These past months have been ones of particular challenge for all of us, as we have learned to manage, and now live with, the COVID pandemic. This is especially true for us in the Community. In January, eleven of us either tested positive or manifested symptoms of the virus over the course of several days. It seems that, multiple times a day, decisions were made and remade as first one, and then another Brother, went into isolation.
Out of the background of that particular challenge comes this issue of Cowley, in which Brothers reflect on personal and global challenges. Whether the challenges are personal, such as dealing with sickness, stuttering, or discerning God’s voice, or global, such as the climate emergency, it is my experience that challenges bring with them invitations.
As Brothers became sick, the invitation was to allow others to look after us. Even as one of three Brothers who did not become sick, I discovered in this crisis the grace and companionship of God. The face of God was revealed to me in members of the Sunday congregation who provided medical advice and support; or who brought us meals. So too did I find the hundreds of emails assuring us of your prayers to be a source of strength and comfort. In those exhausting and challenging days, I discovered an invitation to allow the face of Jesus to be revealed to me in the form of all of you, who support and love us. Knowing you were supporting us with your prayers and concern during those days caused me to shed tears of relief.
In spite of, or perhaps because of, the challenges we have faced as a Community over the last two years, I have also become aware of our resilience. Since January we have received Lain Wilson as a postulant, clothed Br. Michael Hardgrove as a novice, and received the initial profession of Br. Todd Blackham. We have also developed a new and exciting partnership with Try Tank (www.trytank.org) and provided prerecorded sermons during Advent and Lent to small congregations with an average Sunday attendance of fewer than twenty-nine people, across the United States, Canada, and throughout the Anglican Communion. These sermons have been used on Sunday mornings, as small-group discussion starters, as aids for personal devotion, or as meditations for midweek services of Compline. Three years ago, when this project was first suggested, my response was “over my dead body.” Today I cannot imagine saying no to such a creative request – one that challenged our understanding of embodied, incarnate ministry and invited us to discover new and resilient forms of ministry which addressed immediate needs in the Church.
Over a century ago, Father Benson invited us to be men of the moment. In one of his most profound teachings, he says that readiness “makes the religious to be specially a man – not simply of the day, but a man of the moment, a man precisely up to the mark of the times. This makes the religious – so far from being the traditional imitator of bygone times – most especially a man of the present moment and its life. His duties entirely throw him into the interests of the present moment. Eternity is in that moment, and all the energies which are given to eternity are given through that moment. The religious therefore reviews calmly, dispassionately, dutifully all the phenomena of the age in which he lives. He does not review them as things to deplore, but as things to rejoice in, and as things to be acted upon…”
These have indeed been challenging times for all of us, but when we review those challenges calmly, dispassionately, dutifully, as Father Benson suggests, we may discover that God’s invitation lies within. We may find the challenges not something to deplore, but to rejoice in and act upon. We may in fact discover eternity in that moment of challenge.
Please know how much we value your friendship. May we all know the grace of eternity as we rejoice in, and act upon, the challenges of our lives.
Faithfully in Christ,
James Koester, SSJE