On the Profession of Jack Crowley in Initial Vows
It’s not difficult for me to imagine this scene. I have stood on a beach on the shore of the Sea of Galilee four or five times. It may not be THE beach where our gospel scene took place, but it is certainly A beach, and that’s all I need for my imagination to go to work.
With memories of standing in bare feet, ankle deep in the water, gazing out across the lake at the surrounding hills, I can easily imagine this scene: the inky black water revealing nothing below the surface in the predawn darkness; the first inkling of dawn as the eastern sky begins to brighten with the rising sun; the calling back and forth from shore to boat and back, one voice strong and confident, the other voices tired, perhaps frustrated, certainly sad and grief stricken; the uncertainty of who, or maybe even what this stranger on the shore is, raising caution, perhaps even fear, among the men in the boat.
Some of what I see is right there in text. Some is what my imagination fills in. It’s those details, the ones I see and hear in my imagination, which fascinate me today.
For several years, I lived at Emery House. In the nice weather I would sleep with my windows open, and the blinds up, so I could see the night sky and hear the night noises. There was a moment in the night, that I absolutely loved. In the summer comes around 4:30 AM, just as I was waking up. On a moonless night the sky would be black as pitch. Often, I could see nothing out the window. It would also be completely silent. If I lay quietly in my bed, I could eventually hear, somewhere out my window, the very first bird begin to sing. Over the next few moments others would join in. Soon there would be a whole chorus of birds singing, chirping, and tweeting. Only then would the sky begin to brighten, as the sun slowly rose. Somehow in those predawn minutes, the birds knew what was about to happen. That 5 or 10 minutes between night and day became my favourite part of the day. In many ways it was no longer night, yet nor was it, in that moment day. It seemed to be both, and neither at the same time.
It is at that moment, or a minute after, in my imagination, that John tells us, Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, ‘Children, you have no fish, have you?’ They answered him, ‘No.’
In that moment when it is no longer night, but not yet day, a stranger appears on the shores, clothed in shadows, and calls out Children, you have no fish, have you?
Sixteen months ago, the world went dark, as we were plunged into the night of a global pandemic. Unable to see clearly, we have stumbled in the dark, like those disciples, fishing in the dark, catching nothing, and unsure who or what stood on the shore. Even the people and things once most familiar are unknown and unrecognized.
Those moments between night and day, as the birds begin to sing, but before the sun begins to rise is a powerful moment for me. In that moment I stand on the threshold between night and day. That moment is a moment when things are no longer, and not yet. It is a moment when what has been, is still dark, and what will be, is not yet revealed. For the disciples looking across the inky black waters, at a mysterious figure clothed in shadows, they too experienced that moment between what was no longer, and what was not yet.
As Christians, we have a word for that. We speak of such moments, spaces, experiences, even people as liminal, when we stand on the threshold of two worlds.
Those moments, while it was no longer night, and not yet day, but the birds are just beginning to sing is such a time of the day, as I stand between what is no longer, and what is not yet. It is a liminal moment, as I stand on the threshold of two worlds.
For the disciples that moment, when out from the predawn shadows someone not yet recognized appeared, was also a liminal moment. In that moment they saw but did not yet see.
For us, this is a liminal moment. The pandemic is ending, but it is not yet over, and we stand on the threshold between a world that is no longer, and one that is not yet. Now is a liminal time, as we begin to move from one world, into another, a world that is no longer, into another that is not yet.
For many, monasteries are liminal places. They exist between two worlds. Standing here and looking over one shoulder we see the world as it is, or as it was. Looking ahead to the stranger on the shore, clothed in shadows, we catch glimpses of the world as it can be. John’s companions in the boat saw, but they could not see. They saw the shadows. They knew it was night. They could not yet see the dawn. They saw, but they could not yet see. It was only, like the predawn singing of the birds, when the stranger spoke, and John proclaimed It is the Lord! that dawn broke, the sun rose, and they stepped into a world made new by the presence of the risen Jesus.
Jack, in this moment the world exists in that time between time. We are in a liminal time. The pandemic is ending, but it is not yet over. It is no longer night, but it is not yet day. The birds have begun to sing, but the sun has not yet risen. We look at the shadowy figure on the shore, but we cannot yet see clearly enough to recognize. It is such a time that you have chosen to make your profession in this particular monastic community. And it is no accident. It is no accident.
If monasteries are liminal places that exist between two worlds, then monks are liminal people, who exist between two worlds. Monks usher us from one world to another, from Chronos time to Kairos time, from the world’s time to God’s time.
As you make your vows today Jack, you take your place on the threshold of two worlds, not as a bouncer at a nightclub (although you are perfectly suited for that job too!), but as a guide who leads, points, and guides.
To stand in such a place, this between place, between night and day, between Chronos and Kairos, between what was and what is not yet, requires many things. I’ll name two.
It requires that you not be afraid of the dark. Like those disciples who went fishing at night, you need to be prepared to launch out into the deep, and into the dark, and take all the risks that implies. Jack, we Brothers can say many things about you, and one of them is that you are not afraid of the dark. You know the dark. You have lived in the dark. The dark no longer frightens you.
But to stand in such a place, this between place, between night and day, between Chronos and Kairos, between what was and what is not yet, requires something else. It requires a clarity of vision. You need clarity of vision to see in the dark, as the stranger clothed in shadows emerges on the shore. You need clarity of vision to be able to see, and recognize, and to say with your namesake, it is the Lord.
Right now, we stand on the threshold between two worlds, between what was, and what is not yet. It is no longer night, but it is not yet day. It is still dark, yet the birds have begun to sing. The pandemic is ending, but it is not yet over. There are many who are afraid of the dark, who cannot yet see, nor recognize the stranger on the shore clothed in shadows.
It is such a time as this that the world needs guides. It is such a time as this, this between time, between two worlds, between what was, and what is not yet, when it is no longer night, but not yet day, when it is still dark, but the birds have begun to sing, that the world needs guides to lead us from one world to the other, who are not afraid of the dark, and who have clarity of vision. It is such a time as this that the world needs monks.
The world needs monks, because monks are liminal people who stand on the threshold of two worlds, guiding women and men of faith, and pointing to the stranger on the shore, saying, it is the Lord.
Jack, today you take your place on that threshold, as friend and guide to others, who is not afraid of the dark, and who has the clarity of vision to see and recognize the Lord as he emerges, clothed in shadows, on the shore.
Over the last months, and especially in these months of lockdown, you have demonstrated to your Brothers, Jack, that you are such a person. You have demonstrated that you are not afraid of the dark, because you know the dark, because you once lived in the dark. You have demonstrated that you have the clarity of vision to see, and recognize, the stranger on the shore, clothed in shadows, and to say with the Beloved Disciple, it is the Lord.
Over the last months Jack, you have shown yourself to be a monk, because you are a liminal person, who stands on the threshold of two worlds, guiding and pointing as we move from night, to day, with the simple words of encouragement, it is the Lord.
Jack it is no accident that today, as the world stands between what once was and what is not yet, that you have chosen to stand with us your Brothers, as we stand at the threshold of a new world, guiding women and men of faith, and pointing to the stranger on the shore clothed in the shadows, saying it is the Lord.
Jack, the world needs monks who are not afraid of the dark, and who have the clarity of vision to guide all into a new world, by pointing and saying, it is the Lord. Over these months, you have shown yourself to be such a person, and we are all so, so grateful.
 John 21: 4 – 5
 John 21: 7
Please support the Brothers work.
The brothers of SSJE rely on the inspired kindness of friends to sustain our life and our work. We are grateful for the prayers and support provided to us.