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

We Need God Together – A Conversation about Vocation with Br. John Braught

John Braught, SSJEHow did your journey to the Monastery begin?

I’m a cradle Episcopalian. I grew up going to church and was an acolyte, a crucifer, a torchbearer, and a server. I enjoyed the church youth group and socializing with kids my age in the fun activities they put on, but I found church boring. Like many people, I stopped going at the first opportunity. I don’t think I ever made the connection between being a church-going Episcopalian and having a relationship with Jesus. Certainly it was the receiver, not the message, that was broken, but that element wasn’t really communicated to me. So I left the church and became wayward (in my own way). Continue reading

Tell, Teach, Tend, Transform, Treasure

IMG_5063When I was about six, two collegians who were allergic to cats asked me to move a cat away from them. I tried but had difficulty, so I said: “The easiest thing would be for you to move. You could come back later and by then the cat will have moved.” The students later told my dad they could tell I was his son. People still recognize my parents in how I speak, listen, and serve. How we live communicates our community, to whom we are connected.

This year, we Brothers are praying, preaching, and teaching around the five Marks of Mission of the Anglican Church. These five points are one way to summarize who God is and what it looks like for us to be known as God’s beloved daughters and sons. They communicate that we are connected to and being converted by Christ. The five marks may be summarized: tell, teach, tend, transform, and treasure. Continue reading

Marks of Love – Robert Heaney

image1-2As Episcopalians we talk about five “Marks of Mission.” To think of these as five marks of love seems to me to be a helpful reframing. God is love. And whatever mission is or is not, it is about the God of love. Indeed, we might say that mission is who God is and what God does. Christians think of God, in God’s being, as burning “with an unchecked Flame, red hot, incendiary. God does not have Love any more than He has Knowledge or Power: He just is these things.” God is love. Love without object or act (Katherine Sonderegger, Systematic Theology Volume 1, 489, 485).

God is love. Too often we skim over such words as a rock skitting across water thrown from a boat to a shore. We touch the truth for a passing moment. We fail to plumb the depths. If, by the power of Christ’s Spirit, we could begin to experience and encounter the depths of divine love we would avoid much of the misunderstanding and malpractice that passes for mission in the Church. God is love. Continue reading

What Are You Living For: A conversation about vocation with Br. Jim Woodrum

SSJE82How 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

Summer 2015 Cowley

Summer2015_Cowley-coverClick on the links below to read selected articles from the Summer 2015 Cowley Magazine:

  1. Br. Geoffrey Tristram peers into the mystery of the Trinity to find a dance of love that involves us all.
  2. New and Abiding Friends of SSJE—Christina McKerrow, Constance Holmes, Alexis Kruza, Carol Petty, Michael Zahniser, Ross Bliss, and Nancy Barnard Starr—share their experiences of the Monastery and Emery House.
  3. Br. David Vryhof wonders “Is God Deaf?”

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.

Fall 2014 Cowley

Click on the links below to read selected articles from the Fall 2014 Cowley Magazine.

In the Monastic Wisdom insert on “Time,” Br. Geoffrey Tristram proposes that much of our stress and anxiety derives from our pollution of Time, and reveals how  ordering our relationship to Time can help us to experience the joy of the present moment. Download a PDF here.

  1. In his piece “Our Human Vocation,” Br. James Koester reveals the community’s hopes for the Monastic Intern Program at Emery House and the Brothers’ recently acquired Grafton House.
  2. Life is busy inside and outside a monastery, and we all need to practice stopping. Br. Luke Ditewig offers concrete suggestions on how to stop, rest, period.
  3. In 2015, the Brothers will celebrate SSJE’s founder, Richard Meux Benson. In the article “Look to the Glory!” four men in the novitiate select a favorite quote from Father Benson and comment upon its meaning for them.
  4. Br. Robert L’Esperance reflects on his journey to vowed life at 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.

Our Human Vocation – Br. James Koester

One thing that attracts people to SSJE is the experience of community. It is one of our core values, expressed in our Rule: “In an era of fragmentation and the breakdown of family and community, our Society, though small, can be a beacon drawing others to live in communion.”  For a day, a week, or even a lifetime, people can experience what it means to be in community with others and thus come to know something true, both about themselves and about God. Continue reading

Brother, Thank You – Matthew Tenney

Matthew TenneyThis year, three exceptional young people took part in the Monastic Internship Program, living, worshipping, and working alongside the community for nine months. We asked them to reflect on what they would take away from the experience. Here is what Matthew Tenney had to say:

In reflecting on my time living and working and praying alongside the Brothers of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist, I’m reminded of Canon Henry Parry Liddon’s praise for the Father Founder: Continue reading

Help Us Let It Be – Sarah Brock

Sarah Brock - 1 This year, three exceptional young people took part in the Monastic Internship Program, living, worshipping, and working alongside the community for nine months. We asked them to reflect on what they would take away from the experience. Here is what Sarah Brock had to say:

“Lord, it is night. The night is for stillness. Let us be still in your presence. It is night after a long day. What has been done has been done. What has not been done has not been done. Help us let it be.” So begins one of the prayers we often lift up at the office of Compline. Upon hearing it prayed aloud during my first week as an intern, I was drawn in by the poetry of the words and particularly by this desire to let go of the work of the day and be still. It has been true for most of my life that there is no end to the work that needs to be done. Every time I cross an item off of my to-do list, it seems I also add at least five more.   Continue reading

As Iron Sharpens Iron – Raphael Cadenhead

This year, three exceptional young people took part in the Monastic Internship Program, living, worshipping, and working alongside the community for nine months. We asked them to reflect on what they would take away from the experience. Here is what Raphael Cadenhead had to say:

Raphael Cadenhead - 2

“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). How, exactly, does life in community transform and ‘sharpen’ us?  This question has been on my mind since I arrived at SSJE in September, and I’m only now beginning to grope for an answer. Continue reading

A Gift, Not a Given: Living Gratefully – Br. Curtis Almquist

I first learned the power of gratitude as a young boy at a theater performance. The playbill was so carefully scripted – except, it turned out, for one thing that happened at the very end. As the curtain dropped and the stage lights dimmed, the audience spontaneously sprang to its feet with a thunderous applause and great cheers. The actors undoubtedly needed to hear our gratitude, but what brought us to our feet was our need to express gratitude. Expressing gratitude completes the experience.  Continue reading

Winter 2014 Cowley

The Winter 2014 issue of Cowley continues the theme of the Reconciliation focusing on reconciliation with the Creation.

In the Monastic Wisdom insert on “Reconciliation,” Br. Curtis Almquist suggests why and how to prepare our hearts for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Download a PDF here.

Cowley-Winter_40_2_CoverClick on the links below to read selected articles from the Winter 2014 Cowley Magazine:

  1. Br. James Koester delves into the scriptural meaning of gardens and how they reflect our deepest longings.
  2. Can we “own” any part of Creation? Br. Mark Brown relates the Brothers’ experience of stewardship at Emery House.
  3. The renovated Cloister Garden at the Monastery opens the door for a new relationship with Creation, which Br. Robert L’Esperance shares.
  4. Br. Jonathan Maury tells of his journey to the Monastery: a slow conversion of being called to wholeness of living.

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.

Reconciliation with Creation: Reflections Written on a Summer Day – Br. Mark Brown

“So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you
do not give up all your possessions.”
– Luke 14:33

SSJE134I’m writing from a room at Emery House with a bay window looking out over the meadow and the river beyond, which I can just make out through the trees along the bank. Some of you have probably stayed in this room (we call it the “Meadow Room”) while on retreat. I hear someone mowing in the distance behind me; Sophie, our “labradoodle,” is playing in the field across the road. There’s a lovely soft breeze today, the kind of delicious whispering through the woods that makes Emery House such an intoxicating place to be on a summer day.

The Brothers have been here since the 1950s, when this farm, which dates from 1635, came into our care, thanks to the generosity of the Emery sisters. But it was not only generosity to the SSJE that motivated these remarkable women. Sarah, Mary Elizabeth, Frances Louisa, and Georgiana Emery were devout Episcopalians who lived modestly on this farm, even after coming into a large inheritance. The legacy they received enabled them to be active in a number of ministries to the poor; in time, their paths crossed with Brothers from the SSJE, who were involved in some of the same charitable work. Continue reading

One Foot in Eden: Gardens in Scripture – Br. James Koester

8735353734_f2fa08dbb0_o Gardens and farms have been associated with monastic communities since the beginning of the monastic movement in the Church. We read stories of the Desert Ammas and Abbas tending their gardens. We know from the history of gardening that the monasteries of Europe were always associated with gardening (and in some cases plans and inventories have survived telling us, for instance, that garlic was one of the most popular things grown in English monasteries before the Reformation!) This connection between monasteries and gardens was for practical, theological, and spiritual reasons.

Practically speaking monasteries needed to feed themselves and the extended communities that grew up around them. As they are today, monasteries were centers of hospitality and mission, and there were always people who needed a bed, a meal, and a listening heart. Then, as now, food played an integral role in the daily life of any monastic community. What could not be produced by the monastery needed to be purchased, and so a surplus of what could be produced was used to buy or trade for what could not be produced. By the late middle ages, some monasteries in Europe had become great landholders, employing hundreds of people to farm and tend the land. In some cases land management and tenant relationships became a major preoccupation for many of the monks. Continue reading

A Reconciling Landscape: The New Cloister Garden – Br. Robert L’Esperance

Most High, all – powerful, all good, Lord! All praise is yours, all glory, all honor and all blessing.1

8574456441_9c1c76d903_oThere is a cost to being in touch with our natural world. Like just about anything worth having there is a cost to it. There is real joy in discerning nature and its wonders, yet there is also pain in knowing this.

How utterly removed many of us are from nature that we don’t even seem to have a care for what we are looking at. On the one hand we see the autumn colors in the fall and we think “What a pretty picture!” What a glorious creation. Or we see the first spring green in the woods and say to ourselves, “How thrilling!” What a glorious creation. But we know the names of nothing. And that makes our lives easier. Once you learn the name of things, maybe you will see the early fall color along New England roadsides and think, “Oh, my, look at all those choking vines aglow in yellow: oriental bittersweet, everywhere.” That first spring green in the woods? Japanese barberry. The downside to knowing the names of things can be an element of disenchantment.

To witness the Creation truly, it should be an honor to know the names of things, to know our world by name. Naming the world was one of God’s first gifts to humankind. We should be able to name Creation, even though it might sometimes mean introducing new heartache or anxiety into our lives where before there was none, where before there were just pretty pictures.

Learning the names of things also deepens our appreciation for the sugar maple, the white oak, the tree or the shrub we may before have regarded as just some tree or bush like all others. The tree and the shrub become individuals, which is what they are, with an identity in the Creation that is unique and fantastic, with an ancient lineage all its own. A lineage like your own that brought you to this place, time, and moment in Creation. That tree, that shrub is an inheritor of billions of years of survival and each also is a giver to pollinators, birds, and the myriad upon myriad of icky things from which we would rather turn our gaze.

Birders can tell a sparrow from a sparrow, or a gull from a gull – and the world becomes richer, truer, more real. And what might be thought of as a dull sparrow becomes a source of excitement and joy.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Earth, our mother, who feeds us in her sovereignty and produces various fruits with colored flower and herbs.

Cloister during renovationsOn an August afternoon during the Monastery’s renovation, the Brothers made a field trip to Garden in the Woods, located in Framingham, Massachusetts, about twenty miles west of Boston. That trip constituted a turning point for the community in thinking about how to restore and renovate the Cloister Garden after the site was cleared of the construction materials that were housed there during the renovation. Up to that point, we had been thinking along quite conventional lines. That trip to Framingham helped us to begin to imagine something that would seek to bring other values to our idea of what our garden should be like.

It was in that visit that the idea of a naturalistic, native plant garden was born. The results of that vision are now visible from the cloister windows.

cloister garden 1With hundreds – no maybe thousands – of hours of careful research, planning, and design, the community’s friend, Patrick Smith, helped us bring to birth (the process sometimes felt just like that!) a vision of the cloister space that has been a transforming and life-giving experience for the entire community and our guests. Like so many other notions about the earth, the environment, and our role in that great interchange, ideas about what a garden is and should be are undergoing great changes. The garden design that Patrick developed for us tries to take many of these new understandings seriously and put them into practice.

We have been encouraged to think of our garden as an opportunity for us to be the best stewards of the land that we can be. Each plant was chosen with the site in mind, bringing into play the current thinking which advocates choosing plants that are appropriate to the existing environment rather than trying to artificially modify the environment to accommodate a less appropriate choice. This is about working with nature and what nature has already given to the site, rather than imposing something out of place. We also saw our garden as a being that should be life-sustaining to itself, us, and the other living beings with whom we share this space. This impulse lies behind much of what motivates any gardener to sink her hands into the soil: the desire to cultivate and connect with life itself.

Our garden is also intended to be a marker of time. We live our life according to a liturgical calendar that marks the natural rhythms of the seasons by recalling the great salvific acts of the Creator. Through the four seasons, the garden is designed to be a grand calendar, from snow covered limbs, through the bud-break of a million shining chalices, the steamy heat of summer alive with crickets and katydids, and then through the cool and refreshing fire of autumn’s colors.

OCSO and SSJE at 980Finally, the garden is a way of extending monastic hospitality to non-human guests. We are blessedly close to the beautiful Mount Auburn garden cemetery, the home or migration ground to so many birds and animals. Our garden’s berries, water, and shelter are already drawing wild birds that we have never seen before on the Monastery’s urban-enclosed grounds. In a sense, those visiting and lodging birds have become ambassadors by carrying those seeds and berries outside the garden perimeters into the wider world. As a nourishing and nurturing place, the Cloister Garden has in common with other native plant gardens the capacity of existing beyond its borders for the benefit of all.

The new Cloister Garden is a palate that will hopefully help each of us grow more and more into relationship with the individual plants. We hope guests who come will learn, as we Brothers have, to name and know the beautiful and varied forms and flowers of native dogwoods, sourwood, sweet-bay magnolia and autumn witch hazel, old man’s beard, ironwood, serviceberry and paw-paw. We hope you’ll spot the divine presence along the paths that wind through an understory of viburnum, rhododendron, holly, spice-bush, and mountain laurel.

Praise and bless my Lord, and give him thanks, and serve him with great humility.


1. [The italicized lines throughout this article are taken from Francis of Assisi’s Canticle of the Creatures (The Society of St. Francis, Little Portion Friary, Mt. Sinai, NY: 1926).]

 

Called to Wholeness of Living: A Conversation about Vocation with Br. Jonathan Maury

 6280240268_e764818121_oWhen did you first have a sense of your vocation? 

When I was a young chorister in my parish, I became fascinated by the church’s history and very caught up in its worship. Although only half aware of it at the time, I do remember being very drawn to images of monastics as depicted in books or films. When my brothers and I would play together, they’d always want to be the knights, and me the friar! Also early on, growing up on Nantucket Island, I became aware of a contemplative component to my emerging personality. I spent much time on my own, in solitude and communing with God in nature. Often I had a sense that I was being called to a different kind of life. And hearing the gospels, I knew that Jesus invited people to a different way of being in the world, renouncing individualism and violence, and dedicated to community and mutual love.  Continue reading