holy Spirit – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Genesis 1:1-8 / Acts 2:1-21 / John 20:19-23

Four years ago, we brothers were gathered together at Emery House for the start of our annual retreat.  The weather was hot and very still.  Not a breath of air.  I was sitting in my room, and was feeling very tired and, frankly, a bit discouraged.  The renovations, living in a temporary home away from the monastery, had left me feeling depleted and spent.  Usually, the prospect of a week’s retreat would have really energized me, but now it just sounded daunting.  I offered a few desultory prayers – Come on Lord, help me get some energy.  I want to feel alive again.  Come, Holy Spirit – do something!

So I thought I’d go out for a walk, and went into the Maudslay State Park, and sat on a bluff over the river.  As I sat there, the temperature suddenly started to plummet, and out of nowhere there came this huge wind, blowing over the bluff.  I started laughing.  It just seemed such a gift from God, an answer to prayer.  Thank you God – and I remember running down the hill towards the river, feeling quite exhilarated.  Here comes the Holy Spirit. Continue reading

Look To the Glory! – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Ascension Day

Look to the glory!  Look to the glory!  Words that the brothers will know very well, words often on the lips of our founder Richard Meux Benson – who loved this day – the Ascension – a day so central to his life and spirituality: Christ, risen and glorified, reigning in heaven, and through the Holy Spirit dwelling within us.

I was sitting in the chapel yesterday afternoon, reflecting on the readings for today, and those words came to me: “Look to the glory” – and I looked – and there, high above the altar, I gazed at the crucified Lord.  The cross, which for St. John is the glory: the place where God’s glory was manifested, most perfectly revealed, as self-giving love.  The cross which reconciles heaven and earth, reconciles God and humankind.  The cross which opens for us the gate of glory.  “I, if I be lifted up, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:32) Continue reading

I will raise you up on the last day – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Jesus said to his disciples, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

The disciples had just witnessed the extraordinary feeding of the five thousand and marveled and wondered what it could all mean. And in their hesitating and stumbling way they ask Jesus what is this new thing which is happening.  And Jesus in those stunning words, ‘I am the bread of life’ is making a connection between bread and life; anew kind of life. The bread of life gives life to the world, and I, Jesus, am that bread. ‘I am the living bread. If you eat this bread you will never be hungry again, because if you eat this bread you will live forever. And the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.’ Continue reading

Easter Vigil – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

geoffrey 150xMatthew 28:1-10

It’s Easter!  Alleluia!  Today is the glorious culmination of these days of Holy Week.  Today, our Lord Jesus Christ has been raised gloriously from the dead: Alleluia.

It was still very early in the morning, Matthew tells us, with just the first streaks of dawn, when Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.  They had been there, in that garden, on Friday Evening.  They had witnessed Joseph of Arimathea wrapping their beloved Jesus’ body in a clean linen cloth.  They saw him lay the body in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock.  And they watched as he rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb.  The two women had seen it all, perhaps through tear-stained eyes.  Matthew tells us that on that dark Friday the two of them, the two Marys, were sitting there, opposite the tomb.  They had seen it all, remembered every detail. Continue reading

Vocation to Love – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

geoffrey 150xGenesis 32:22-32

“Why do you think you have a vocation to be a priest?”  I was asked that many times, by bishops examiners, and ordination panels.  I would usually talk about my attraction to the work and ministry of a priest, and my sense that this is what God wanted me to do with my life.  I didn’t often describe what really prompted me to seek ordination.  I was reticent and a bit shy about describing that night, when I was in college.  It sounded just too dramatic and mystical – a bit embarrassing.  But that night I’ll never forget, I had a powerful experience of God calling me.  I was awake all night, struggling, saying – no, that’s not what I had in mind for my life.  At times I felt appalled, at other times unbelievably excited – this is the real thing: me and God.  By the morning I had said yes – and I got up, and went to tell my college chaplain that I wanted to be ordained.  I remember his words: “This made my day.” Continue reading

Walk By Faith Not Sight – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

geoffrey 150xGenesis 12:1-4a / Romans 4:1-5, 13-17 / John 3:1-17

One of the best movies I’ve seen for a long time is “The King’s Speech” which won several Oscars three years ago.  The story is about how the Duke of York unexpectedly and unwillingly becomes King George VI, just on the cusp of the outbreak of World War II.  His role is to inspire and give courage and hope to the people of Britain in the face of the terrible march of Hitler through Europe.  The main way in which he was to communicate with the people was through the radio – but he had a debilitating stutter and was terrified.  It’s a wonderful story of how he overcomes this impediment to give the “King’s Speech.” Continue reading

God Chooses – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

geoffrey 150xActs 1:15-26 / John 15: 1, 6-16

So, who’s going to be the next Bishop of Massachusetts?

There are seven names on the slate, and to help us choose there will be a series of open meetings throughout the diocese from March 14-17 to meet the candidates and get to know them.  It’s been a huge process so far, taking many months, and it will all culminate on Saturday, April 5, in the cathedral when the elections will take place.

Wouldn’t it be easier just to flip a coin?  That’s what happened, or something similar, when the early Christians met to choose a successor for Judas Iscariot.  Judas was dead, and the apostles wanted to replace him with somebody who had also known Jesus as intimately as they had, and in particular, someone who, as they said, “would become a witness with us to his resurrection.”  They didn’t have seven names on the slate, just two: Joseph called Barsabbas, also known as Justus – and Matthias. Continue reading

Leave Your Gift and Be Reconciled – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

geoffrey 150x1 Corinthians 3:1-9 / Matthew 5:21-37

“I wish you would stop quarrelling!”  I can hear my mother’s exasperated tone as she tried to stop my two brothers, my sister and me from endlessly fighting and arguing with each other.

I sometimes think St. Paul must have felt the same thing about the young churches which he was trying to build up into Christian maturity.  You only have to read his letters to get a sense of his exasperation: “Stop arguing!” he says to the Philippians, “…do everything without murmuring and arguing.”  And to the Galatians, “You bite and devour each other – there are quarrels and dissension and factions.”

Continue reading

Candlemas – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

GeoffreyLuke 2:22-40

Today is Candlemas, and it’s a feast I’m very fond of.  But then, I like candles!  I remember as a young child, we lived in the country, and we were often having power outages.  It was so exciting to slowly walk upstairs to bed carrying a candle, and then, tucked up in bed, nice and cozy, looking around a once familiar bedroom, now mysteriously alive with flickering shadows.  Later, as I came to faith, looking at a candle helped me to pray: the flickering light spoke of the light of Christ, of warmth and comfort, and the mystery of God.

The candles in today’s procession, and on the altar, celebrate the event which took place 40 days after Christmas when Jesus, the Light of the World, was taken to the Temple in Jerusalem to fulfill the required ceremonies of the Law.  He had already been circumcised on the eighth day and received his name.  But because he was the first born, he was regarded as “holy” – in other words, belonging to the Lord – and his parents had to, as it were, buy him back by paying a shekel to the sanctuary.  He was then “presented” to the Lord. Continue reading

Our Truest Identity – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

geoffrey 150xIsaiah 42:1-9 / Psalm 29 / Acts 10:34-43 / Matthew 3:13-17

What’s the most frightening thing that has ever happened to you?  The thing which made your stomach turn over and your heart to race?  For me it was having to start a new school halfway through a term.  By then everyone had already got their friends, and sitting next to them.  I can remember that first day, walking into a class full of children, all staring at me, and none of whom I knew.  I did make friends pretty quickly, but what I suppose I remember above all, was the awful feeling of not belonging.

The first day I went to university I had the same sinking feeling in my stomach.  I remember walking through the college looking for my rooms.  It was staircase V, I remember.  Eventually I found the door, and then…I saw it…painted carefully in small white letters above the door: G. R. Tristram.  My name.  I felt so happy.  I really belong here! Continue reading

The Holy Innocents – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

geoffrey 150xOn 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

This Christmas: Light A Candle – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Geoffrey Tristram SSJEIsaiah 9:2-7 / Psalm 96 / Titus 2:11-14 / Luke 2:1-14(15-20)

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

Christ the King – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

geoffrey 150xFifty years ago John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.  Over the past few days we have seen those horrific images repeated over and over again.  And we watch the horror with a strange fascination, rather like 12 years ago on September 11th, as we watched again and again the horrific images of the falling twin towers, as they were repeated over and over again.

Evil has always been a source of fascination.  We can hardly bear to look, but find it hard to look away.  Writers over the centuries have been drawn to it constantly.  In Dante’s Inferno and Purgatorio we have a riotous and fantastic description of hell and purgatory.  By comparison, his depiction of heaven – Paradiso – is rather dull. Continue reading

God Made Us in the Image of His Own Eternity – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

GeoffreyYesterday was Veterans Day – also known throughout the world as Remembrance or Armistice Day.  It marks the armistice signed in Compiègne, France, between the Allies and Germany at the 11th hour, on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, 1918, which brought an end to hostilities on the Western Front in the First World War.  A time to remember with thanksgiving those who died in the two world wars. Continue reading