The Meeting Place of Our Heart – Br. Nicholas Bartoli

Br. Nicholas Bartoli

Genesis 1:20-2:4

While growing up, I was fascinated by questions like “What does it mean to be a human being? What makes us who we are? Why are we the way are?” I would read a lot of sociology, anthropology, psychology, and probably a few more “ologies” I can’t remember at the moment. And it was all very interesting, if ultimately not quite as enlightening as I had hoped. And I remember often encountering one particular sort of statement about human beings that would always give me pause, a doubtful, skeptical kind of pause. It was the kind of statement that would compare humans, usually very favorably, to other forms of life on our planet. Continue reading

Laudato Si – Br. Jim Woodrum

Br. Jim Woodrum

Feast of St. Francis of Assisi

Today, we celebrate in the calendar of the Church, Saint Francis of Assisi who died on this day in the year 1226.  Born 44 years earlier to wealthy parents, Francis grew up in the lap luxury and as a young man enjoyed a care-free lifestyle, gallivanting with the other upper-crust youth of Assisi with whom he was popular.  Upon returning home from fighting in the Crusades, Francis had a conversion experience.  After a prolonged illness he stumbled upon the ruins of a church in San Damiano where he heard the voice of Christ say, “Francis, repair my falling house.”  He returned home and sold some of his father’s expensive silk to pay for the repairs.  Angry, his father brought him into the public square where, with the citizens of Assisi witnessing the display, disowned and disinherited him.  Francis likewise renounced his father’s wealth and tradition says he took off his expensive clothing and laid them at his father’s feet and walked away naked.  He left Assisi and began to rebuild the church at San Damiano all by himself.While engaging in this work, he ministered to the poor of Assisi, especially the lepers who were feared by the townsfolk and were literal outcasts.  Francis would sneak back into town and scavenge for scraps of bread and vegetables to provide nourishment for those he cared for. 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

Our Relationship with Creation – Br. Keith Nelson

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: SSJE.org/growrule


Br. Keith NelsonGenesis 2:4b-8; 15-19; Psalm 8; Mark 1:9-13

In a small wooden box in my cell here at the monastery, I keep a few simple mementos: physical objects I can hold in my hand, objects that anchor or center me in the remembrance that I am beloved of God. The simplest and most treasured of all is a cow bone from the desert near Moab, Utah. My best friend and I went camping in Utah a few months before I came to the monastery as a postulant. The trip was a pilgrimage into a landscape wonderfully strange to us both.  In the desert, we hoped to taste something of God’s vast, untamed power, just as Jesus did, and just as generations of saints have done from the ancient Israelites to the desert fathers and mothers of Egypt. Perhaps because our eyes and ears were opened by this intention, this expectation to meet this desert God and to travel as fellow pilgrims into our own inner wilderness, God came to meet us everywhere we turned. Every horizon held our gaze and enlarged it, beckoning us beyond that vanishing point where endless blue sky and rippling red stone merged. As we hiked about this desert paradise we wept or fell silent or laughed in wonder, as unselfconsciously as the shooting stars or lightning that flashed in the night sky or the rainbows that shimmered in the rare desert rain. Each moment, we could have echoed the sentiment of author Annie Dillard as she wrote from Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains: “I see something, some event that would otherwise have been utterly missed and lost; or something sees me, some enormous power brushes me with its clean wing, and I resound like a beaten bell.” [i] Continue reading

Living in Rhythm: Following Nature’s Rule

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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

Ponder Wonder – Br. Mark Brown

A few days ago I was watching drops form on the inside of a window. Moisture condenses on the cold glass and forms drops, given shape by the ratio of surface tension to gravity. At a certain point the drop drops and runs down the surface at a speed determined by gravity and the contact between the drop and the glass.  There are some remarkable physical laws at work in condensation, the formation of drops and the timing and qualities of their dropping.

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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

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).]

 

Change Agents – Br. Mark Brown

Mark-Brown-SSJE-2010-300x299I don’t usually refer to my sermon preparation when I preach, but I will today.  For some reason I found this time around particularly challenging: I can’t remember getting so tangled up in words and using the select and delete functions on the computer quite so many times–I’ve nearly worn off the letters on the “delete” key.  The subject of the gospel today is prayer—which is the air we breathe around here.  But it’s something I rarely preach about.

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