“It’s a long courtship.” As I was preparing to come to the Monastery, that’s how I would usually describe the long path that leads a man to making life vows in SSJE. It often got a laugh but it also seemed to resonate a lot with folks who could make connections to their own lives of relationship and discernment. It continues to be a useful metaphor for me as I’ve continued to test this vocation. When I learned that the community was going to be involved in the “Renewing Our Foundations” discussions, I was excited that I would have a chance to take part in the concentrated work of looking back, and looking forward to set off confidently aware of priorities and passions.
In a lot of ways, it seems like the point that often comes in a romantic relationship when you begin to introduce your beloved to the family. Maybe you take them to your childhood home, where they can see the family photos in the hallway, get a peek at your old bedroom. Of course, it can be a bit embarrassing to bring that person home and show them all the little things that have molded you. “Oh, no! What if my parents bring out that photo album. I hope they don’t tell that story!” It’s a deeply vulnerable step to take with someone you care about and it has the power to deepen relationship in profound ways. When you begin to see the many textures of a person’s life, a fuller, more robust bond may occur.
Over the course of these conversations, there have been all sorts of stories passed around, as Brothers have been reminded of particular characters and events that had perhaps drifted into the woodwork over time. During one presentation, Br. James brought out some old portraits and chasubles, as he described not only the moments of growth in liturgical custom, but also the experiences of the men that gave life to our practice. Like watching home movies of a favorite childhood vacation, I got a glimpse into some deeply moving decisions that have shaped the tapestry of life here in the Monastery. I got to meet some of the extended family, the potential “in-laws.” And as I have heard these stories and watched the men who have been shaped by them, I come to better understand the things they value, the things they are wary of, and the care with which they hold this community.
As we share our spiritual lives with one another, it’s worthwhile to step back from time to time and revisit those things that have shaped our lives in Christ; whether those are communities we’ve been a part of, sermons that were particularly formative, Scripture studies that opened God’s word in deep ways, music that communicated the life of the Spirit, or those moments of transition or crisis in the way Christ became present to us. These are the touchstones that we can return to, like pages of the family album reminding us where we came from; they are gifts to one another as we are drawn together in love in the Body of Christ.