Every year in August, the Brothers gather together for a community retreat at Emery House. During this month, in lieu of posting sermons, we will be sharing with you some of the Brothers’ recent reflections from Cowley magazine on the topic of our relationship with the Creation, which will be the main theme of the Brothers’ teaching for the coming year.
In September, we’ll look forward to sharing Br. James Koester’s Monastic Wisdom article, “Living in Rhythm: Following Nature’s Rule.” And we hope you’ll share word of our upcoming 2016 Lenten series, “Growing a Rule of Life,” which offers guidance and inspiration for individuals, parishes, and groups.
Can we “own” any part of Creation? Br. Mark Brown relates the Brothers’ experience of stewardship at Emery House.
“So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” – Luke 14:33
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.
When Georgiana, the last of the Emery sisters, died in 1952, the farm was given into the care of the SSJE with the provision in the will that the property be used for Christian ministry. The Brothers do not actually own Emery House; we have stewardship of this place for the express purpose of the ministry we continue here. Considering their inheritance a gift from God and not their own, the Emery sisters gave abundantly of those resources. They have passed along much of what they received to us, no doubt with the expectation that we will hold this place in trust to be a gift from God to be shared with others in God’s service.
We Brothers try to remember to think of ownership and possession in these terms. If we were to purchase a property and “own” it in the legal sense, it would still be with the understanding that we wouldn’t in truth “own” it, but we would be stewards or caretakers. All that we have use of, from our toothbrushes and clothing to the Monastery buildings to the financial resources that sustain our ministry, we try to remember, do not, in truth, belong to us.
The traditional monastic vow of poverty, the giving up of “all our possessions,” as Jesus counseled, actually opens up for us a way to relate to all of Creation. We could say a more “reconciled” relationship with Creation. Yes, we may in a legal sense “own” something – ownership is a convenient and necessary legal construct for a kind of stability in society (not without problems, however). But there is freedom in the full realization that “the earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it” (Psalm 24). We are passing through and may have the care of resources for a season.
And who, after all, “owns” a poem? After the poet speaks the poem into existence, who can say he owns it? Who can say she possesses it? We are, and the world is, in a sense, the poem. When we recite the ancient creeds we say we believe in God, the maker or creator of all things. As it happens, the original Greek of the creeds uses the word poietes, for maker and creator. This is the same word used in the Bible for “poet” (Acts 17:28). God is the maker, the creator, the poet of the universe; we and all things visible and invisible are spoken into existence – we ourselves are the poem, heaven and earth are the poem, the seas and dry land and all that dwell therein and thereupon are the poem. Can one line of a poem possess or own another – in truth?
Can the sunshine over the meadow own the moonlight over the woods? Can the river say to the grassy hill, “I own you”? Once we begin to awaken to the wonders to be told in stones and trees and the lay of the land; once we begin to hear the poetry in roots and leaves and micro-organisms; once we begin to read the words of the Divine Poet in all creation, we begin to see how absurd the idea of possession is. Beholding the glory of one single tree (let alone the forest); really seeing the complexity of a single flower (let alone the glory of the meadow) – how can we say we own any of these things? We can only stand in awe. Or, perhaps, even kneel in silent wonder.
Jesus’ words from Luke quoted above this article sound very hard, even unattainable. Who can do without stuff? All God’s children need stuff. But we might hear in those challenging words an invitation to a new way of being: Give up “possession” itself. Give up the notion of ownership and be opened up to a new way of being in relationship to the world around us. Relinquish notions of dominion and domination and subjugation (all rooted in fear) and discover your rightful place in the seamless web of life, in God’s seamless, infinite web of poetry. God’s infinite web of poetry whose words are written in light and life and love.
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