An 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
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).
I’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
Experience Holy Week as a journey into the heart of God through prayer.
In Lent 2013, the Brothers offered a video series on “Praying Our Lives,” exploring the gifts and modes of prayer. Click on each video below for inspiration on how to pray this day of Holy Week.
For a resource page on prayer, including select videos from “Praying Our Lives,” click here.
To view the full “Praying Our Lives” series, click here.
“By loving us first, God makes it possible for us to love others, and Jesus asks only that we share that love. But in so doing he tells us that we must take up our cross and follow him. Our hands must reach out, pick up the rough wood, and carry it – for ourselves and for others.”
– Br. Robert L’Esperance
On Tuesday in Holy Week at the Monastery, we celebrate the Eucharist in the evening. This evening gathering around the Lord’s Table invites us to join the disciples at the Upper Room, sharing a meal with the Lord.
We reflect together on the words of used at the presentation of the Bread and Cup here at the Monastery, which derive from St. Augustine’s Sermon 57, On the Holy Eucharist: Behold what you are. May we become what we receive.
These words point to one of the deep truths of Christian faith: Through our participation in the sacraments (particularly baptism and Eucharist), we are transformed into the Body of Christ, given for the world.
How is God transforming you into Christ’s Body and giving you to the world?
“The Legacy of Judas” – Br. Curtis Almquist
Judas’ presence at the table of our Lord is an invitation to us all: to mercy.
“Now, Now, Now” – Br. James Koester
Pay attention: Now is the time when Jesus shall draw all people to himself.
“I Like Your Christ” – Br. Mark Brown
On Tuesday in Holy Week, we recall our primary vocation as the Body of Christ: to lift up Christ himself.
“Catch the Wave” – Br. Mark Brown
Between intimate moments and cosmic upheaval, Holy Week invites us to step into the drama and experience it as our own.
Experience – Br. Mark Brown
“Our memory fails us if we think of Jesus’ resurrection only in terms of “then” and not also in terms of “now.” We are not reenacting Jesus’ resurrection; we are reappropriating Jesus’ resurrection power.”
– Br. Curtis Almquist
The Great Vigil of Easter is the most solemn and ancient liturgy of the entire year. It is the culmination of Lent and Holy Week, and the Triduum.
Ring the bells! Worshippers at the Great Vigil of Easter ring handbells as we sing God’s Paschal Lamb at the beginning of the first Eucharist of Easter and during the singing of Jesus Christ is Risen Today. The tradition of silencing church bells on Maundy Thursday and ringing them again on Easter Day likely reflects an even more ancient custom of keeping silence before a spring equinox or a winter solstice, then celebrating it with a joyous celebration of light and sound announcing that the darkness has fled and that new life is coming back into the world. We know that this is true on Easter Day.
Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
- The Exsultet
- Easter Acclamation and Paschal Hymn
- Psalm 33:1-11
- Psalm 46
- The Song of Moses
- Psalm 122
- The First Song of Isaiah
- Psalm 42:1-7
- Psalm 30
- Psalm 98
- The Litany
- Jesus Christ is Risen Today
“Those Five Words” – Br. James Koester
Those five words turned the world upside down. They renewed love. They restored hope. They rekindled courage. “I have seen the Lord.”
“From Still Days to Dawn” – Br. Geoffrey Tristram
We stand with the women at the empty tomb, at the dawn of universe, at the threshold of Life.
“A Cause For Great Joy” – Br. Geoffrey Tristram
On Easter, we celebrate that Jesus has called us brothers, as he rolls the stone away from our hearts.
“Court Robes” – Br. Mark Brown
Even as we face the messiness of past, present, and future, we proclaim the glorious news.
“Joy Comes in the Morning” – Br. David Vryhof
The evidence for the Resurrection lies not in the empty tomb, but in the encounters of the first disciples with the Risen Lord.
“The Power of God” – Br. Geoffrey Tristram
The power of God, which raised Jesus to life, which is more powerful than anything else in all creation, is the power of love.
“Shekinah” – Br. Geoffrey Tristram
We need all the help we can get to keep us awakened to the wonder and significance of Easter: that “because he lives, we live also.”
“Will we escape suffering in this world? No. Can we bring this suffering to God? Absolutely. And the God who loves us more than we can ever love ourselves, will take and use this suffering for our greater good, and use it to bless us and the world. “Do not be afraid,” God says to us. “I will never leave you or forsake you.”
– Br. David Vryhof
Holy Saturday is a day of waiting, anticipation, and preparation for Easter. We know that Jesus is in the Tomb.
An ancient homily for Holy Saturday, which you can listen to below, meditates on the mystery of this day: “Something strange is happening—there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep.”
You might pray today with stillness, silence.
What parts of you are dying? What parts of you are waiting for new life?
Consider what in your life is giving you life right now – and give thanks. Consider what is draining or destroying life in you right now. As we await the glory of Easter, ponder what God’s invitation to ‘new life’ might look like in your present circumstances.
Liturgy of the Word, an ancient lyrical homily
Br. James Koester
Holy Saturday (2:01)
Br. Curtis Almquist
| “Resurrection and the Life” (55:37)
Br. David Vryhof
“Sometime this week, someone will need you to lay down your life for them, and you will need another to lay down their life for you; when that happens you will be in the presence of love. You will be in the presence of God.”
– Br. James Koester
Good Friday marks the second day of the Triduum (from the Latin for ‘three days’), the day on which we commemorate the Lord’s crucifixion and death.
The worship offered at the Monastery is in fact a continuation of the liturgy begun last night and it will not ‘end’ until the Great Vigil of Easter. The vesture of the sacred ministers is deep red, accented with black, recalling the solemnity and sobriety of the day, and the Gospel according to John is chanted to an ancient tone, which you can hear below.
The liturgy crests as a cross is carried in and venerated by the gathered congregation. All depart in silence to the awkward waiting of Holy Saturday and the restrained anticipation of the Great Vigil of Easter.
How will you stand beside Jesus in his hour of greatest need?
- The Passion Gospel According to John, sung on an ancient tone
- Psalm 40
- “Christ became obedient”
- Plainsong Anthems sung by the Schola (We glory in your cross; We adore you, O Christ; O Savior of the world)
- A collection of Hymns sung by the Schola (Jesus keep me near the cross; When Jesus came to Golgotha; When Jesus wept; Cross of Jesus, cross of sorrow)
- Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle
- And now, O Father, mindful of the love
- Come Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy
- Approach, My Soul, the Mercy Seat
- My Faith Looks up to Thee
- Were you there when they crucified the Lord?
“Life out of Death” – Br. Curtis Almquist
We are not spared the experience of the cross, we are shared the experience. And the only way to survive the many deaths of this life is to surrender to Christ, taking him at his word: that life comes out of death.
“Love Upon a Cross” – Br. David Vryhof
We have been captured by this love, smitten and overwhelmed by this love, changed and transformed by this love. And how could it not be?
“Life By His Death” – Br. Geoffrey Tristram
Our greatest hope in Jesus is that however dark the day, even as dark as Good Friday, we can look in confidence and trust to the cross. “For he hath given me rest by his sorrow, and life by his death.”
Br. Robert L’Esperance
Good Friday (2:55)
Br. John Braught
“Good Shepherd” (52:58)
Br. David Vryhof
“God’s generosity is boundless and, in turn, prompts in us a generosity that is boundless as well. This is a generosity that does not count the cost. This is the generosity that anoints the feet of Jesus. How different it is to the gift that serves to our own advantage. And be assured, we can and will know God’s generosity if we give ourselves to others without expectations or requirements.”
– Br. Eldridge Pendleton
Maundy Thursday marks the beginning of the holiest three days in an already holy week. The liturgy commemorates the humility of the Lord in his willingness to do the most lowly of tasks.
The word maundy is an English corruption of the Latin mandatum, from the ‘new commandment’ that Jesus gives his disciples after washing their feet, an event we reenact and remember in the liturgy. At the conclusion of our Eucharist, we are invited, as were the first disciples, to watch and pray with the Lord on the night before his crucifixion and death. We keep watch through the night, here at the moment of Jesus’ greatest need. On Maundy Thursday, as you are fed by God’s body and blood, pray for your deepest need. As your feet are washed, ask God to bring healing to what is broken in you.
Where is your deepest need right now?
- Anthems sung by the Schola
- “Now my tongue the mystery telling”
- “Stay with me”
- Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love
- Ubi Caritas
- Go to dark Gethsemane
“Baptism of Feet” – Br. Mark Brown
In the sacramental mystery of the Eucharist we are put in touch with Jesus Christ and with all human beings down through history who have been in touch with him.
“Feet First” – Br. Luke Ditewig
The foot washing reminds us that love is always vulnerable: emotionally exposing, risky and essential for living well.
“Maundy Thursday Remembrance” – Br. Curtis Almquist
Take what is cut off, broken, lost, detached from your own life, and allow it on this holy night to be reattached, reconnected, remembered.
“Love Is His Meaning” – Br. James Koester
Everywhere we look, everything we taste, everything we feel, everything we hear, everything we smell tonight is a reminder that God loves us.
“The Scandal of Service” – Br. James Koester
When we are prepared to fall on our knees before another in acts of humility and service, we too have the opportunity to change the world.
“Called to Serve” – Br. David Vryhof
As Jesus reveals his true vocation, we learn that we are all called to serve.
Br. Geoffrey Tristram
Maundy Thursday (2:26)
Br. Jim Woodrum
“Bread of Life” (40:28) Br. David Vryhof
“God chooses to love us precisely when we are least deserving of it, when we are least lovable. When we come dragging home in our lowest, most unattractive, most undeserving state, God runs to meet us. This is the beauty of the gospel – that God loves us, without the least regard to what we deserve. We are forgiven.”
– Br. David Vryhof
On Wednesday, the Brothers pray the ancient monastic office of Tenebrae, a service that derives from the monastic services of matins and lauds. The liturgy uses darkness and the gradual extinguishing of candles, until only a single candle remains, a symbol of our Lord. The service provides an opportunity for sustained reflection on the Lord’s suffering and death.
This liturgy, parts of which you can listen to below, is a choral offering, with chanted psalms and canticles set to plainsong and chanted lessons from the Lamentations of Jeremiah (in which each verse is introduced by a letter of the Hebrew alphabet). As you listen, you might light a candle, allowing its light to inspire your meditation.
In what ways has Jesus’ coming penetrated the darkness of your own life? In what ways are you blind, or unable to see?
“In the Shadows” – Br. Luke Ditewig
Jesus was troubled, sad, and afraid – as we all are. This night invites us to linger in the darkness with him.
“Live As Though Death Does Not Matter” – Br. Robert L’Esperance
An invitation to see Jesus’ death on the cross not as sacrifice, but as the ultimate teaching of Jesus’ core message: we do not have to live our lives as death’s victims.
“And It Was Night” – Br. James Koester
We only know the relief of dawn when the terrors of the night have kept us awake, so spend some time today in the darkness.
Br. Jonathan Maury
On Tenebrae (4:09)
Br. David Vryhof
“Light of the World” (40:37) Br. David V.
“Who is your enemy? Who is difficult for you? Try praying for them. Go to God on their behalf remembering them as fellow humans, as people. Pray as a child of God for these other children of God. Trust the teacher and practice praying, for through this we learn to love everyone.”
– Br. Luke Ditewig
Monday in Holy Week offer a pause, a chance to recollect from the drama of yesterday before plunging into the sacred events to come.
What are the lessons Holy Week has to offer you this year?
Since Holy Scripture is the living word of God, as we encounter again the events of the final week of Jesus’ life, look for those passages, those haunting details of the story that seem to rise up from the page to snare your attention, things you had not noticed before. Ponder what special meaning these passages might hold for you this year? Why is God bringing them to your attention at this time? What might God be saying to you? Take time to meditate on these questions. Be especially alert to listen because God will be speaking to us through the liturgies, through scripture, homilies and also in other unexpected ways this week.
Praying Your Way Through Holy Week: A Meditation – Br. Eldridge Pendleton
God who loves us so much and continually delights in our creation, is continually offering us grace in the form of answered prayers, healing, reconciliation, hope and deeper faith, and in the Paschal mystery has given us the means to triumph over death. Two practices to deepen your awareness of this love during Holy Week.
Compassion – Br. David Vryhof
“During this week, as we gather for worship, as we fast, as we pray and meditate on the life-giving events of these last days of our Lord’s life, we try to enter imaginatively into the story of Christ’s passion, to feel the weight of the cross, to understand a little of the immensity of God’s sacrifice for us, and the immensity of God’s love for us.”
– Br. Geoffrey Tristram
On Palm Sunday, we begin the journey to Calvary that we will live out across the next week. We are invited to join the crowd in shouting “Hosanna” and “Crucify.” And we are invited to accompany our Lord in the dramatic events of his final days.
How will you journey alongside Jesus this week?
“Why?” – Br. David Vyrhof
Why must God’s Servant enter into the darkest rhythms of the human condition? Perhaps it’s the only way they can be challenged and undone, once and for all.
“Singing Hosanna, Screaming Crucify” – Br. James Koester
Palm Sunday is a chance to discover once more all that is within us, both light and dark, both good and evil.
“That We Might Lovely Be” – Br. Luke Ditewig
On Palm Sunday we encounter again how Jesus is Love shown to the least, the lost and the last at every opportunity.
“Steal Away” – Br. Tom Shaw
Letting the power of Jesus’ humility, self-sacrifice, and surrender soak into us during Holy Week gives us the power to stand on the edge of glory every day.
“How Awesome” – Br. Mark Brown
Palm Sunday prepares us to be restored, renewed, renovated, recreated—born again.
“The Weight of the Cross” – Br. Geoffrey Tristram
On Palm Sunday, we embrace both the weight of the cross and the wealth of its love.
Vulnerability – Br. Curtis Almquist
“I really appreciate it.”
How often in a single day do you speak or hear these words? We Brothers hear them day after day, from our Friends, who write to thank us for a word we’ve shared, or a sermon we’ve posted. We are so grateful for this stream of thanks, which inspires and heartens us, that we wanted to stop and take a moment to reflect on how just powerful gratitude can be in our lives.
As our friend Anders sums it up: “Gratitude seems to be shortest path to love God with all our hearts and souls, and to love one another as ourselves . . . In gratitude, we are co-creators with God, and it is good.”
Gratitude is so important that the fundamental action of Christian worship is the Eucharist, an act of gratitude that literally means “great thanksgiving.” “Let us give thanks to the Lord,” the celebrant invites us. And we respond, “It is right to give God thanks and praise.”
Gratitude is a great gift, which we are made to receive and offer back to God. And to do that, we need to practice!
Our friend, Ruth put it perfectly: “How often we see the hole instead of the donut! How blessed we are from day to day! May God grant us the ability to see those blessings!”
Watch a short video of Br. Curtis Almquist on the gift of gratitude.
PRACTICING GRATITUDE (a monastic guide)
Gratitude, like any other spiritual practice, is something we do, not just something we feel. And it’s something we need to practice. To practice gratitude, we don’t need a special cushion on which to sit, nor a special lamp to light, nor a special icon on which to gaze, nor special incense to smell, nor special prayer beads to finger, nor a special prayer or mantra to recite. (None of that is in any way bad or inappropriate. It may well help. It is simply not enough.)
What is enough is here and now. The Psalmist reminds us, “This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Ps 118: 24). Gratitude consecrates our life and makes us real, because it makes us really available to the real presence of Christ, who is at work within us and around us – now.
We hope you’ll try out these four simple invitations and see how they change your day.
A DAY IN THE LIFE OF GRATITUDE
The Psalmist asks rhetorically, “How shall I repay the LORD for all the good things he has done for me?” (Ps 116:10). Start with gratitude. Br. Geoffrey suggests that the best time to practice gratitude is first thing in the morning – even Monday mornings! (God Loves to be Thanked – Br. Geoffrey Tristram) Before you ask God for anything, say thank you for one thing or many things.
People will want to thank you today. Let them. (This can be a hard one!) They need to speak their gratitude; you need to hear it. Respond to them, “You are welcome,” and say it from the bottom of your heart. And keep your ears open to hear God’s gratitude for you. There is no one else like you, and God – believe it or not – is immensely grateful for who you are and all the good that you do.
People are so easily taken for granted. Whether they be people whose labor is menial or in leadership, or whose lives are closely linked with yours, people are so easily taken for granted. You’ll change their day, perhaps change their life, by expressing your gratitude for who they are and what they do. Stop throughout the day and thank someone. Make an unexpected phone-call to say thank you for something that happened, even long ago. A handwritten note can be equally powerful. (We Brothers know first-hand how much these messages of thanks matter.)
Take time to remember and reclaim what is so amazingly good in your life. (Br. Luke Ditewig offers tips on how to do this in a short video.) Gratitude means saying “Yes” to the life you’ve been given, to the hand you’ve been dealt. Accept the good gifts of life that actually are there, free of resentment for what is not there, or no longer there. Complete the daily chapters of your life by remembering and appreciating what has been so very good today.
Here you’ll find a selection of the Brothers’ preaching, writing, and videos on Practicing Gratitude:
- In this short video on Praying Our Lives, Br. Robert L’Esperance makes a passionate argument for how gratitude helps us embrace the newness of every moment. Watch it here.
- Does prayer elude you? In his article “Living Gratefully,” Br. Curtis Almquist encourages a practice of gratitude, assuring us, “Gratitude in prayer is like oil to a frozen gear box.” Get some tips here.
- “Our whole life is a life of gratitude,” said Thomas Merton. But how can we cultivate a spirit of gratitude in all things? Br. David Vryhof offers some suggestions in his article Life Becomes Rich: The Gift of Gratitude.
- Follow your own Streams of Gratitude back to their source with Br. Mark Brown, who suggests that “If gratitude is the fullness of our humanity, and if we are made in the image and likeness of God, gratitude itself must have its origins in the heart of God.”
- “Our life should overflow with thanksgiving to Jesus. Thanksgiving should be the driving force in our daily lives.” Say a simple Thank you, Jesus with Br. John Goldring
Rejoice and sing now, all the round earth,
bright with a glorious splendor,
for darkness has been vanquished by our eternal King. Continue reading