Dear Members of the Fellowship of Saint John and other Friends,
This spring, as we once again read our way through the book of Exodus at Morning Prayer, I couldn’t help but reflect on how the story of God’s people in Exodus has been imprinted, not only in our hearts and minds, but also on the soles of our feet. Like the ancient people of Israel, we are a people on the move. We may not cover much distance in our lives, at least physically, but as God’s pilgrim people, we are always on the move, slowly but surely making our way through the wilderness of this life, to the land of promise in the next. This pilgrim journey of ours is marked not so much by miles traveled, but by hearts melted. As Ezekiel reminds us: A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
If this journey from stony hearts to hearts of flesh is the story of God’s people throughout time, then it is our community’s story, not simply as God’s people, the Church; nor just as individuals, as Christians; but as a monastic community as well. We Brothers often speak, as Father Benson did, of being men of the moment, but I would also say that we are men of movement. Like all of God’s people, we too are called to be pilgrims.
Last summer, we Brothers were able to embark together on an incredible pilgrimage to England, celebrating the one-hundred-and-fiftieth anniversary of our founding, by getting in touch with the deep roots of our tradition and visiting sites sacred to our community. We stood in the place of the Society’s founding, prayed in Father Benson’s parish church, and took a week’s retreat on Iona, where members of our Society once ministered. We laughed, we cried, and we were transformed by our experiences. As so many pilgrims do, we returned home with hearts aflame.
You can see some glimpses of our journey throughout this issue of Cowley, which takes up the theme of pilgrimage. In the Monastic Wisdom reflection, Br. Geoffrey explores the inner dimensions of spiritual pilgrimage. In his article, “Like a Beaten Bell,” Br. Keith reflects on experiences of thin places. You can also read about the recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land, through reflections by a former SSJE intern, Amy Nizolek, and Br. David Vryhof. These stories of diverse experiences in diverse lands testify to how, in amazing ways, any pilgrimage takes us out of our everyday life only to return us to it more energized and ready to follow God’s call. Our community’s time overseas galvanized our passion for this life of ours, here in Cambridge and West Newbury. For more on that, check out Br. Jim’s interview about our new vocations website “Catch the Life” (p. 16-19). We hope that these stories of pilgrimage will strengthen and inspire you, wherever you find yourself along your path.
It’s easy to read Exodus as an account of something which happened long ago, to a people far away. It’s easy to think of Saints Columba and Aiden and Cuthbert, whom we encountered in Britain, as dusty relics of a bygone time. But these are living stories. Their power comes when we allow them to be a lens through which we can examine our life as God’s pilgrim people today. To read Exodus simply as history is, perhaps, interesting. To read it as a pilgrim journey of risk and renewal – in which God’s people discover for themselves the meaning of their life with God – invites us to discover for ourselves the story of our own pilgrim journey, as we journey ever deeper into life in union with God.
Thank you for being our companions on this journey.
Br. James Koester SSJE