At the Still Point of the Turning World: Praying with T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets

Thursday evenings (6:45-8:20 pm) – February 15 and 22; March 1, 8 and 15

Monastery Guesthouse Common Room

Leader: Br. Keith Nelson, SSJE

T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets can be read as a charter for Christian contemplative life in the modern world, a vision for all who seek to balance silence and words, stillness and loving service in the way of Christ. Through shared silence and deep attention to the spiritual motives in its authorship, we’ll explore this master poem as a doorway into the mystery of God.

Limited to 10 participants with ability to commit to all sessions.

To join this prayer group please contact the Guesthouse Manager by e-mail at or by telephone at (617) 876-3037 extension 1.

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.

2016 Fall Cowley

Fall16 Cowley CoverClick on the links below to read selected articles from the Fall 2016 Cowley Magazine, which takes up the theme “Marks of Mission, Marks of Love”:

  1. In the Monastic Wisdom for Everyday Living article, “Beloved: Marks of Mission, Marks of Love,” Br. Mark Brown examines the story of Jesus’ baptism to uncover its role in helping to establish his sense of mission – and the mission to which we are all called.
  2. Associate Professor of Christian Mission and the Director of the Center for Anglican Communion Studies at Virginia Theological Seminary, Robert Heaney, unfolds how the Anglican Marks of Mission are Marks of Love.
  3. Br. Luke Ditewig suggests how the Five Marks of Mission – tell, teach, tend, transform, treasure – signify that Jesus’ love is making its mark on us.
  4. Two of the past year’s Monastic Interns reflect on what they’ve learned about embracing uncertainty and practicing silence.
  5. FSJ Member Scott Christian shares reflections from the recent FSJ Pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
  6. “What price is too high for knowing You better?” Br. John Braught shares the vocational struggles and realizations that brought him to the Monastery.

There are many ways to read and share this Cowley magazine:

Tell us what you think of this Cowley Magazine in the comments below.
We welcome your comments, letters, or ideas for future articles.

Reflections from the 2016 Monastic Internship Program

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. Continue reading

Letter from the FSJ: Pilgrimage to the Holy Land

IMG_0986Two students asked a rabbi, “Why does God command us to put the word of God on our hearts. Why did God not say to put God’s word in our hearts?” The rabbi responded, “We are commanded to place the word of God on our hearts because our hearts are closed and the word of God cannot get in. So God commands us to place the word of God on our hearts. And there it sits and waits for the day when our hearts will be broken. When they are broken, then the word of God will fall gently inside.” This parable was shared early on in the FSJ pilgrimage to the Holy Land by one of our leaders, and this pilgrimage indeed broke open my heart. We talk of God-moments in our lives; these were God-days. Continue reading

Salesforce at the Monastery

Sunday 4:00 pm-Friday 4:00 pm, May 28 – Jun 2, 2017


This is a test of a process. Not a really event!


Salesforce at the Monastery: May 28-Jun 2, 2017 
At the Monastery in Cambridge, MA. 
Note: All contact details are required to request a place.
Please use your current email

Need assistance with this form?

You Don’t Need More: The Grace of Contentment

P1270753An 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

The Rule of the Fellowship

SSJE132As 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

Forgiveness seminar 012

Why SSJE? – Gates & Pat Agnew

IMG_1546Pat’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.

Phase 6: Create a Solid Garden Plot – Compilation

Workbook Exercise: My Rule of Life

Watch: What has sustained you through challenging seasons in the past?
Answer: Click here to write your answer.

Watch: How does gratitude show up in your life?
Answer: Click here to write your answer.

Watch: How will your Rule help you grow into the person you can be?
Answer: Click here to write your answer.

Watch: How might others support you on this journey?
Answer: Click here to write your answer

Watch: How will you direct your energies towards that which gives life?
Answer: Click here to write your answer.

Watch: What boundaries would it be helpful to put in place for yourself?
Answer: Click here to write your answer.

Watch: Draft a written Rule of Life that will enrich and enliven your relationships.
Answer: Click here to write your answer.

Phase 5: My Relationship with Creation – Compilation

Workbook Exercise: My Creation Collage

Watch: How would you describe the ‘soil’ of your heart and soul at this time in your life?
Answer: Click here to write your answer.

Watch: To what part of nature do you most feel connected, and why?
Answer: Click here to write your answer.

Watch: What spiritual practices help to strengthen your connection with the natural world?
Answer: Click here to write your answer.

Watch: How would you describe your unique ‘vocation’ in the world?
Answer: Click here to write your answer

Watch: Where could your life be pruned to bear more fruit?
Answer: Click here to write your answer.

Watch: How can you connect with nature in ways that bring life?
Answer: Click here to write your answer.

Watch: How will you find a healthy and meaningful connection with the natural world?
Answer: Click here to write your answer.

Phase 4: My Relationship with Others – Compilation

Workbook Exercise: My Web of Connections

Watch: Who are the “others” in your life with whom you are called to be in relationship?
Answer: Click here to write your answer.

Watch: Who has loved you well, and how did that love make you feel?
Answer: Click here to write your answer.

Watch: What relationships in your life need mending or strengthening?
Answer: Click here to write your answer.

Watch: What practices help you to thrive in your relationships with others?
Answer: Click here to write your answer.

Watch: To what will you say ‘no’ in order to say ‘yes’ to what is most important?
Answer: Click here to write your answer.

Watch: How can you grow in the ways you give and receive love?
Answer: Click here to write your answer.

Watch: How will you love the people in your life?
Answer: Click here to write your answer.

Phase 3: My Relationship with Self – Compilation

Workbook Exercise: My Own Self

Watch: What do you love about yourself?
Answer: Click here to write your answer.

Watch: How has your relationship with your body changed; how might it change?
Answer: Click here to write your answer.

Watch: What frailties or weaknesses in yourself might you befriend?
Answer: Click here to write your answer.

Watch: How are you creative?
Answer: Click here to write your answer.

Watch: How does it feel to imagine God looking at you – with adoring love?
Answer: Click here to write your answer.

Watch: How might your mind and body need to be nurtured?
Answer: Click here to write your answer.

Watch: How can you find and maintain a healthier balance in your life?
Answer: Click here to write your answer.

Rules of Life & the Rhythms of Nature – Br. James Koester

This sermon is part of a Lenten preaching series on “Growing a Rule of Life.

Preaching SeriesSQRules of Life & the Rhythms of Nature – Br. James Koester
Our Relationship with God – Br. Geoffrey Tristram
Our Relationship with Self – Br. Mark Brown
Our Relationship with Others – Br. David Vryhof
Our Relationship with Creation – Br. Keith Nelson
Living in Rhythm and Balance – Br. Luke Ditewig


Growing a Rule of Life: To subscribe to a daily morning email with a short video and download a PDF of the accompanying workbook enter your name and email.
More information here:

Br. James KoesterIt was the spring of the year I was in Grade 2. My teacher, Mrs. Quale, who was herself an avid gardener, had helped us plant some seeds in cut down milk cartons. We set them on the windowsill of the classroom and for the next several weeks we diligently watered and anxiously watched and waited for them to sprout and grow. On the last day of school, I remember bringing home in triumph those two milk cartons. One of them contained a couple of tomato plants and the other some morning glories. Later that day my mother and I planted the morning glories in a small section of the garden, along the garage wall, and behind the rhubarb, where some chicken wire had been stapled to give the morning glories something to climb on. In another section of the yard we planted, staked and tied the tomato plants. I don’t remember what happened to the tomatoes but I do remember the delight I felt when those morning glories began to climb the garage wall, supported by that chicken wire, and then finally blossom with some of the most delicate blue flowers I had ever seen. To this day I think no garden is complete without at least some tomatoes, a patch of rhubarb and a few morning glories. Last summer the garden at Emery House contained some of each. Up by the parking lot, next to the asparagus is a wonderful bed of rhubarb, which thanks to a regular application of horse manure, just get better each year. In the vegetable garden, over by the chicken coop, I usually have at least a row of tomatoes. And at the gate into the vegetable garden I created some teepees out of bamboo poles for the morning glories. By the middle of the summer the poles were almost invisible and all you could see were great towers of green leafy vines wrapping around anything they could get hold of with some of the deepest purple flowers I have ever seen. Continue reading

Rule and Rhythm

Watch this video invitation from Lisa Kimball, Ph.D., Director, Center for the Ministry of Teaching, Virginia Theological Seminary to go deeper with this Lent by participating in “Growing A Rule of Life” an offering to help you develop your spiritual practices that keep you balanced and centered.

Share: #GrowRule

Coming Home – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Exodus 3:7-12
Psalm 84:1-6
Luke 15:11-24

This evening is the second in our series of sermons on the theme of ‘Salvation Revisited.’  We are exploring the theme of salvation, which is central to the faith of the Church, and to the season of Advent, when we are promised a ‘Savior.’

Next week the theme will be ‘The sacred and Imperishable Proclamation’ and the final week’s theme will be ‘Salvation – from What, to What?’

My theme today is ‘Coming Home.’

When I was a teenager I rarely went to church.  I was confirmed at 12, at school.  Almost everyone in my class was confirmed – mainly so as not to let the house down!  But for me, it was a kind of ‘passing out parade.’  No more church.  I was interested in religious ideas, but thought Christianity rather facile.  I preferred the more exotic Eastern forms of religious expression – far more interesting ways of trying to make contact with the divine.  But one day, in my late teens, on one of my rare visits to church, I heard a Gospel which kind of stopped me in my tracks.  It was the Gospel we heard read today: the parable of the Prodigal Son.  What really moved me, was this image of the Father.  Day after day, his father had been longing for his son – missing him, longing for him to come home.  Scanning the horizon.  Please, my son, come home.  And then, one day, he sees him, way in the distance.  He is so overjoyed that he runs – runs out to meet him, and welcome him home. Continue reading

Salvation Revisited: 2015 Advent Preaching Series

2015-Adventseries-badgeSalvation Revisited: An Advent Preaching Series

During this season of Advent, at the 5:30 pm Eucharist on Tuesdays, we will be exploring the theme of ‘salvation.’  Salvation is a theme that is central to Christian faith and particularly appropriate during this season, as we await the coming of our Savior.  Over the course of these four Tuesdays, Brothers will be sharing their reflections on what salvation means and how we might receive or experience it in our daily lives.

Dec 1, 2015 – “See, I am Making All Things New” – Br. Curtis Almquist

Dec 8, 2015  – “Coming Home” – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Dec 15, 2015 – “The Sacred & Imperishable Proclamation” – Br. Mark Brown

Dec 22, 2015 – “Salvation: From What, To What?” – Br. David Vryhof

Pray Your Mysteries – Br. Jim Woodrum

Br. Jim Woodrum

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

Living in Rhythm: Following Nature’s Rule

Fall_Insert_Nature-CoverTo download a PDF of this article, please let us know your name and email and we will send you a link to the PDF.

Need assistance with this form?

Living in Rhythm: Following Nature’s Rule

Q. What are we by nature?
A. We are part of God’s creation, made in the image of God.

Q. What does it mean to be created in the image of God?
A. It means that we are free to make choices: to love, to create, to reason, and to live in harmony with creation and with God.

These opening sentences of the Catechism of the Book of Common Prayer identify us, first and foremost, as part of God’s creation. We can only thrive when we “live in harmony with creation and with God” (“An Outline of the Faith,” Book of Common Prayer, Church Publishing: 1979, 845).

EH SpringWKD 2013 - 32I’ve come to know this myself in a profound way: Several years ago, I moved from the SSJE Monastery, right in the heart of Harvard Square in Cambridge, to our rural Monastery called Emery House. The Emery family had lived and farmed this land for over 300 years before entrusting it to the Society in 1950. From a world of high granite arches and marble altars, stained glass and organ music, with cars passing just outside the door on Memorial Drive, I found myself suddenly surrounded, day in and day out, month after month, by new sights and sounds: meadow grasses bending in a breeze, frost icing the branches of the beech grove, the companionship of a flock of wonderfully noisy, inquisitive geese. There were no street lights but the stars. And, as often as not, my experience of the Daily Office was now punctuated by bird calls. Continue reading