Temporal and Eternal – Br. Jim Woodrum

Br. Jim Woodrum

Colossians 2:6-15
Psalm 138:1-4, 7-9
Luke 11:1-13

In the year 2006, author John Koenig began a writing project based on his observation that there were no words to describe certain common existential feelings and emotions.  These holes in the language inspired him to research etymologies, prefixes, suffixes and root words which resulted in a weblog of neologisms and their definitions (a neologism being a newly coined word or expression that has not quite found its way into common use).  On his website and YouTube Channel, both bearing the name “The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows,” John introduces us to words like:  vermodalen, the frustration of photographing something amazing when thousands of identical photos already exist.  Liberosis, the desire to care less about things.  And opia, the ambiguous intensity of looking someone in the eye.[i]  There is a word from this dictionary that has entered into my prayer life as of late:  avenoir, the desire to see memories in advance. On his YouTube channel Koenig gives an exposition of this definition.  He writes, ‘We take it for granted that life moves forward.  You build memories; you build momentum.  You move as a rower moves:  facing backward.  You can see where you’ve been, but not where you’re going.  And your boat is steered by a younger version of you.  It’s hard not to wonder what life would be like facing the other way.’[ii]

I imagine that the reason this word has been the focus of my prayer lately is due to the fact that I lost both of my parents recently within the course of a year.  Not only have these two losses in a relatively short time been disorienting, they have forced me to take action on many things that I thought I had time to plan.  Being an only child, I am now facing the responsibility of resolving the affairs of my parent’s estate, including the clearing out and sale of a house filled with the remnants of memories made by three lives that once lived there.  I am very in touch now with the enigma of time, both temporal and eternal.  The temporal comes and goes within the construct of earthly time in the matter of decades, years, months, days, or as little as one second.   The eternal lives on and on, long past the ability of finite human brains and hearts to recall.  It is hard to imagine what exactly eternal means within the construct of our bodies and minds, which are temporary (a word that shares the same root as the word temporal).

Our Collect for today concentrates on the themes of temporality and eternity.  Translated from the Gregorian Sacramentary in the sixteenth century by Thomas Cranmer, it bids us to pray about time in terms of our finitude and God’s infinity:  ‘Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal.’  I would say this is definitely a hard task that can only be accomplished with God’s help, thus why this Collect has itself stood the test of time, being prayed in the Anglican Church for close to five hundred years.  What are these temporal things we need to pass through and what are the eternal things we do not want to lose?  

In the book The Collects of Thomas Cranmer, Frederick Barbee and Paul Zahl write:  ‘Do you ever see your life, in hindsight, at least, if not during the events when they actually happened, as an obstacle course? What should have ended well, did not. And the ending cast a shadow over everything, even the good things that preceded it?’[iii]I imagine that most of us here have had at least one bad month, week, or day in our lives where nothing has quite gone the way we expected or desired and it seemingly snuffed out the fire in our hearts. Certainly I!  The SSJE Rule of Life acknowledges that:  ‘Powerful forces are bent on separating us from God, our own souls, and one another through the din of noise and the whirl of preoccupation.’[iv] Fear, Shame, Guilt, Blame, Misinformation, and Misunderstanding are often the secret ingredients in a toxic cocktail that we drink thinking it will be an elixir to anesthetize our pain.  If it was not hard enough to navigate our own particular orbit, we have a national and international community that seems to be fraught with turmoil.  Racism, Xenophobia, Elitism, Homelessness, Addiction, Narcissism, and the myth of self-sufficiency whirl about us like the perfect storm.  We turn to social media in the hopes of finding community and connection but end up further isolated, posting sound-bytes that feed narcissistic self-righteous attitudes and then not sticking around to face the alienating consequences.  These constructs are of our own making, the temporal fabrications of temporary creatures who have not the wit nor the time to repair them.  And so, we navigate through a minefield, trying to find our way through without taking a step that could alter our lives within a decade, month, week, day, or split-second.

So, what are the eternal things that we are want not to lose?  The one thing that comes to mind for me is love.  Not sexual love necessarily (or what is known as eros in Greek), although it is a wonderful thing (and I dare say, temporal).  The love that I am referring to is the love that, in the words of St. Paul: ‘is patient and kind; not envious, boastful, or arrogant.  Love that does not insist on it’s own way.  Love that is not irritable or resentful.  Love that rejoices in truth not wrong doing.  Love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.’[v]This is a love that is sacrificial at its core. The gospel writer of John says: ‘No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’[vi]This is the love on which Jesus says hangs all the Law and the Prophets:  love of God and love of neighbor as self.  It is what is known in the Greek as agape. Agape love is eternal because it originates in God and is God’s very essence.  And where do we find this love?

It seems almost impossible that we who are housed in temporal bodies could even contain, much less hold on to, things eternal. But, many temporal things point sacramentally to the eternal (a sacrament being and outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace).  You could certainly say this chapel is iconic of this concept.  When you enter, you literally undergo a ‘conversion experience.’  That is to say, you walk through the door into a narthex, and your stride is broken and you have to turn to cross a threshold.  Once you cross this threshold, you enter into a space where two concepts of time conjoin:  Chronos and Kairos. Chronos is physical, temporal time; that of seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, decades, centuries, etc.  The rounded arches at the back of the chapel are in the Romanesque style (ranging from the 6th to 11th centuries).  Once you cross the gate, you are flanked by pointed gothic arches (prevalent from the 12th to the 16th centuries).  This journey through Chronos points and leads to Kairos. Kairos is God’s time, the critical moment of decision.  The altar representing the Body of Christ and the Baldachino, the place where heaven and earth come together.  We lift up our hearts and minds and all that we are in offering to God and here God becomes present to us in these gifts of bread and wine:  the bread broken for us, the wine poured out for us.  It is the re-membering of the ultimate sacrifice of love given by Jesus on the cross, forever joining the eternal to the temporal, and by grace the temporal to the eternal.  

It is here that we come to know that we are made in the image of God, with the same capacity of eternal, abiding, transforming love.  The presider says, ‘Behold what you are,’ in which we respond, ‘may we become what we receive.’ Temporal containers of eternal love. We take and eat with the assurance that little by little, with each approach to this eternal banquet table, that God’s mercy is increased and multiplied so that we may indeed pass through the things temporal and hold on to things eternal.  St. Paul says:  ‘See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority.’ Our founder Fr. Benson said about the Eucharist: ‘As each touch of the artist adds some fresh feature to the painting, so each communion is a touch of Christ which should develop some fresh feature of his own perfect likeness within us.’[vii]  In this transformative journey through the temporal, with Jesus as our ‘ruler and guide,’ we become able to hold on to the things eternal and in our transfiguration, we can help to transform the world.  

John Koenig goes on to describe avenoir, and equates this travel towards approaching memory as headed in the direction of child-like innocence, generocity, and wonder.  I close with his words:

‘You’d remember what home feels like, and decide to move there for good.  You’d grow smaller as the years pass, as if trying to give away everything you had before leaving.  You’d try everything one last time, until it all felt new again.  And then the world would finally earn your trust, until you’d think nothing of jumping freely into things, into the arms of other people. You’d start to notice that each summer feels longer than the last until you reach the long coasting retirement of childhood.  You’d become generous, and give everything back.  Pretty soon you’d run out of things to give, things to say, things to see. By then you’ll have found someone perfect; and she’ll become your world.  And you will  have left this world just as you found it.  Nothing left to remember, nothing left to regret, with your whole life laid out in front of you, and your whole life left behind.’[viii]


[i]Koenig, John. “The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows.” The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, Tumbler, www.dictionaryofobscuresorrows.com/.

[ii]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oKOW30gSMuE

[iii]Zahl, Paul F.M., and C. Frederick Barbee. Collects of Thomas Cranmer. William B Eerdmans Publishing, 1999.

[iv]The Rule of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist.  Chapter 27: Silence

[v]1 Corinthians 13:4-7

[vi]John 15:13

[vii]The Religious Vocation: Of Communion, Ch. XII, pp. 160-161

[viii]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oKOW30gSMuE

The One Cup of God – Br. Keith Nelson

Br. Keith Nelson

Matthew 20:17-28
For in the LORD’s hand there is a cup, full of spiced and foaming wine, which he pours out, and all the wicked of the earth shall drink and drain the dregs. 

In the writings of the prophets Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Isaiah, as in the seventy-fifth Psalm, we encounter a cup that no one wants to drink. All tremble when God offers it. And for good reason. To “drink the cup of God’s wrath” is to imbibe the consequences of ungodly actions. Those who drink it stagger and fall down, overwhelmed by the awful knowledge of their sins. 

These images of forced intoxication are harsh and terrifying. They feel punitive in the extreme. But to see this image from the vantage point of the prophets of Israel, to drink this cup is also to swallow the Truth. If we have developed a personal habit of avoiding or evading the Truth; if we have fallen captive to our culture’s prevailing tendency to do this on a national scale; if we have lied to ourselves or others; or if we have done things that feel untrue to our primary identity as God’s children; the Truth may very well feel harsh and terrifying. When God offers this cup to me, it inevitably feels like a confrontation

The same God of Truth also offers the cup of blessing. For those who are living in the Truth, living for the Truth, to drink of this cup brings life and health, strengthening one’s intimacy with the God who offers it. This cup purifies the heart and prepares our thirst for more and more. 

But what if this is the same cup? It is obvious that the biblical writers are using the image of God’s cup to convey a wide variety of different meanings. But might it be the case that, rather than selecting a different cup from a divine cup collection or even pouring a different vintage of wine for each guest, God offers God’s one cup – the offer of Godself? Might it not be that the disposition of the one who would drink of itis the variable here, and it is we – who can see so little of the vast and inscrutable purposes of God – who attribute to God a variety of motives beyond the one motive of saving Love?

Jesus was steeped in the tradition of the Prophets and in the prayer book of Israel, the Psalter. He would have known this variety of cup imagery in scripture quite intimately. When Jesus says to James and John, “Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” he has just offered to his disciples a third prediction of the suffering and death he is to undergo at Jerusalem, as well as a prediction of his resurrection. This is a cup of Truth so pungent and bewildering that they have avoided and evaded drinking it at all costs. And in just a few short chapters, Jesus will drink from a cup for the last time with his gathered friends, saying “Drink from it all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” And he will go to Gethsemane and pray in the dark, “If it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” The cup of Jesus is one cup. For him and in him, the cup of suffering is the cup of salvation. The cup offered to him and him alone by the hand of his Father isthe cup he invited his friends to share at their final feast. If James and John would drink the cup of blessing in the right hand of the king, they must drink all the Truth that that cup contains. And so must we. 

The chalice of the Eucharist participates in the nature of all of these offered cups, which are the one cup – the offer of Godself. The bread and wine of the Eucharist are many, many things: food for our wilderness journey, medicine in this hospital for sinners, fruit hanging from the tree of the cross. But for me, a challenge – and some days, a confrontation– in receiving the Eucharist as frequently as we do is that the cup we drink also holds living fire. This image is especially prominent in the Eucharistic prayers of the Eastern Church, in which the bread is likened to the live coalfrom the altar that touched the lips of Ezekiel, and the wine a flow of living firefrom God’s throne. Such fire burns up sins, and sets the soul ablaze like molten metal. The heat that sometimes burns in my breast in response to this fierce gift finds poignant expression in the words of the Carmelite writer Marc Foley: “The deeper divine charity takes root in our hearts, the greater the guilt we feel when we hate or fail to love. The more we say yes to God, the more painful it becomes to say no. Nevertheless, we continue to resist God’s call to grow. Consequently, we feel trapped. We can’t say no, but we don’t want to say yes. We resent being put in this position.”

Each time we receive God into ourselves from this cup, we say yes– we say yesto the one who sensitizes our conscience, the one who sharpens our spiritual senses, and the one who turns up the light – and the heat – in our soul. The cup of Truth may cause us to stagger and fall down. But if we continue to drink from it – Christ promises – this loving confrontation will bring us to a miraculous and sober inebriation. We will know that fire can make its home in us, because our true nature is gold. The cup of his suffering – which is the cup of salvation – will bring with it each day a fresh opportunity to turn to the Lord and live. In this cup, we will know the Truth without fear, and the Truth will set us free. 

Paradise Yearns – Br. Lucas Hall

The Martyrs of Japan

In 1597, 26 Christians, including three children, were crucified in Nagasaki, Japan. They were bound upon crosses, hoisted up, and stabbed to death with spears. There is no way to dress this up. There is no way to make it peaceful or pretty. These were gruesome, terrible deaths. The martyrs almost certainly felt a great deal of fear and pain. The killings were a deliberate attempt to stoke fear among any Christian converts, missionaries, and sympathizers. This has never been an ordinary form of execution in Japan; the killings were a deliberate mockery of Christ’s Crucifixion.

Maybe that’s our way in. Many Christians in our country live in an escapist fantasy, where they are the oppressed minority, and executions are only a generation or two away. This thinking seems to cut across many different denominations, and makes an utter mockery of the martyrs of the Church. But for the rest of us, real martyrdom is deeply difficult to wrap our heads around. We have, perhaps, felt a bit at-odds or out-of-place running in certain social circles. Maybe this has led to arguments or hurt feelings. But, for the vast majority of us, this is as bad as it will ever get. Genuinely being killed for being Christian is…unthinkable. Not here. Over there, sure. But not here.

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Heaven Opened – Br. Luke Ditewig

Br. Luke DitewigSt. Michael & All Angels

Genesis 28:10-17
Revelation 12:7-12
John 1:47-51

Today we remember angels, mysteriously other. These outside, beyond, heavenly beings worship before God’s throne, fight evil, and come bearing messages.

When he was afraid, Jacob received a dream. Jacob saw angels ascending and descending on a ladder connecting heaven and earth and heard God speaking to him. God who had seemed beyond and absent broke through to be present in voice and with the sight of angels.

Jacob woke from his dream and said: “Surely the Lord is in this place. … How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is gate of heaven.” So Jacob made a pillar, poured oil on it and called the place Bethel, the house of God. Read More

Be Love – Br. Lucas Hall

Br. Lucas HallJohn 6:1-21

In today’s Gospel reading, Christ miraculously feeds a crowd of hungry people. The people recognize him as a prophet, and gather to bring him to Jerusalem to proclaim him king. Jesus responds by fleeing to the solitude of the mountains.

Let’s rephrase this telling. A crowd of people, living in a country beset by political strife, gather to march on the capital. They are eager to replace their corrupt, ineffectual, incompetent ruling classes, who spend more time arguing about the minutiae of law than they do responding to the hunger of the people for bread and for justice. They have just seen a man whom they regard as a leader, one with power and legitimate claim to authority, and they long for him to lead their movement, to lead them in their resistance to the evils of their day.

Perhaps this telling hits close to home. Gazing out on the political landscape of this country, how many of us long for justice in the face of leaders embroiled in cruelty, corruption, self-importance, and outright malice? How many of us locate in Christ the supreme example of leadership, and, comparing him to the afflictions of our country now, how many of us channel Jesus in our protestations of this state of affairs? Before I came here, I used to want to work in politics. I even ran for public office. The political environment we face at present has awakened a long-held desire of mine to enter the fray, and the convictions of my faith highlight to me just how much injustice, just how much falsehood, we currently face. If the opportunity presented itself, I too would long to crown Christ. Read More

Who is Jesus Christ? – Guest Preacher Sam Aldred

Who is Jesus Christ? This is a question that as Christians we must ask ourselves continuously. Who is this figure that stands at the heart of our faith? There is a tendency, a perfectly natural tendency, to focus on the humanity of Jesus, to see him, as it were, merely as a better version of ourselves. Jesus the good man. Jesus the wise teacher. Jesus the political activist. The one who hates to see injustice. Whilst none of these ideas are necessarily untrue, indeed they’re all right, by their very nature they only tell half the story. They only unveil half the picture.

Our Gospel reading today helps to shine light, perhaps give us some insights, into how the divinity of Jesus is manifested in his humanity. We hear of Jesus the healer. The miracle worker. The one who in raising the sick, and elsewhere in the Gospel of raising the dead, prefigures his own resurrection with the salvific importance that event has for all of creation. We hear of Jesus the cosmic warrior who, in casting out demons, is fighting a sort of proxy war on Earth in the constant, cosmic struggle between the forces of good and evil. We hear of Jesus Christ seated on his throne of judgment, looking forward to the end of all things when those who will dine at the heavenly banquet will be separated from those who will be cast into the outer darkness where we hear there will be much weeping and gnashing of teeth. We hear of Jesus the dynamic fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. The Messiah. The Christ. The one in whom all the hopes and expectations of Israel are met.  Read More

Whosoever Will Be Saved – Br. James Koester

Br. James KoesterPreached at St. Stephen’s Church, Pittsfield MA

Isaiah 6: 1 – 8
Psalm 29
Romans 8: 12 – 17
John 3: 1 – 17

Growing up in the Church, as I did, I often found myself, in those moments waiting for the service to begin, exploring the Prayer Book that I held in my hands. I would flip though it, as perhaps you have done, and read the interesting bits.  I liked to look at the The Calendar, and wonder who some of these people were: Bede, Dunstan, Dominic, Stephen. Over the years I have stopped wondering who they were, or even their place and role in history. I have come to know them as friends. As our Rule of Life says, in a somewhat different context: we remember that they are not dead figures from the past. Risen in Christ, they belong to the great cloud of witnesses who spur us on by their prayers to change and mature in response to the Holy Spirit who makes all things new.[1]

Or I would make my with through the Table of Kindred and Affinity, where I would read: A Man may not marry his Mother, his Sister, his Grandmother, his Aunt.[2] As I worked my way through the list, and picture the people I was not allowed to marry, I would wonder, not so much as why I may not marry them, but why on earth I would want to marry my mother, my sister, my grandmother, or my aunt, in the first place!

The other place that gave me endless hours of entertainment was the Creed of Saint Athanasius.[3] I would read and ponder what this riddle that is our Faith, is actually about.

Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith.
Which Faith except everyone do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.
And the Catholic Faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance.
For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost.
But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one, the Glory equal, the Majesty co-eternal.
Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost.
The Father uncreate, the Son uncreate, and the Holy Ghost uncreate.
The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Ghost
incomprehensible.
The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Ghost eternal.
And yet they are not three eternals, but one eternal.
As also there are not three incomprehensibles, nor three uncreated, but one uncreated, and one incomprehensible.[4]

All this was pretty heady stuff for a teenager, but now that you know that about my teenaged self, is it any wonder that I ended up where I have in life, as a priest and now a monk?

At one point in the life of the Church, parishioners were expected to plough their way through the Athanasian Creed several times a year, but now it is relegated to the back of the Prayer Bookin the section referred to as Historical Documents of the Church.[5] But while the text itself may be an historical document, the Faith it proclaims is anything but. For the Faith it expounds is nothing less than what Christians over the centuries have come to know to be true about God’s very being.

What Scripture proclaims, what the Creeds declare, and what Christians have affirmed about God over the last two millennia, is not some mathematical riddle the tells us that 3 = 1, but that God is a God who communicates with the creation; that God was revealed to us in the person of Jesus; and that God continues to be known to the people of God, even today.

For us as Christians, God is not some distant, uninterested and unknowable, divine being, far removed from human life. Rather for us, God is known and experienced, not only in history, but in the tiny moments of daily living. We see God in the wonder and beauty of creation, and the awe of worship; we touch God, in the person of Jesus, and the simple elements of bread, wine, water, and oil; we know God, who is closer to us even than our own breath.

We see and touch and know God, not as three gods, but as one eternally creating, redeeming and sanctifying God, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is this knowable, loving and sustaining God whom we describe as Trinity of Being, and Unity of Substance. But it is so easy to become lost in the math, and ignore the reality of our experience.

Father Benson, the founder of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist, in a letter dated 10 November, 1875, once said this:

I quite feel that the practical neglect of the doctrine of the Trinity has been the great cause of the decay of Christendom. The Church —the Sacraments —Hagilogy, I had almost said Mythology —have filled the minds of devout people, partly for good partly for evil. ‘Thyself unmoved, all motion’s source’ this mystery of the circulating life of the eternal Godhead, has been almost lost to sight, spoken of as a mystery, and not felt as a power or loved as a reality.[6]

I think what Father Benson was trying to say is that when people lose sight of their personal experience of God, and cloak God in unmeaning jargon[7] then God simply becomes mumbo jumbo. For many people today, and perhaps even for some of you, all this god-talk is nothing less than meaningless mumbo jumbo.

For the Church to reclaim a vision of God which is not shrouded in mumbo jumbo, we need to feel God as a power, and love God as a reality. I believe that the world is desperate for the witness of the Church to a God who can be known, loved and felt.

We say, again in our Rule, that: our human vocation to live in communion and mutuality is rooted in our creation in God’s image and likeness. The very being of God is community; the Father, Son and Spirit are One in reciprocal self-giving and love. The mystery of God as Trinity is one that only those living in personal communion can understand by experience. Through our common life we can begin to grasp that there is a transcendent unity that allows mutual affirmation of our distinctness as persons. Through prayer we can see that this flows from the triune life of God. If we are true to our calling as a community, our Society will be a revelation of God.[8]

The heart and example of Christian community, whether that be household, parish, or monastery, is the heart and being of God, who is community. Unless we live, and are known to live, in communion and community with one another, our witness to a God who is first and foremost community, will fall on deaf ears.

Our witness to a God who can be known, loved, and felt, stems from the witness of the way in which we live together with one another, not in our ability to decipher mathematical impossibilities.

If we are true to the mission of God, which is our mission, then God will be known, loved and felt, in our midst, not as some distant, uninterested and unknowable, divine being, far removed from human life, but rather as one eternally creating, redeeming and sanctifying God, who is knowable, loving and sustaining and whom we know as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Today as we rejoice in God as Trinity, we do so not to confound people with mumbo jumbo, but to proclaim to a world hungry for the good news of the eternal reality that God can indeed be known, that God is indeed loving, and that God is indeed forever present. This is our mission. This is our purpose. This is our call.


[1]SSJE, Rule of Life, Our Founders and the Grace of Tradition, chapter 3, page 6

[2]BCP, Canada, 1962, page 562

[3]Ibid., page 695

[4]BCP, Episcopal Church, 1979, page 864

[5]Ibid, page 864 ff

[6]Benson, Richard Meux, Letters of Richard Meux Benson, page 187

[7]Ibid., page 187

[8]SSJE, Rule,The Witness of Life in Community, chapter 4, page 9

Waiting in the Wings – Br. Keith Nelson

Br. Keith NelsonActs 2:1-21
Romans 8:22-27
John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

Since the origins of Western drama in ancient Greece, playwrights have utilized the narrative convention of the unseen character. Through layers of references and descriptions established by the onstage characters, the offstage, unseen character begins to acquire a distinct identity and motivation within the mind of the audience. The absence of such a character works to advance the action of the plot as much as any of the characters present. The Wizard of Oz is the best example of this in popular film. If the unseen character does eventually appear onstage – as does the “great and powerful Oz” – it is after much anticipation, and the moment rarely unfolds as the audience has come to expect it will. Sometimes the unseen character dies, or departs, or simply never shows up. Samuel Becket’s play Waiting for Godot is a classic, twentieth century example. And sometimes, as in the plays of Tennessee Williams or Edward Albee, the audience may be tempted to question whether the unseen character is a projection, a symbol of an onstage character’s unresolved longings: an unseen male child, a lost mother, or a beautiful, young stranger. These characters are like messengers from another world, or magnets whose energy holds together a visible outer life and an invisible, unconscious world.

Throughout the long story of salvation history, there are distinct moments when the Holy Spirit acts in the manner of an unseen character. The Spirit dances around the borders or surges as an undercurrent beneath the lives of women and men, palpably felt though never quite glimpsed directly: at times, a blazing fire on mountaintop or altar, whose power is just barely contained; at other times, an almost fluid substance invading a prophet from without; at still other times, a guiding light illumining the dreams or visions of a hero. Even in the synoptic gospels, the moments we might consider cameo appearances of the Spirit serve in the narrative much more like elements of Jesus’s inner experience, enriching and deepening our understanding of Jesus as one whose every intention and motivation are guided by the Spirit. It is in our reading from Acts of the Apostles that we seem to encounter the iconic, much-awaited stage direction of the Divine Playwright: “ENTER, from above, the HOLY SPIRIT.” But as in many dramas, this momentous, much-anticipated appearance onstage contains an unforeseen twist: as the first followers of Jesus are “clothed with power from on high” the Holy Spirit speaks not a climactic soliloquy, but in the speech of one-hundred-twenty actors speaking all at once, in all the languages of the known world. Offstage and onstage collapse as framing devices that no longer apply, if they ever had. The author of Acts sends a clear message: we are there among them. The Holy Spirit has come upon us, and is with us, and is in us. The whole world has changed. A new era has begun. By undergoing baptismal rebirth, the Spirit can be given by one believer to another, like the passing of a candle flame.

This gradual, transformative, and utterly significant shift in our relationship to the Holy Spirit, effected by the death, resurrection, and glorification of Jesus, is delineated with the greatest power and subtlety in John’s gospel. Scholar Andrew Byers has dedicated significant attention to the Holy Spirit as a distinct character in John. For Byers, the Spirit is a significant “offstage” presence who emerges quite slowly and mysteriously as an “onstage character.”[i] The role of the Spirit in relation to the intimacy shared by the Father and the Son comes into focus as language applied to Jesus in John is re-applied to the Spirit. Jesus describes the Spirit as “another Advocate,” the Spirit of Truth, who is with and in the disciples, and is unacceptable to the world. The true work of the Spirit ultimately extends beyond the gospel narrative. The Holy Spirit cannot emerge in his own right as an agent and source of the disciple’s ongoing transformation in Christ until the primary onstage character of the gospel – Jesus – has made his exit in the flesh.

At our baptismal re-birth, the Holy Spirit catalyzes a process that the ancient church would come to call theosis. A single white cotton thread, when dipped in a cup of red dye will gradually absorb the dye and become red by osmosis. Likewise, we are called to enter into full participation in God’s inner life, whereby we undergo theosis: absorption by grace of what God is by God’s divine nature.[ii] We do not become God, but we become more and more like God – and more and more the full expression of who and what God has made us to be, in a dynamic, life-long process of synergy between our faithful praxis and God’s free and energizing self-gift. As we allow God to be God-in-us, the likeness of Christ is restored to us and suffuses our whole personhood. While this is not a linear progression, there are some basic movements described in Scripture and the writings of the saints.

Before we ever consciously embark on this adventure, the indwelling Holy Spirit already prays within us, preparing the ground for theosis. In the letter to the Romans, Paul writes:

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.[iii]

The transforming Holy Spirit bestows deepening inner freedom as we engage the life of theosis in the Church. Again, Paul writes in the Second Letter to the Corinthians:

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.[iv]

The empowering Holy Spirit frees us and sends us to receive each moment and circumstance of life as it is. The whole of life becomes an opportunity for ever-deepening theosis. In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus counsels his disciples:

See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.[v]

As a high school actor I had the joy and privilege of becoming more fully myself by inhabiting the skin of a character onstage. Later in life, that experience was put to the test when I myself began teaching high school and was unexpectedly asked to direct student theater. The most gratifying and miraculous moments in a high school play are those in which an audience catches a glimpse of a young actor’s unselfconscious humanity: the embodied expression of her personhood taking shape behind and beneath the memorized lines and tentative gestures. Here and there, true feeling flashes forth and art takes flesh before our eyes. She has become the character because she is becoming herself.

The true miracle of our own becoming, our own theosis, becomes apparent by a similar process. The Holy Spirit, once an unseen character dancing around the borders or surging as an undercurrent in the life of God’s people, has been revealed in power and glory at Pentecost. Now it is the Holy Spirit who anticipates, with hints and guesses, the unseen character waiting in the wings of our own inner stage. That Spirit encourages us in sudden epiphanies and cherished dreams, in quiet moments of profound trust, in providential encounters with loved ones and wise guides, and in times of waiting, when the strength of our courage or faith may be put to the test. For the one who is ready, the Holy Spirit stands ready as an intimate, personal companion, a co-creator, and a collaborator in our sanctification. Of the person whose life is gathered in that state of readiness, Richard Meux Benson, our founder, writes, “The powers of the Holy Ghost are ready to co-operate with him, if he is ready to use them. The Holy Ghost waits, and is kept waiting by our unreadiness. If we are too fast or too slow we miss his presence; whereas if we are just doing the right thing at the proper time, we find him ready to meet us and work with us.”[vi]

Come, Holy Spirit, again and again, in the Pentecost of every moment, revealing the likeness of Christ within, and sending us to see Christ in all. Amen.


[i]See Andrew Byers’ extended treatment of the Holy Spirit in Chapter 11 of his Ecclesiology and Theosis in the Gospel of John, Cambridge University Press (2017).

[ii]For a unique and masterful exploration of theosis from an Anglican perspective, see A. M. Allchin’s Participation in God: A Forgotten Strand in Anglican Tradition.

[iii]Romans 8:26-27.

[iv]2 Corinthians 3:17-18.

[v]Matthew 10:16-20.

[vi]Richard Meux Benson. Instructions on the Religious Life, Series III.

Bread of Life – Br. Luke Ditewig

Br. Luke DitewigJohn 6:35

People often remark on the homemade bread we serve at both altar and supper table. One guest told me: “Your bread is substantial and satisfying. Through this retreat I’ve experienced Jesus as substantial and satisfying.”

Bread is ordinary, daily, necessary nourishment, and a key symbol in our salvation story. God provided ancient Israel with bread from heaven in the wilderness for forty years. Wandering in the desert, our parents asked: “What is it?” God said take a measure of this bread from heaven every morning. More will come tomorrow. Don’t hoard it. I will give you enough.[i]

A bit earlier in John, Jesus turned a few loaves and fish into a meal for thousands. Followed by a crowd, Jesus raised the question of how to feed them. The disciples said: “Six months wages would not buy enough bread.” Jesus said: “Make the people sit down. … Jesus gave thanks and distributed the food, … as much as they wanted.”[ii]

As in both these stories, we question how we will live and focus on seeming scarcity. God invites us to trust provision beyond what we imagine. Read More

The Risen Jesus – Br. Jonathan Maury

Br. Jonathan MauryActs 3:12-19, I John 3:1-7, Luke 24:36b-48

Jesus stood among the disciples and said to them, ‘[Shalom], Peace be with you…

And in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering.”   Luke 24:36b, 41

Likely everyone wondered what it was that had taken place in Jerusalem over those days… so certainly the band of men and women who had followed the prophet Jesus from Galilee wondered – and were afraid.  What meaning could be made of their beloved Master’s execution on the eve of the Passover Sabbath?  And now, what to make of the mysterious reports of what some had experienced early on the first day of the week?

The final chapter of Luke’s gospel openly and unapologetically speaks of the startling and terrifying – and ultimately life-transforming – experience of the gathered disciples.  “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?  Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see!” (v. 38-39a)  The One whom they saw die on Friday stands among them again.

This is not the spirit or ghost they at first had feared – both in seeing and in being known by their companions that they were seeing.  No, it is One who proclaims himself to “have flesh and bones, as you see that I have.”  It is the One who asks with a touch of humor, “Have you anything here to eat?” Read More