Posts by Br. Lain Wilson
Unheard Voices – Br. Lain Wilson
Whose voice aren’t we hearing?
This has been the question that rings loudly in my mind as I hear our Gospel lesson today. In it, we learn a lot about our characters: what Lazarus wanted in life, what the rich man is desperate for in the afterlife, and that Abraham cannot—or will not—give to the rich man what he desires.
“Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue,” the rich man begs (Lk 16:24). No, Abraham replies. There’s a chasm fixed between us, and no way across.
“Send [Lazarus] to my father’s house . . . that he may warn [my family]” (Lk 16:27-28). No. There’s nothing the dead can do for the living that the living can’t get from the law and prophets.
This story illustrates Jesus’s own statement, from just a few verses before, that “it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one stroke of a letter in the law to be dropped” (Lk 16:17). The rich man’s reversal of fortune is because of how he lived his life. The remedy was there in front of him all along, in the law and the prophets. We have that remedy, too.
But whose voice aren’t we hearing? Read More
Mary’s Yes, Our Yes – Br. Lain Wilson
The Transfiguration closes the season after the Epiphany, and bookends, in language and details, Jesus’s baptism, which opened it. Jesus ascends—from the water at his baptism, and up a mountain now. A voice recognizes him as “my Son, the Beloved.” But between the two events, Jesus has invited people to follow him; he has called his disciples to be with him and to share in his ministry.
These disciples have had glimpses that Jesus is more than just a man. But here, glimpses give way to full vision. The three disciples see Jesus transfigured, his clothes becoming “dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.” They are terrified. Peter doesn’t really seem to know what’s going on. They see Jesus, their teacher, their friend, their Messiah—and they see him changed.
But we might ask, “who was changed? Who was transfigured?” Was Jesus changed—or were the disciples? Was it, perhaps, that the eyes of the disciples were opened so that they could see the reality behind the reality?
That reality, ultimately, is that both their visions of Jesus were true. Jesus was both the man in homespun clothing and the shining figure in resplendent white. Jesus is both human and God. Read More
Our Daily Bread
One of the great gifts of living at the Monastery is the view from my cell window. It’s not just the beauty of the Charles River; it’s the activity that takes place on it that captivates me, which resonates with my own deep-seated need.
I rowed crew off and on for fifteen years before entering the Monastery last winter. Watching the stream of crew boats cutting across my window now, I remember the feeling of being in a boat and I can imagine myself in one again. But more than anything, I feel the beauty of it all. I feel it in my body as tension unknotting in my stomach, as a weight lifting from my shoulders. In this physical response, I become aware of how important this encounter with beauty is for me – not only in watching the river, but in countless small and unexpected ways each day. I realize how much this beauty nourishes me, giving shape and color and texture to my day – to my life. And I recognize, deep down, how my senses, my memory, and my imagination – all those faculties that allow me to find, experience, and appreciate this beauty – are total gifts from God.
You may be surprised that this image of a crew boat on the Charles River emerges in the context of the familiar line from the heart of the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us today our daily bread.” I know I was. You may be surprised that beauty, not bread, is the need I name. I know I was. It can be difficult, for those of us who don’t lack food or experience the sharp pangs of hunger, to know how to pray this petition. It can feel abstract, disembodied. Are you, like me, lucky enough to feel far removed from the precariousness and scarcity that we hear about in the Israelites’ journey through the desert, or that we read about in stories of famine, or that we see around us in those who sleep on the streets? Are you blessed enough to know you will have bread today?
You might not know the urgent cry for bread that haunts others. But we all have needs. We all have hungers. And I think that by identifying them, and in recognizing how these needs affect us physically, we can begin to recapture something of the immediacy and materiality of praying for our daily bread.
In praying to God to meet those needs, to nourish us, we are invited to move beyond ourselves to trust in and rely on God’s limitless provision. And, perhaps most importantly, when we name our needs and realize how often their satisfaction lies beyond our control, we can grow in compassion for those whose lives are more precarious and whose needs are more urgent than our own. In recognizing our commonality as needful people, we can stand alongside our brothers and sisters, placing our trust in the God who gives us our daily bread, in all its many forms.
Knowing God and Making God Known – Br. Lain Wilson
“By this we know.” We hear this phrase four times in our reading from the first letter of John this morning. Knowing is fundamental to this letter, as are three interrelated questions: what we know, how we know it, and what we are going to do with that knowledge. As we begin this season after the Epiphany, as we recall God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ, these three questions can guide our own discovery of God in and among us now.
First, what do we know? From this first letter of John, quite a lot. We know that God is light. We know what love is. We know we belong to the truth. We know God lives in us. This is big stuff—the foundation of our faith, of our relationship with God and with each other. So big, though, that these truths can feel remote from our daily lives. What does it mean for you, here and now, to know that God is love, and that God lives in you?
Reflecting on how we learn, how we come to know, can help bridge these eternal truths and our daily, particular experiences. For John, we know by sense—by what we see, hear, and touch—by example, and by assurance from someone we trust. Each of these modes is familiar to us, and I’m sure each of us learns better in one way than another. I know I learn best by touch, by moving my body, and by holding, tinkering, and manipulating. Read More
Not Made to Be Trapped – Br. Lain Wilson
Isaiah 45:5-8, 18-25
I’m sure most of us have set mousetraps. I’m sure most of us have also accidentally set them off. I think this experiences helps us to feel what Jesus tells us at the end of today’s Gospel. “Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” The root word of “takes offense” in the Greek is often translated “stumbling block,” but literally means the trigger of a trap. Just like touching the mousetrap’s trip, in encountering Jesus we may feel surprise or pain, pull away reflexively, or, if we are unlucky, get caught in a trap.
What did the messengers from John expect to find when they encountered Jesus? A king ready to lead a liberating army? What must they, sent out to see if this man, finally, would be the one foretold—what must they have felt when this man gave as his bona fides his work as a healer, a restorer, and a bearer of good news? Maybe they felt a little surprised or a little hurt. Maybe they tried to create a little distance. Maybe encountering Jesus was a trigger that sprang the trap of their own expectations.
And don’t we do something similar? How often do we come to Jesus and expect him to conform to or affirm our priorities, prejudices, and opinions? We place all these things in front of us so that they mediate and make conditional our encounter with Jesus. We fail to meet Jesus face to face, to take him on his terms, to receive him as he offers himself to us. This is the trap we build, and that we ourselves spring. Read More
The Courage We Need Now – Br. Lain Wilson
2 Corinthians 6:1–10
I don’t often think of Jesus’s courage, but that’s what has come to mind during my prayer with today’s Gospel passage. Knowing that his end was near, Jesus shows his closest friends how unlike their world his kingdom will be. The Teacher and Lord humbles himself and performs the work of a servant or slave, overturning all expectations and proprieties.
This act takes courage—courage that we can look to; courage, no doubt, that our departed Brother David Campbell looked to in his challenges of leadership. Facing an English Congregation that was ageing and declining in numbers, Father Campbell managed the withdrawal from the longstanding missions in India and South Africa, closed the Mission House in Oxford, and dispersed the remaining Brothers to continue the Society’s ministries as long as possible. His actions took courage, as did the humility to accept that the Society in England’s end might be coming. Read More
Transforming Our Desires – Br. Lain Wilson
Today’s Gospel reading is an uncomfortable one for us to hear.
A trusted servant mishandles his master’s property. After being caught, he worries that he will have to labor or beg to support himself. So he plans to ingratiate himself with his master’s debtors, ensuring he will find a warm welcome after he departs his master’s service. And his master, perhaps acknowledging the clever scheme, commends his dishonest servant.
And Jesus commends this story to his disciples, and us: “the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.”
It is uncomfortable to hear that we should be more like the dishonest manager. But if we strip away all the details of this story—the manager’s dishonesty, opportunism, and abuse of authority—what remains? A man finds himself in trouble, reflects on and names his desire, and works to achieve it. If you’ve ever set a goal for yourself, I’ll bet this script sounds familiar. Read More