Over the last year, we have by necessity rediscovered prayer at home. Cut off from gathering in parishes, some have turned to worshipping online. Others have begun to pray the Daily Office around their dinner table or over Zoom. Maybe you have made a prayer space, an area set aside for sacred encounter. This week, we invite you to explore new ways to hallow your home, embracing the hopeful possibilities of the domestic church.
Churches are sacred places, explicitly set aside for prayer, but a life of prayer is not confined to a church building on Sunday morning. Our homes are just as holy. If you don’t already have a prayer corner, try creating a space just for prayer inside your home. Simple items like an icon, candle, or flower can reveal your intention for this area and remind you to spend time here with God. Set a plan to meet God at the same time each day. This week, lavish some love on your at-home sanctuary.
Many of us have been experiencing the loss of our faith communities in these trying times. Fill that gap this week by bringing others into your life of prayer. Invite a friend or family member to connect with you over Zoom. Engage in a time of prayer – formal or informal – with those in your household: a mealtime prayer, a gratitude sharing circle, or a moment of intercessory prayer for those you carry in your hearts. Get creative about how you might gather together with others in Jesus’ name.
Br. Jack talks about having felt “more like a monk” these last months than any time before. Have any of the changes and challenges of the pandemic made you feel “more like” yourself?
How has this time shifted your own practice of prayer? What have you lost; what have you gained? Consider this time as an invitation from God: Where is God in this for you?
Compline | We invite you to join us for monastic “bedtime prayers,” streamed Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 8:30pm. It’s a wonderful way to say “Goodnight” to God. Catch the live-stream at SSJE.org/chapel or on Facebook.
Facebook Live | Join Br. Jim Woodrum on Facebook each Thursday at 7:15pm for a live conversation on the week's topic with a special guest. We hope to see you there!
Psalm 51 from The Compline Psalter, Peter R. Hallock, ed. Dr. Jason Anderson.
This setting of Psalm 51, sung today by Brs. Jonathan Maury, Curtis Almquist, Jim Woodrum, and Sean Glenn, comes from a collection written for the Compline Choir at Saint Mark’s Cathedral, Seattle, Wa. The Compline Choir frequently uses settings drawn from this collection at their weekly offering of sung Compline, which they have sung from their “corner” of the cathedral on Sunday nights since 1956. We brothers extend our warmest thanks to Scott Kovacs and Jason Anderson for the generous gift of a copy of the first volume of this unique psalter.
Stuff sputters in our heads. Like corn kernels popping out, into, over, and beyond the bowl, words, thoughts, and information pop, pop, pop. Emotions roll back and forth, bumping into each other. Sadness sighs and sags. Anger flares up. Fear fidgets, fingering wounds, circling questions, pushing to fight or flee. All the more so now, stuff sputters from pandemic-related grief, trauma, and weariness. We are holding so much. Life is hard, and it can be hard to pray.
Often, we keep the stuff sputtering inside our heads as with a tight mental lid: separating it from the rest of the body. About five years ago, I began practicing InterPlay, a system of facilitated group improv movement and storytelling. It’s a bit like recovery for serious people, helping us relearn how to play and connect with our whole bodies. I have been learning about that tight metal lid and opening it to witness and release what comes out.
We invite you to explore the Winter 2021 issue of Cowley Magazine, which takes up the topic of Incarnation in the Digital Age. We hope that, in these pages, you will experience the many ways that God is moving among us as we pray alone, gather online, long for communion, and even experience God’s absence. Explore the online magazine, read selected articles, or download a PDF.
The question caught me off guard. A theological student entering my second year, I had spent the summer ministering in a summer chapel. Before the summer, I had been in the habit of attending the Eucharist and receiving Holy Communion almost every day. Suddenly all that had changed, and over the course of nearly three months, I had been able to attend the Eucharist only twice. I had missed the Eucharist enormously. Returning to the College in September, I was greeted by a member of the faculty who asked how my summer had been. I expected some sympathy from this professor when I answered; some recognition that being cut off from the Eucharist was indeed a loss; some assurance that things would be fine now that I was back. What I received instead was a comment that I have spent the last forty years unpacking: Well, James, he said, I assume that you dined daily at the Table of the Word?
For many months now, Christians around the world have been cut off from the eucharistic life of the Church. Where once regular attendance at the Eucharist and reception of Holy Communion was the norm, suddenly the absence the Sacrament in our lives has been the reality. Who has not missed the comforting assurance of Christ’s presence in bread broken, wine poured, in bodies cleansed by His Body, and souls washed by His Blood? Who has not missed the comforting solace of familiar ritual? Yet the comment made to me that September day – nearly forty years ago – continues to haunt me. Well James, I assume that you dined daily at the Table of the Word.
As I reflect on the situation in which we have found ourselves during these last months, I must confess that I do so from a privileged position. As a member of a monastic community, I have been able to maintain our practice of daily Eucharist and the Divine Office. However, because we normally act as a center of worship for a congregation of over 100 people on Sundays, as well as for those guests on retreat with us throughout the week, I am aware of the hunger and longing many are experiencing during this time. I also reflect on our current situation, not simply as a pastor to a congregation, but also from nearly thirty years of experience as a spiritual director.
In the practice of spiritual direction, where the role of the director is to help people recognize the movement of the Spirit in their lives, I often find myself asking people who come to see me a few simple questions: Where is God in this? What is the invitation? I believe that these are helpful and focusing questions, because they shift the focus away from the individual, to the movement of God in a person’s life. They also shift the attention towards the gift of hope. If you were sitting across from me in one of the conference rooms here at the Monastery, I would ask the same things: Where is God is this? What is the invitation? In other words: Where is the hope? To these questions I would also add, How is God feeding you now?
Father Richard Meux Benson the founder of our Society, speaks a great deal about hope. For him, the gift of hope was the result of the worship of God, and worship was not confined to what happens on Sunday morning. The whole life of a Christian is to be a life of worship, and thus the whole life of a Christian is to be a life of union with God. We remind ourselves of this in our Rule of Life where we say that human beings were created to bless and adore their Creator and in the offering of worship to experience their highest joy and their deepest communion with one another… God draws us into our Society so that our calling to be true worshipers can reach fulfillment in the offering of the continual sacrifice of praise. In this life of worship together we are transformed in body, soul and spirit. If the life of the Brothers of SSJE is to be a life of adoration, it is only because, like all Christians, in Holy Baptism we have been made a member of Christ, the child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven. As baptized Christians, we live this life of worship and seek the gift of hope given to all who worship God in spirit and in truth. For Father Benson, this gift of hope – given to all who are worshipers of the Triune God – draws us to the very heart of God.
While it is true that many have been separated from the Eucharist, we have not been separated from God, nor from the gift of hope, nor from the real presence of Jesus. As Anglicans it is our belief that Jesus is truly present in the sacramental Gifts of Bread and Wine, and we speak of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Yet it is also true to say that Christ, who will be present to us in communion, comes first to those who are listening in ‘the word of God… living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword,’ and as the one who ‘speaks words that are spirit and life.’ We speak of the Real Presence, but we could just as easily speak of the real presences, for Jesus who comes to us in Bread and Wine, Body and Blood, comes to us first in gathered community, Word proclaimed, prayers offered, sins forgiven, and peace restored. We may have been cut off from the Sacrament of the Eucharist, but not from the sacramental life of the Church, for in community, Word, prayer, forgiveness, and peace, the abiding presence of Jesus is with us, just as he promised. Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
Throughout Scripture, God promises to be with us, because that is the nature of God Emmanuel, and God’s promises never go unfulfilled. Where is God? God is with us, because God in Christ is God Emmanuel, if only we have the grace to see.
While I have continued to receive the Sacrament of the Eucharist over these last months, I have done so knowing that it is a privilege. Each time I have received the Sacrament, I have been aware that many cannot, and I have carried you in my heart. We say in our Rule of Life that [according] to an ancient monastic saying ‘A monk is separated from all in order to be united to all.’ The pioneers of monasticism believed that the monk was called to the margin of society in order to hear within himself the deepest cries of humanity, and to discover a profound unity with all living beings in their struggle to attain ‘the freedom of the glory of the children of God.’ As I have reached out my hands to receive the Bread of Life and Cup of Salvation, I have done so as a member of the Body of Christ through Baptism. As Christ’s sacramental Body and Blood have nourished me, the whole body of the baptized has been nourished, for we are one body. A deeper understanding of our place in the Body of Christ – not as individuals, but as members of Christ – is one of the invitations which God is holding before us now.
In the last six months we have also rediscovered that the primary Christian community is the domestic church, in other words, the home. As people have been cut off from the worshipping life of their parish churches, small and large groups have gathered online or around the dinner table, to pray Morning and Evening Prayer or Compline. Households, especially those with children, have taken active parts in various kinds of Christian formation. Prayer spaces or corners have been set up in bedrooms or studies, as a way to create sacred space that is set apart for our encounter with God. The recovery of the domestic church is, I believe, a sign of hope.
Over the last months we may have been cut off from the eucharistic life of the Church, but God Emmanuel has still been with us. God’s invitation to discover our place as baptized members of the Body of Christ has still been offered. God’s gift of hope has still been drawing us deeper into the very heart of God. And, God has set other tables before us, and has fed us in wonderful and surprising ways.
The platform teach:able will be the central point for materials and resources for this learning series as we’ll get out of our often too-serious and word-filled heads, move, create and see, imagine, and linger with God.
At your own pace, I encourage you to move to the next lecture, which will contain a 1-3 minute video and text meditation, a 20-30 minute teaching video and documents describing various prayer practices. Using the comment section, we can share in what we are experiencing and learning.
To enroll, fill out this form below. You will receive an on-screen confirmation, and an email with further instructions to create an account with teach:able.
If you have questions, or miss a link, please contact Andrew at email@example.com
Blessings, Br. Luke
Gathered for worship, or beginning prayer time, some people bow, kneel, or make the sign of the cross. How do you mark your entry to prayer? What other movements might express your feelings, beliefs, your prayer – especially today? Consider how you embody anger, joy, sadness, trust, anxiety, longing, or thanksgiving. Play with praying in your body this week.
Whatever your prayer, put a shape to your words to embody the intention. For example: We believe and say that Jesus loves us. But it can be hard to feel that love. Try wrapping yourself in a hug. Stay there. Feel the warmth of your hands holding yourself. In this shape, say “Jesus loves me.” How does that feel? What other emotions might you embody in prayerful conversation with God? Punch a pillow. Skip. Sway. Bend low. Reach high. Give praying your body a try.
Instead of putting a shape to words, do the reverse. Let your body move first and then notice what is being communicated. You might put on music and see what comes. The dance could begin with one finger. What develops. How do you feel?
Think about how you bring your body into gathered worship in community. If you’re at home now, what elements of that embodied practice are you missing? How might you bring these elements into your private prayer time at home?
Fasting is one of the most familiar ways we pray with our bodies, especially in Lent. If you’re considering fasting this year, consider how the practice can be about more than simple deprivation. What are you hungering for? What consumes you? How might your fast help to feed your deepest desire and nourish your soul?
Ash Wednesday | We invite you to join our live-streamed Ash Wednesday liturgy from the Monastery Chapel on Wednesday, February 17, 12:30pm. You can access the live feed at ssje.org/chapel or on the Friends of SSJE Facebook page.
Facebook Live | Join Br. Jim Woodrum on Facebook each Thursday at 7:15pm for a live conversation with a special guest. This week, Br. Jim will be in conversation with Charlotte Greeson, from Lifelong Learning at Virginia Theological Seminary. We hope to see you there!
Embodied Prayer Teaching | Br. Luke Ditewig is offering an online version of his full embodied prayer program, which you can do any time. Learn more >
The season of Lent begins with Ash Wednesday on February 17th with a live-streamed celebration of the Holy Eucharist with the Imposition of Ashes at 12:30 pm. We invite you to worship with us as a way to begin your Lenten pilgrimage. SSJE.org/chapel
Lent is a pilgrimage that take us on a journey in the direction of an abundant life as promised by Jesus. The journey often reveals things that are weighing us down and are unnecessary; things we need to put lay aside in order to travel comfortably and efficiently. This picture, taken in a Wadi in the Palestinian desert near Mar Saba Monastery, speaks to a source of life in a harsh landscape. Jesus said: ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.” ’ John 7:37-38
On Thursdays in Lent we invite you to join us in an offering of Silence and Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament from Saint John’s chapel between 5:15 and 5:45 pm. Evensong will follow at 6 pm.
The open Tabernacle in St. John’s chapel where the reserved Sacrament is kept in order to communicate those who need Communion as well as is a symbol of Jesus presence among us.
The Prayer I Need This Day
After the last year in which churches around the world have been closed and congregations scattered, the SSJE Brothers invite you to “Come, Pray.” Join us in the receiving the daily gift of prayer – at home or wherever you find yourself. Across the weeks of Lent, listen in as Brothers discuss the rich and varied ways we pray, together in church and in our personal prayer. Then join us for worship, exploring a rich array of live-streamed services, culminating in the glories of Holy Week. “Come, pray in me the prayer I need this day.”
The series is centered on a weekly 20-minute video and invites participants to explore and experience diverse prayer practices alongside the Brothers through joining our regular, live-streamed worship, special services, and online teachings.
To sign up for the weekly email: SSJE.org/subscribe and select “Monastic Wisdom for everyday living“. (Please note: if you are already subscribed to the Brothers email, you do not need to resubscribe)