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- Click on the links below to read selected articles:
- Need a little prayer “shock therapy”? Br. Robert L’Esperance points us toward the psalms for inspiration.
- Four Brothers offer meditations on a favorite psalm:
- Br. David Vryhof suggests what the psalms reveal about God and ourselves.
- Hymn writer and longtime friend of SSJE, Carl P. Daw, Jr. talks about his experiences of paraphrasing the psalms to set them to music.
- Br. James Koester shares his experience of being called to SSJE.
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When I was a seminarian at Sewanee, my liturgics professor, Marion J. Hatchett, was the chair of the text committee for The Hymnal 1982, and since I didn’t know that this was the sort of committee to which one was appointed – in all my experiences of committees to that point volunteers were welcome – I approached him and said, “I hear that you’re on the text committee; I’d like to work on that.” Fortunately, he did not tell me that I was an upstart (he likely assumed that, as a PhD in English, I would at the very least know how to punctuate). Instead he said to me, “Well, actually, we’re having a meeting in Nashville in a few weeks. Why don’t you come along and see what you think.” Of course, what was really happening was that they were seeing what they thought of me. Apparently, I was not completely useless, since they invited me to keep coming. Bit by bit, I’d help out with the revision of a few lines, then a stanza here, a paraphrase there. The first time I wrote a hymn on my own was because we had the tune Bridegroom by Peter Cutts, but found that the old words were just not salvageable. So I was asked to write a hymn text to fit that tune. The resulting hymn was “Like the Murmur of the Dove’s Song” – my first hymn. That’s how it transpired that I worked my way up from revisions to paraphrases to hymns of my own.
This issue of Cowley takes up the theme of baptism and includes a Monastic Wisdom for Everyday Living insert by Br. James Koester on how baptism enables us to share in the divine life.
Selected articles from the Spring 2012 Cowley Magazine
- Br. Mark Brown suggests a new promise to add to the Baptismal Covenant.
- Poetry for Holy Week:
Br. Geoffrey Tristram unlocks the beauty of
George Herbert’s “Easter Wings,” and
Br. Jonathan Maury illuminates the Easter “Exsultet.”
- Br. Curtis Almquist tells the inspiring story of the Ecclesia walking pilgrimage to Emery House.
- What does vocation feel like? In an interview, Br. Tom Shaw speaks of his own experience of call to SSJE.
- Br. Kevin Hackett treads into the depths of our lives as baptized Christians.
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Comments, letters, or ideas for future articles welcome.
Question: These conversations about the Rule reveal a deep love and respect among the Brothers for its wisdom, a regard similar to a love of the Scriptures or the Book of Common Prayer. Do you have particular words or phrases or sentences to which you return again and again, like watchwords?
Br. Kevin Hackett: I certainly do. When I am at my lowest (and when I’m at my best, actually), I take great solace in that part from the very last chapter (49) where we say, “Our hope lies not in what we have done for God, but in what God has done for us.” That says it all. That’s the Good News in small. It does not relieve me—or anyone else—of full responsibility for my/their part in demands of discipleship, but it does make clear the priority of grace.
Question: The Rule notes that the passage of time itself is redeemed by the liturgical cycle of worship that the Brothers offer in their practice of the Daily Office and the Eucharist (16, 17, 18). As the Brothers anticipate re-entering the Monastery Chapel, do you have particular hopes for this year, this week, this time?
Br. Kevin Hackett: I certainly do. Our observance of Holy Week is never completely the same from one year to another, but this year, with our own “triumphal entry” to the Chapel on Palm Sunday, I’m both looking forward to and a little frightened of seeing and hearing and doing things in necessarily different ways. It’s not that we have “tamed” the drama of Holy Week over the years, but we have come to rely on some predictable patterns and practices and resources, and this year, so many things will necessarily be different—we won’t have access to the high altar, for instance. We don’t have access to our usual full wardrobe of vestments and properties. We’ll be working from a makeshift sacristy, with no running water. But that’s all for the good, I think, because we’ll have to look and listen more deeply, perhaps, than we have before. I count the unpredictability to be nothing less than the Spirit moving, blowing, roaring among us.
Question: The input of outside advisers and readers seems to have been a significant factor in the Rule’s final form. What was the most significant input from the circle of outside readers who gave feedback on early drafts of the Rule?
Br. James Koester: That’s easy. We would not have had the final chapter (49) on the hope of glory if we had not had outside readers of the early drafts. We ended—and I can hardly believe that we didn’t see how “anti-Johannine” this was—we ended the Rule with the chapter on holy death (48). There is a fleeting reference to resurrection there, but we ended at the tomb—and not the empty one!
Br. Kevin Hackett: From my perspective, as one who was not here when those conversations were happening, I think having those outside readers was a harbinger of things to come for the Society. When I arrived, we had very few volunteers or advisers in our life. Now we couldn’t do what we do without them, everything from baking altar bread and preparing materials for our liturgies to consultation concerning our financial affairs and mission work.
Question: Many Brothers have spoken about aspects of the Community’s life that need to be addressed more thoroughly in the next revision of the Rule. What are some of things you think must be retained going forward?
Br. Kevin Hackett: One of the things I so appreciate about the Rule is the frank recognition that there is often a gap between our theology and our lived experience—both of which can be true, but neither of which is adequate in its own right. I’m thinking specifically of what we say in the chapter on Scripture (20), for instance, where we say that that “intellectual honesty and contemplative openness belong together in our life with Scripture.” I think I find this so appealing because it honors the reality of paradox, which the Rule addresses over and over, in various ways. In one of the chapters on formation (37), we say, “many stages of genuine transformation are marked by experiences of confusion and loss.” That could be said of the whole Christian life, I think!
Question: The Community published the Rule in 1997, and Brothers who were part of the rewriting process had spent a decade living the work-in-progress. Even with that lived experience, are there places where interpretation or revision now seem necessary?
Br. Jonathan Maury: I think the chapter on Employees (35) is certainly one place. Our intentions were good and right with what we came up with in that chapter, but I also think there are gaps. We hardly mention volunteers, for instance, a whole network of people without whom are life simply would not work, and we say nothing of the cadre of advisers and other helpers—partners in ministry—that make our life and ministry possible.
Br. Kevin Hackett: I agree. When I came to the Community, we scarcely ever solicited volunteer help. Now we simply could not do what we do without a huge network of women and men who offer us their time, their talent, their expertise—and then thank us for accepting! I never cease to be humbled by this dynamic. And I think it’s exactly right that that is the effect, being humbled, that puts us in right relationship to so many other aspects of our life and Rule.
Question: Reading the Rule, one has the sense that every word, every comma, every piece of punctuation is there by design. Br. Kevin, as one of the men who was not part of the process that produced the Rule, what stands out to you in either form or substance?
Br. Kevin Hackett: I’m impressed by the flow. Each chapter yields easily to the one that follows, and the whole Rule has a fundamentally cyclical shape. And then there are turns of phrase throughout the Rule, but especially in those chapters on prayer and silence, that are as elegant and eloquent as anything you’ll find in any version of The Book of Common Prayer or the King James Version of the Scriptures. They are at once towering and majestic—and utterly simple and transparent. I think they represent the deepest and most careful thinking—and doing—in the entire Rule.
As an undergraduate, I learned two things about being a Christian. First, I cannot be a Christian in a vacuum. Second, to use Br. Kevin Hackett’s phrase, the learning curve never ends. Those two things are both vexation and encouragement as I live into my faith, questioning and wondering. Now, I’ll add a third thing: being a Christian takes practice and discipline – the very things that a rule of life provides.
It’s a blessing to be surrounded by folks who follow rules of life: the Brothers in Cambridge, of course; fellow parishioners, some themselves oblates of various monastic communities; and a new community, the Benedictine Companions of St. Paul, in residence at my parish. Surely, I do not lack for examples!
Nevertheless, I struggle. Every day. A rule of life forces me to give up what I might want for myself in the moment and orients me toward what God wants in the long term. He wants me to pray, to have a relationship with him through prayer, so I am given tools to make it easier: words to say when I have no words and silence to make me attentive to God’s awe-full-ness. It’s a slow thing, and not always given to immediate gratification.
A modern adaptation of the Rule of St. Benedict for the laity by John McQuiston, Always We Begin Again, gives me hope, especially in the struggle. Always we begin again. I will fail sometimes, but every day is new. Every day I begin again. A rule of life, in the ancient sense of the phrase, derives from regla, a rule in place not as a prohibition against an action, but as a standard to strive toward. The rule is presented as a helper, a guide. There is room for learning, growing into God’s way of doing things.
From St. Benedict, we get conversatio morum, variously translated “conversion of life” or “conversion of manners.” There’s a strong sense of stability and obedience associated with the phrase. I imagine slowly turning in place 180° or what T.S. Eliot, in “Burnt Norton,” calls “the still point of the turning world.” By staying in one place, following one pattern of life, and learning from those around me, I let myself be conformed to that life in all its joys and difficulties, in all its humanity and divinity. There is the dance, the relationship, the leading, learning, and following.
Following a rule of life is not pretty. It’s day in and day out, long term stuff, sometimes more mere habit than conscious devotion. There is no immediate reward, no pat on the back. There may be “well done, good and faithful servant” at the end, but not this side of heaven. Living with a rule of life is striving, day by day, to live in God’s light, according to his will rather than my own. I take heart in the grace of daily obligation, knowing that I am being formed and changed. Definitely more fully human. Perhaps more fully divine?