Belonging can be beautiful. As I’ve reflected on my own journey of vocation, the question in my twenties seemed primarily to be: Who am I? But as I approached thirty, it was replaced by the question: Whose am I? The latter is a question about community: Who are the people alongside of whom I am meant to work, grow, undergo real conversion, and bear the fruit that God intends? How beautiful it felt when God drew me, in response to that question, to belong to this Society. There are surely parallel experiences in your own life.
But belonging can also be complicated. In pursuit of belonging, one risk may be that the complexity, dynamism, and mystery of an individual person becomes flattened, distorted, or worse. One facet of a person may be made to stand for the person herself. In search of belonging, as our Rule cautions, individuals may unwittingly “seek refuge in passivity and conformity,” or succumb to false messages from the group’s members or authority figures. A deadening or unquestioning uniformity may be the cost.
An opposite risk may be to avoid the commitment, the dedicated participation, and the life-giving challenges that come with accepting identity alongside others. The freedom and independence that come with resisting a label or keeping options open are tempting. But in this choice, we discover, there are other costs: without belonging, certain kinds of solidarity and real transformation may elude our grasp.
In the pages of this issue I hope you’ll find what I have found: a refreshing, balanced, nuanced, and thought-provoking exploration of belonging as a path to larger life in Christ. Brothers name inherent risks and tackle complex questions: how to live a committed faith even as we disagree with the behavior or values of other Christians; how to honor the identities that make us different while remaining members, one of another, in the Body of Christ; how to abide in community when going it alone would seem so much easier; and how to follow Jesus, as a Christian, in a way that is equal parts open-hearted and single-minded.
By God’s grace, our community continues to act – in the words of our Rule – as “a beacon drawing others to live in communion.” The Monastery Guesthouse and the Chapel have been full of friends and retreatants during these summer and fall months. While it is a joy and an honor to once again exercise a robust rhythm of in-person hospitality, it is also something more: a holy and necessary reminder that we as Brothers and you, who participate in our life in countless ways, belong to one another. These mutual bonds of prayer and service enable us to fit together, in St. Paul’s image, as “living stones” being “built into a spiritual house” (1 Peter 2).
We have had powerful recent occasions to renew and celebrate our belonging to Christ as a brotherhood. In June, our Brother Lucas Hall made his profession of life vows in our Society, becoming by our estimate (at age thirty) one of the youngest life professed members of a religious order in the Anglican Communion. And this summer, we celebrated the clothing as a novice of Br. Lain Wilson. These liturgies embody the graces and challenges of belonging for us. We both “wonder at the risk of such a decisive choice” (as we say of Life Vows) and recall the day we each put on the black habit of our Society – a bold visual statement of our incorporation not just into this community, but into the lineage of those who have followed Jesus on the monastic way throughout history.
It is humbling to know and feel that we belong: that the threads of our being are woven into a fabric so much bigger than we can comprehend, and all for the fulfillment of God’s purpose. Wherever you are, in the midst of whatever challenges and joys, we pray that you discover and re-discover in them how deeply you belong to God. May we all, in our unique ways, become beacons of belonging in a fractured world.
Faithfully in Christ,
Keith Nelson, SSJE
Br. Keith Nelson is SSJE’s Deputy Superior, and he is filling in for our Superior, Br. James Koester, while he is on sabbatical this Fall.