Renewing Our Foundations: Cowley Magazine - Summer 2020

We invite you to explore the Summer 2020 issue of Cowley Magazine, which takes up the topic of Renewing Our Foundations. We Brothers want to share a few of the realizations – lessons and challenges – that have come out of this past year of reflection together. We hope that some of what we’ve gleaned from this year will prove helpful to you as you tackle continuity and change within your own communities, large and small.

Explore the online magazine, view selected articles below, or download a PDF.

A Spiritual Communion

By Br. James Koester

The ancient tradition of the Church reminds us that when it is impossible to be present at a celebration of the Eucharist, and to receive Holy Communion, the desire to be united to Christ in the Sacrament is enough for God to grant all the spiritual benefits of Communion. What follows is a way for individuals, or small groups to open themselves up to the graces of Holy Communion and the blessing of God.

Lifelong Formation

By Br. Jonathan Maury

Our brotherhood – as a particular manifestation of the body of Christ – is not static but continuously adapting, renewing, and affirming the charism given our predecessors.

Looking Back to Look Forward

By Br. James Koester

We need to know our histories; to drink deeply enough that we are refreshed, but not so deeply as to become bloated and unable to move.

Taking Risks

By Br. David Vryhof

What risks do we need to take to be faithful to God’s call in our own time?

Our Being “Men of the Moment”

By Br. Curtis Almquist

Far from being the traditional imitators of bygone days, we are to be “men of the present moment and its life.” What does the present moment invite?

Monastic Renewal

By Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Will we as a society discover a new strength and collective vision for the future?

Using a Facilitator

By Br. Luke Ditewig

Listening is one of the most important gifts we can give to ourselves and to others.

The Quest for Intimacy

By Br. Jim Woodrum

Even though we have taken a vow of celibacy, we recognize our own need for intimacy.

A Prophetic Voice from the Margins

By Br. Nicholas Bartoli

A prophetic voice can be seen as both calling from the wilderness or the margins, and calling us to the margins.

Histories of Transmission

By Br. Keith Nelson

Each generation must interpret the tradition so that it speaks a living Word.

Community and Chaos

By Br. Lucas Hall

In this process of discussion, I am learning how to love without agreement.

Communities as Storied Places

By Br. Sean Glenn

The unique threads of our individual lives begin to weave a compelling tapestry as we find our varied strands used by God to fashion a work of art and life larger than our individual lives could show forth. 

Learning to Live in Community

By Br. Jack Crowley

I listened, I watched, I tried to help out when I could, but above all else I learned.

Meeting the “In-Laws”

By Br. Todd Blackham

It’s worthwhile to step back from time to time and revisit those things that have shaped our lives in Christ.

Renewing Our Foundations: Cowley Summer 2020

By Curator

Renewing Our Foundations: Cowley Magazine – Summer 2020 We invite you to explore the Summer 2020 issue of Cowley Magazine, which takes up the topic of Renewing Our Foundations. We Brothers want to share a few of the realizations – lessons and challenges – that have come out of this past year of reflection together.…

This weekend we Brothers celebrated with joy the Ordination of our Br. Luke Ditewig to the Transitional Diaconate. We thank you for upholding Luke in your prayers as he grows into this new role in his ministry among us.

God’s invitation remains the same: Just rest. It’s so simple and so transformative. The radical practice of rest can help us to recognize in ourselves the very patterns of effort that consume our energy and our lives. It can help us to let go of these useless strategies and this relentless striving. Rest takes us to the lip of the well, and helps us to fall into God’s generous grace.

At this time when our lives are upended, consider reclaiming “rest” as an essential practice. Br. Nicholas Bartoli invites us to fall into God’s generous grace >


Following up on last week’s suggestion for how we can experience the gifts of retreat at home, today we want to share some practical suggestions for how to cooperate with God in planning retreat time. (Less is more.) We hope these suggestions will set the stage, so that you can receive God’s gift of love in a time of retreat, even a retreat-in-place. Read more >.


If the idea of a day-long “retreat-in-place” seems inviting to you, then it is God who has whetted your desire. What is God’s invitation to you? Prayer is always a response to God’s initiative, and retreat is the same. Retreat, at heart, is simply about making ourselves available to God. 

This guide invites you to cooperate with God as you plan your retreat time. Less is more. We hope the suggestions in these pages will set the stage, so that you can receive God’s gift of love in a time of retreat.

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the current longing of your soul

Don’t frontload your retreat day with “guilt appeasement”: catching up on overdue correspondence, organizing your closet, reading the stack of books that is gathering dust. Don’t have your electronic gadgetry close at hand. (Take a digital sabbath!) Keep a “Not for Now” pad of paper at hand, on which you can make a cryptic list of the niggling thoughts and reminders that surface on your retreat day… things to which you will attend after your retreat day.

Do get current with the longing of your soul. 

  • From what do you need freedom? Perhaps from fear, despair, anger, jealousy, loneliness, discouragement, grief, overwhelmedness …
  • What do you crave? Perhaps hope, forgiveness, peace, love, light, compassion, wisdom, encouragement, joy…

Your retreat won’t be about everything. It will be about something which has caught your heart’s attention. God is behind that.

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setting the stage

Where can you be still and silent? 

What setting will be re-creative for your soul? An inside space, or outside space, or both? 

What “accompaniment” do you need? Perhaps:

  • music, a window, a candle, an icon
  • a comfortable chair, a prayer cushion, a kneeler
  • a Bible, a book of poetry or meditation, a journal
  • food and drink (enough, but not too much)
  • a place to rest; a place for physical exercise
  • gentle re-creative activity (e.g., drawing or painting, sewing or beading, photographing, playing a musical instrument)

What is necessary and helpful?

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a loose schedule

When will your retreat day begin and when will it end? How will it begin and end?

The entire day will offer you space to “pray your life”; however you might find it helpful to demarcate three specific times in the day, each for about an hour, when you will be especially focused in your prayer. You know your own “biorhythms.” When are you most attentive between the early morning until the evening? The bright times will be the right times for you to be intentional in your prayer.


getting ready to pray

To begin, you want to come into a clearing, as best as possible. The late Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey, when asked if he spent much time in prayer said, “No.” But, he said, he spent a great deal of time “getting ready to pray.” How to prepare? Use the preparatory practice that is meaningful to you, or, if you are out of practice:

  • You might find it helpful to use your breathing as respiratory therapy for your soul. Breathe out what is in the way. In a word, repeatedly name the “blockage” with each exhalation. Breathe in the elixir. In a word, breathe in what is healing, or helpful, or hopeful. Do this repeatedly with each inhalation.

    You might get in touch with more than one thing that is in the way, and more than one thing that will help you get on the way. Breathe your prayer.

    How long? Long enough.

  • You might find it helpful to prepare with a passage or scene from the Bible, or with some poetry that helps you recollect your life in God’s presence. For example:

    “I waited patiently upon the LORD; he stooped to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the desolate pit, out of the mire and clay; he set my feet upon a high cliff and made my footing sure.” (Psalm 40:1-2)

    • What do you need to be lifted out of?
    • What do you need to be lifted into?


“Mercy and truth have met together, righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Truth shall spring up from the earth, and righteousness shall look down from heaven.” (Psalm 85:10-11)

    • God already knows the truth about you, and about others. Name the truth God already knows.
    • And ask for mercy:
      God’s gift of mercy for you.
      God’s gift of mercy for some other person whom you carry in your soul.
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receiving the gift

Prayer is a gift. If you are out of practice, or if you have lost your way, here are two suggestions.

  • Pray your gratitude. Being thankful to God is Eucharistic, absolutely transformative. Being grateful for your life will help you pick up the scent on the trail of life.
  • Don’t do all the talking. The psalmist says, “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Prayer is our relationship with God, at God’s initiative, and God has something for you. Listen up. All of your preparation to pray may simply leave you in a clearing where you can listen. Listen up.
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collecting the day

At the end of each prayer session, “collect” the grace of your prayer. What did you say; what did you hear? What did you receive; from what were you relieved? In the Gospel according to John, after the feeding of the multitude, Jesus says to his disciples, “Gather up the fragments that nothing be lost.” Gather up the graces. You might find it helpful, at the close of each prayer time, to write what is clear to you: your questions or answers, the gifts you’ve been given or the help you need, the next step to take.

Finally, at the end of the day, collect and pray your gratitude for your day and for your life. The psalmist asks, rhetorically, “How shall I repay the LORD for all the good things he has done for me?” (Psalm 116:10). Start and end with gratitude.

Your Retreat Day

A version of this guide originally was published in the Spring 2019 Cowley. Download the original resource as a PDF.

In an article in the most recent issue of Cowley Magazine, Br. Sean Glenn proposes: “We are each a word and a song of God.” What song are you offering in these challenging times? He writes, “An occasion spent immersed in music can tantalize unexpected gratitude out from under a grief-stricken or cynical heart.” How might music speak to your soul, and help your soul to speak, today? Read Br. Sean’s article >

Beauty is not a veneer. Beauty is not entertainment, nor a lovely distraction, nor the domain of the privileged. Beauty is essential for life. Beauty is of the essence of God.

Might beauty be a balm to you during these strange, challenging days? In the most recent issue of Cowley magazine, Br. Curtis Almquist invites us to explore the beauty of holiness and the holiness of beauty. We invite you to explore the article and how beauty can help us to pray our life – in its blessings and its challenges. Read the article >