The Radical Practice of Giving Thanks in All Circumstances – Br. David Vryhof

Br. David Vryhof

Read by Br. Curtis Almquist, SSJE

I Thessalonians 5:18
Luke 17:11-19

I have a memory of my 5th-grade teacher asking us to write a short paragraph describing the things in our lives for which we were thankful.  I don’t recall any of the specifics of that assignment, but I do recall having a terrible case of “writer’s block.”  I sat for the longest time just staring at that piece of paper.  I couldn’t think of a thing for which I was thankful.

Recalling it now, it seems shocking to me that a 5th-grade boy growing up in suburban America, with plenty of food and warm clothes and a comfortable home and a loving family, couldn’t think of anything for which he was thankful.  I was surrounded by gifts, but I didn’t recognize them as gifts, and so I couldn’t begin to express my gratitude for them.  I suppose I naively assumed that everyone had food and clothing, a loving family and a comfortable home.  I was unaware of how privileged I was to enjoy these things on a daily basis, and simply took them for granted. Continue reading

Glory To God for All Things – Br. Keith Nelson

Br. Keith Nelson

Feast of St. John Chrysostom

Luke 21:10-15

In 1940, Fr. Gregory Petrov, a Russian Orthodox priest, died in a Soviet labor camp in Siberia. Among his possessions was found a copy of a hymn entitled “Glory to God for All Things.” It is uncertain whether Petrov composed the hymn, but it is clear that it was written during the period of intense, coordinated persecution of the Church in Russia begun under Lenin. The systematic attempt to annihilate religious identity in Russia continued in waves of varying intensity until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. The hymn so cherished by Petrov was copied and distributed secretly, sung and recited in clandestine gatherings of the faithful during those years, as Christians in the millions were arrested, imprisoned, tortured, sent to mental hospitals, barred from worshipping, praying, training new clergy or building churches. The hymn is now easy to find in English translation. I discovered it a few years ago, and my gratitude to God is always kindled anew when I return to its litanies of undaunted thanksgiving: Continue reading

Practicing Gratitude: A Monastic Guide

 MW-gratitude-banner2

“Thank you.”

“Many thanks.”

“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

6am1. Pray your 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.



noon-22. Keep your ears open. 

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.

6pm3. Express your gratitude to others. 

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.)

9pm4. Savor your life at the end of the day. 

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.

WANT MORE?

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

Old Picture, New Frame – Br. Mark Brown

Mark-Brown-SSJE-2010-300x299I could be confused, but I think I remember that the guidelines for a proper celebration of Thanksgiving Day call for “something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue.”  It’s either Thanksgiving or weddings …perhaps I’m very confused…

In any event, I’ve brought something old with me to the ambo today—an old sermon.  I’ve even printed it out in the Goudy Old Style font. Actually this sermon is only four years old—but lots can happen in four years.  So, with your permission I will now quote myself and leave the new, the borrowed and the blue to you. Continue reading

As They Went – Br. Luke Ditewig

Br. Luke DitewigTen lepers called out: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When he saw them, Jesus said: “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” As they went, they were made clean.

As they went. Not at the moment Jesus spoke. Not at the moment they met the priests. As they went. As they followed Jesus’ invitation. As they did the next thing asked, as they journeyed. As they went, they were healed. Healing may happen in motion, in process, as we go, as we live, as we follow. During a short walk or over a long journey. At a particular point in time or as a process into which we receive glimpses of insight. 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

Praying Your Life – Br. Curtis Almquist

curtisFrançois de Sales, the 17th century Bishop of Geneva, was revered for his insights about prayer.  His recommendation for prayer: every day, “half an hour’s listening is essential except when you are very busy.  Then a full hour is needed.” (1) François de Sales presumes three things about prayer:

1. Our prayer begins and ends with listening.
2. When life is very busy – like when you’re beginning a new school term, or a new internship, or a new job, or when life is very full – our discipline around prayer can easily be lost and yet it’s all-the-more important.
3. It’s essential to demarcate some time each day for prayer.

But don’t stop there.  I will add a fourth point about prayer which I draw from our own Rule of Life:
4. The real quest, the ultimate invitation for prayer, is to “pray our lives.” (2) Continue reading

To Be A Pilgrim – Br. Jim Woodrum

The other day when I was thinking about what I might preach on today, I kept getting distracted by memories from grade school when we learned about the first Thanksgiving. We would study the story about how the Indians showed the pilgrims how to plant corn and how the pilgrims when they had such a successful crop the following year, invited the Indians to a feast which became known as the first Thanksgiving. This study was usually accompanied by arts and crafts where we made Native American head dresses and pilgrims’ hats and put on a pageant about Thanksgiving for our families, complete with musical numbers and of course an occasional wave to grandma in the audience.

Continue reading

#Thanksgiving: Food on the Road – Br. Luke Ditewig


3_ThanksgivingWe Brothers are helping people write and introduce fresh prayers into the Prayers of the People by learning about the seven principal forms of prayer identified in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer: adoration, praise, thanksgiving, penitence, oblation, intercession, and petition.

We invite your prayers to the God of Grace in words and images on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram in the format #prayersof #life … you may want to start “I give thanks…”
View the prayers of othersprayersofthepeople.org

To read more sermons about the seven forms of prayer: Teach Us to Pray


Catalina Island is 22 miles off the coast of Los Angeles. A Christian camp there, Campus by the Sea, is one of my very favorite places which grew up visiting frequently. After seminary, I spent over a year living there on the beach in the small, isolated staff community, who are caretakers of a sacred space and hosts to many coming for spiritual retreat. Camp nurtured my gifts for hospitality and service, valuing simplicity and honoring God in mundane work, preparing me for monastic life.

During my year on staff, there was a major wildfire on Catalina. It spread to ridges surrounding our camp causing us to quickly evacuate our guests and ourselves by boat to Catalina’s town. We finally left the island late that night with the eery sight of flames amid the darkness near camp. We huddled together in prayer and song, fearing the loss of our sacred place and home.

Continue reading

Seeing with New Eyes – Br. Curtis Almquist

Matthew 6:19-24

Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

I remember as a young lad being given a wonderful gift by my parents: a telescope on a tripod.  I was maybe 12 years old, and for several years I had been fascinated by searching the sky at night to recognize stars and constellations.  I knew where to look for the Big Dipper; I could spy out the North Star and Orion; I could whisk with my eyes through the night and find the Milky Way.  The stars probably told stories about life, I thought, and I had a childlike sense, like with the Psalmist, that the heavens declared God’s glory and splendor.1 I loved what I saw at night, lying on my back on the grass of our front lawn, peering into the night sky with my hands cupped behind my head.  And so the gift of a telescope was so exciting.  It was also a huge disappointment.  Continue reading

Remembering Joy – Br. Luke Ditewig

The first week of November a dozen people walked to Emery House, our retreat center in West Newbury. They walked from downtown Boston, walked over 50 miles in three days. They were from Ecclesia Ministries which offers spiritual companionship to homeless men and women in Boston. Both homeless and housed, they walked in community on a spiritual pilgrimage, staying with host churches along the way. We at Emery House had the honor of being their destination: together we celebrated and feasted, shared silence and reflected aloud, rested and prayed. Continue reading

God Loves to be Thanked – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Deuteronomy 8:-1; 2 Corinthians 9:6-15; Luke 17:11-19

Among the many things which I like about living in America is this day – Thanksgiving.  My family and friends in England don’t know quite what it is.  They sort of combine it with the 4th of July and think it’s a kind of thanksgiving for having got rid of the British!  But I’ve explained it to them now, and they even phone and wish me Happy Thanksgiving.  So, what is Thanksgiving about?  If it’s not thanks for getting rid of the British, what is it about?  It’s got to be more than just the prelude to the biggest shopping spree of the year!

Thanksgiving’s got something to do with this story of a woman out shopping on Black Friday.  She was in the middle of the packed mall, and felt the need of a coffee break,  So she bought herself a little bag of cookies, put them in her shopping bag, and got in line for a coffee.  She found a place to sit at one of the crowded tables, took the lid off her coffee, and taking out a magazine she relaxed and began to sip her coffee and read.  Across the table from her a man sat reading a newspaper. Continue reading

Sermon at the Eucharist of the Resurrection in honor of Br. John Mathis SSJE (1923 – 2011) – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

We come together today to give thanks to God for John.  We give thanks that after a long life of many struggles, but also many blessings, God has now called John home.

As I was praying over today’s Scriptures, one line in particular from St. John’s Gospel stood out for me: “Jesus said, ‘anyone who comes to me I will never drive away’.” And that for me is an apt way of describing John’s remarkable ministry. Like his Lord he would never ignore or turn away from someone in need, however desperate their lives had become.

The first time I met John was thirteen years ago, when I first visited the monastery.  He was walking slowly towards Harvard Square in his own rather distinct habit: those blue denim farmers’ overalls!  When I introduced myself, his whole face lit up with that wonderful smile – which has given hope and encouragement to so many over the years. Continue reading

Living Stones – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Thanksgiving Service for the Renovation and Renewal of the Monastery

We have been looking forward to this day for such a long time!  The day when we Brothers have the opportunity to publically give thanks to God for the gift of our new Monastery – and to give thanks to all of you – our dear friends who have supported, encouraged and cheered us on over these past years of visioning, fundraising, and building.  This past year of the exile in particular has been quite a challenge for us.  St. Augustine once said that a monk out of his monastery is like a fish out of water – and over this past year we have been gasping to be back home.  We’ve come home and it is wonderful to be here with all of you on this glorious day, and wonderful to be able to celebrate this service of praise and thanksgiving.

We believe passionately that God has given us so much: this beautiful new Monastery, our friends, benefactors and advisors – all for a purpose.  We believe we have a mission.  And that is to draw others to know and experience in their own lives, the love of God in Christ. Continue reading

“Do You Want to be Made Well?” – Br. James Koester

This sermon is available only in audio format at this time.

Streams of Gratitude – Br. Mark Brown

Br. Mark Brown“It is right, and a good and joyful thing always and everywhere to give thanks to you, Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.” Familiar words from the Eucharistic Prayer, the Great Thanksgiving.  It is, indeed, always good to give thanks; it is good to give thanks always.  And we who are blessed in so many ways have much to be thankful for.

I heard Elie Wiesel speak once in a synagogue near Chicago.  I remember him saying that gratitude is the most human sentiment.  He didn’t elaborate, but his words stuck with me.  Gratitude is the most human sentiment.  I think what he meant was that when we are in a state of gratitude, we are most fully alive in our humanity.  That such fullness of life and humanity is possible for us is yet more cause for thanksgiving.  We might pause to give thanks for the gift of gratitude itself, that we are capable of a sentiment so right and good and true.  Give thanks that we have the capacity to be thankful! Continue reading

Contentment – Br. Curtis Almquist

Matthew 6:25-33

In 1973 an adventurous explorer named Peter Matthiessen set out on a journey by foot to the Crystal Mountain on the Tibetan Plateau of northwest Nepal.i The trip was to accompany George Schaller, a zoologist who had planned the expedition to study the Himalayan blue sheep called “bharal.” The Bud­dhist lamas had forbidden people to molest these sheep.  And so, where the sheep were numerous, there was bound to appear that rarest and most beautiful of the great cats, the snow leopard.  In the previous 25 years, only two westerners – George Schaller, this zoologist, being one of them – had laid eyes on the Himalayan snow leopard.  For Peter Matthiessen, the hope of glimpsing this near-mythic feline beast in the mountains of Nepal was reason enough for the arduous journey lasting a number of months.  Continue reading

The True Vine – Br. Eldridge Pendleton

This sermon is available only in audio format.

Investing in Life – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

Matthew 25:14-30

In Jesus’ day, there was considerable conversation about “talent.”  Hearing about a “talent” was not in reference to someone’s ability; rather, talent was about money, as we hear in this Gospel reading today.  If Jesus is referring here to the talent-weight of silver, one talent would be approximately $300,000; if gold, upwards to $3 million in today’s exchange.  That’s one talent.  Continue reading

Giving Testimony to Jesus; Sharing Testimony to One Another – Br. Curtis Almquist

During the last three years my brothers and I from our monastery have been invited to minister in two Anglican dioceses in Kenya and Tanzania, a ministry of spiritual formation mostly with clergy and students, helping people to “pray their lives.”i And we have this wonderful privilege of meeting many of the people, young and old, whom they serve. Continue reading