for everyday living
Br. James Koester marvels how the rhythms of the creation can draw us into deeper life with God and greater balance within ourselves.
LIVING IN RHYTHM
FOLLOWING NATURE'S RULE
Q. What are we by nature?
A. We are part of God’s creation, made in the image of God.
Q. What does it mean to be created in the image of God?
A. It means that we are free to make choices: to love, to create, to reason, and to live in harmony with creation and with God.
These opening sentences of the Catechism of the Book of Common Prayer identify us, first and foremost, as part of God’s creation. We can only thrive when we “live in harmony with creation and with God” (“An Outline of the Faith,” Book of Common Prayer, Church Publishing: 1979, 845).
I’ve come to know this myself in a profound way: Several years ago, I moved from the SSJE Monastery, right in the heart of Harvard Square in Cambridge, to our rural Monastery called Emery House. The Emery family had lived and farmed this land for over 300 years before entrusting it to the Society in 1950. From a world of high granite arches and marble altars, stained glass and organ music, with cars passing just outside the door on Memorial Drive, I found myself suddenly surrounded, day in and day out, month after month, by new sights and sounds: meadow grasses bending in a breeze, frost icing the branches of the beech grove, the companionship of a flock of wonderfully noisy, inquisitive geese. There were no street lights but the stars. And, as often as not, my experience of the Daily Office was now punctuated by bird calls.
As I adjusted to these new surroundings – which were of course already known to me from my frequent stays at Emery House – it turned out that this new world was not as familiar as I’d thought. I found no end of lessons waiting in the world around me. The bees, for instance, taught me to do one thing at a time. If my focus or attention drifted, I found they had an unpleasant habit of reminding me who actually was in charge. The garden taught me that you can’t simply take the harvest, you also must invest in the soil by rotating crops and adding nutrients, by composting and mulching. The geese constantly reminded me of the importance of joy in our lives, for they are some of the most joyful creatures God ever created, especially first thing in the morning when I let them out of the coop or when they attempt to take flight in a rush to greet me when I appear in the garden later in the day.
The more I listened and learned, the more I began to suspect that, living more closely in touch with nature at Emery House, I wasn’t just becoming a better gardener and a better gosherd and a better beekeeper. I realized that, perhaps, I was also becoming a better monk, a better Christian – even, a better human being.
We see in the Gospels that Jesus always calls us by name: Peter, John, Mary. We'd love to know your name.
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In the first creation story told in the Book of Genesis, God’s spirit broods over the waters of chaos and speaks the universe into being, “Let there be light”—the first day of God’s creating work. Over a succession of five days, God continues creating—dry land, the dome of the heavens, winged birds, earthly creatures and humankind—and blessing everything that God has brought into being, pronouncing it all “very good.”
Then comes the seventh day: “And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done.” After much creative labor, God takes “a day off,” simply to enjoy the fruits of this work and delight in all that creativity. “So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.”
Though enshrined in the Hebrew Scriptures as the Sabbath, a weekly day of rest, the rhythm of activity and leisure, creation and recreation, remains as countercultural in our present moment as it was in the world of our ancestors in faith.
Join us at the Monastery for our Tuesday night (5:30 pm) Lenten preaching series on “Growing a Rule of Life.” Following the Eucharist and sermon, you are invited to join us for a soup supper and for conversation with the preacher in the undercroft. If you are unable to join us in person, you can read and listen to the sermons on our website.
Growing a Rule of Life: To subscribe to a daily morning email with a short video and download a PDF of the accompanying workbook enter your name and email.
More information here: SSJE.org/growrule
Tues, Feb 9 Rules of Life & the Rhythms of Nature Br. James Koester
Tues, Feb 16 Our Relationship with God Br. Geoffrey Tristram
Tues, Feb 23 Our Relationship with Self Br. Mark Brown
Tues, Mar 1 Our Relationship with Others Br. David Vryhof
Tues, Mar 8 Our Relationship with Creation Br. Keith Nelson
Tues, Mar 15 Living in Rhythm and Balance Br. Luke Ditewig
Here is my sermon preached this morning. As I prayed and thought with the first reading, from the Book of Proverbs, the words “be attentive” made me remember having read that phrase mentioned in regard to the Lonergan Method in a book on Mystical Theology by Fr. William Johnston, S.J. I don’t think I know any more about the Lonergan Method than what I have mentioned in the sermon, but I think even using those key words I have mentioned can be useful for prayer and meditation in order to grow in our understanding of God’s love.
[Prov. 4:1-9 / Lk 8:16-21]
The beginning verses of the reading from the Book of Proverbs gives a way of looking at the reputation for holiness and humility seen in Sergius, the Russian Saint whom we commemorate today. In the first verse of the reading the word is followed shortly by the words, (Prov. 4:1) The first of these draws attention to the second. This phrase is part of a way of considering the Love of God called the Lonergan transcendental method.
"I really appreciate it."
How often in a single day do you speak or hear these words? We Brothers hear them day after day, from our Friends, who write to thank us for a word we've shared, or a sermon we've posted. We are so grateful for this stream of thanks, which inspires and heartens us, that we wanted to stop and take a moment to reflect on how just powerful gratitude can be in our lives.
As our friend Anders sums it up: "Gratitude seems to be shortest path to love God with all our hearts and souls, and to love one another as ourselves . . . In gratitude, we are co-creators with God, and it is good."
Gratitude is so important that the fundamental action of Christian worship is the Eucharist, an act of gratitude that literally means "great thanksgiving." "Let us give thanks to the Lord," the celebrant invites us. And we respond, "It is right to give God thanks and praise."
Gratitude is a great gift, which we are made to receive and offer back to God. And to do that, we need to practice!
Our friend, Ruth put it perfectly: "How often we see the hole instead of the donut! How blessed we are from day to day! May God grant us the ability to see those blessings!"
Living a Day Full of Gratitude
Gratitude, like any other spiritual practice, is something we do, not just something we feel. And it's something we need to practice. To practice gratitude, we don’t need a special cushion on which to sit, nor a special lamp to light, nor a special icon on which to gaze, nor special incense to smell, nor special prayer beads to finger, nor a special prayer or mantra to recite. (None of that is in any way bad or inappropriate. It may well help. It is simply not enough.)
What is enough is here and now. The Psalmist reminds us, “This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Ps 118: 24). Gratitude consecrates our life and makes us real, because it makes us really available to the real presence of Christ, who is at work within us and around us – now.
We hope you'll try out these four simple invitations and see how they change your day.
6 AM: Pray your gratitude
The Psalmist asks rhetorically, “How shall I repay the LORD for all the good things he has done for me?” (Ps 116:10). Start with gratitude. Br. Geoffrey suggests that the best time to practice gratitude is first thing in the morning – even Monday mornings! (God Loves to be Thanked – Br. Geoffrey Tristram) Before you ask God for anything, say thank you for one thing or many things.
Noon: Keep your ears open
People will want to thank you today. Let them. (This can be a hard one!) They need to speak their gratitude; you need to hear it. Respond to them, “You are welcome,” and say it from the bottom of your heart. And keep your ears open to hear God’s gratitude for you. There is no one else like you, and God – believe it or not – is immensely grateful for who you are and all the good that you do.
6 PM: Express your gratitude to others
People are so easily taken for granted. Whether they be people whose labor is menial or in leadership, or whose lives are closely linked with yours, people are so easily taken for granted. You'll change their day, perhaps change their life, by expressing your gratitude for who they are and what they do. Stop throughout the day and thank someone. Make an unexpected phone-call to say thank you for something that happened, even long ago. A handwritten note can be equally powerful.
9 PM: Savor your life
Take time to remember and reclaim what is so amazingly good in your life. (Br. Luke Ditewig offers tips on how to do this in this short video.) Gratitude means saying “Yes” to the life you’ve been given, accepting the good gifts of life without resentment for what is not there, or no longer there. Try to complete the daily chapters of your life by remembering and appreciating what has been so very good today.
Read, Listen, and Watch More from the SSJE Brothers on Practicing Gratitude
- Does prayer elude you? In his article "Living Gratefully," Br. Curtis Almquist encourages a practice of gratitude, assuring us, "Gratitude in prayer is like oil to a frozen gear box." Get some tips here >
- “Our whole life is a life of gratitude,” said Thomas Merton. But how can we cultivate a spirit of gratitude in all things? Br. David Vryhof offers some suggestions in his article Life Becomes Rich: The Gift of Gratitude >
- In this short video, Br. Robert L'Esperance makes a passionate argument for how gratitude helps us embrace the newness of every moment. Watch it here >
- "Our life should overflow with thanksgiving to Jesus. Thanksgiving should be the driving force in our daily lives." Say a simple Thank you, Jesus with the late Br. John Goldring.
Alleluia, Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!
The Church has made steadfast witness to the Resurrection of Jesus for nearly 2000 years. Empires have come and gone, civilizations have waxed and waned, generation after generation has made its way through the changes and chances of this world—and the Church still makes its primary proclamation, still proclaims the reason for its very existence: Jesus of Nazareth, teacher, prophet, wonder-worker, social revolutionary and many other things died, but rose again from the dead on the third day.
Jesus’ Resurrection from the dead, a unique event historically, demonstrates the ultimate power of life over death, God’s intention to restore us to life, even greater life beyond the gateway we call death. But resurrection (lower case “r”) is also a dynamic woven into the fabric of existence in this universe. Jesus, the Word made flesh, as John’s Gospel puts it, is the one through whom all things came to be [John 1: 3]. The cosmos, his creation, partakes of his essence. The one who said “I am the Resurrection” [John 11: 25] has woven resurrection into the woof and warp of all life. In proclaiming Resurrection, the Church also proclaims Life. In proclaiming Resurrection in the life to come, the Church awakens us to the possibilities for resurrection in the midst of this life.
A four-part teaching from Br. David Vryhof on how discernment in prayer can help us to discover our vocation. We recommend taking time with this offering and praying with each part in turn, perhaps over a series of days.
What is it and do I have one?
Another word for vocation is calling, and every person has one. Each of us has a purpose for being in the world that relates to the purposes of God. We often think of vocation too narrowly, imagining that only those called to ordained ministry in the Church have a vocation from God. In truth, everyone has a vocation, some particular work that God is calling them to do. A vocation could be any work or service we do that furthers God’s work of helping, healing, reconciling and restoring the created order.
Not only does every person have a calling from God, in fact, most of us have several callings! For example, one person may be called to be a teacher and a parent and a member of a political party and a member of a parish church who visits the sick and advocates for the homeless. And this person may experience in each of these things a sense of vocation. Your particular vocation can be carried out only by you. It is unique to you; no one else can do it quite the way that you can. Thus your vocation will always be rooted in who you are; it will reflect your gifts, your temperament, your personality, your interests. Resist the temptation to compare yourself with others and find a vocation that fits you. Better yet, discover the vocation that is already calling out from within you.