Pat’s spontaneous evaluation of our recent six days at Emery House: It was “magical.” Both of us have years of experience sitting grueling 7-day Zen sessions while faithfully attending Trinity Episcopal Church here in Bloomington, Indiana. God decided last year it was finally time to have our cake and eat it too. Long days and nights of perfect silence and stillness before the Buddha with chanting and simple meals became at SSJE periods of contemplative solitude before icons on demand, amplified by 4-5 services a day including Eucharist, extraordinary food, the wonderful hospitality of the Brothers, and a lovely rural New England setting. More specifically we remember Br. Nicholas’ warm greeting at Emery House, Br. John’s quiet introduction to the Virgin Mary, and Br. Curtis’ daily routine of helping Pat, who has difficulty balancing on stairs, down into the main dining room. We remember building and feeding daily fires in our hermitage, eating breakfast, reading and enjoying quiet together listening to an intern chop wood outside: an intimacy like a spiritual honeymoon. We remember reciting psalms in congregation, then chanting psalms, then breaking into harmony with hymns (the latter even more thrilling in Cambridge). We remember frosty country walks, and night reflections on the Merrimack River at flood stage. Despite a long drive, we remember coming home rested.
My collaborative practice group spent four days in retreat at the Society of Saint John the Evangelist’s Monastery in Cambridge in October of 2015. The experience was much more than I could have ever imagined. The peace and tranquility shown by each of the Brothers and most particularly, the compassionate guidance of our retreat leader, helped me to become more prepared to deal with the bustle and demands of my job as I help families in pain and transition. I was overwhelmed by the generosity and humility of these men who have dedicated their lives to making a difference in the world and who challenged me and showed me, through example, how to pause in my day to breathe and move forward with gratitude and self-awareness. I am deeply appreciative of the opportunity to learn from the Brothers and experience the beauty of this place.
SSJE has been a beacon of prayer, hope, and joy for me for more than thirty years. In my first days in seminary, it was a place of solitude and respite amid the storms of learning. Serving the church as a young priest, I awaited the Cowley Publications catalog like gardeners look for the spring seed catalogs. A decade in New England reconnected me to the community through spiritual direction and retreat. Now, while a little farther away, the digital world keeps me connected and I count the days until my next trip to Emery House or the Monastery. Good worship, good counsel, good hope; I have received them all from the Brothers.
I have been a lay reader at my church for fourteen years. I also do pastoral visiting at seniors’ residences and nursing homes as well as with shut-ins. I am still on call to the Hospice of Windsor and Essex County, where I have volunteered for twenty-five years. Sometimes people ask me, “How do you do it?” I reply “with prayer and with God’s help.” As I have aged I have valued prayer more, and it is good to be connected with people who have a discipline of prayer. The Brothers’ words convey that. As a cradle Anglican from Canterbury Kent UK, I like that connection and I like the depth of thought in what I have read from the Brothers. The Brothers’ online teachings keep that connection for me.
At the suggestion of my parish priest, prior to my marriage, I attended the “first retreat in silence” at Emery House. My five-day experience changed my life in many ways, but most importantly put it in correct perspective. Learning to “be” was a huge risk in my mind. Being with myself, at peace, became comfortable as I discovered Christ within. Through prayer with the Brothers and some private counseling while on retreat, I realized that I am loved by God through Christ and that is the most important aspect of my existence. I am not alone! My prayer life was revitalized and following the Fellowship Rule has become a routine, a passion. My singing in my parish choir, vestry involvement, eucharistic ministering and my marriage took on new meaning. I now love my church and feel fully at home both here and with the Brothers and look forward to and long for my next visit.
I’ve known SSJE for over forty years and, in that time, I don’t think the community has essentially changed at all. The community has always been doing its utmost for its mission to witness to Christ for everyone who comes by, or who is invited, or happens in. It’s a wonderful thing that SSJE is so steady – so steadily aware of itself and its mission to be an inspiration, a guide, a sort of spiritual home for the laity.
And yet, at the same time, I’ve also always appreciated how SSJE is forward-looking. A document like their Rule of Life is an inspiration to those who want Christianity to be imaginative, innovative, and always looking for signs that God’s will might be different from what it has been heretofore. I’ve always felt well, if SSJE is doing it, it’s okay. I had a spiritual director elsewhere for about ten years, but when that ended, I did not succeed in finding another one. Instead, now I test things against what the monks are doing, or saying, or preaching. I have a number of sermons printed out from what the Brothers make available online. There are some that I return to on a regular basis because they seem to be so clear and so applicable to what I’m experiencing. In a way, SSJE has filled in as my spiritual director. Now with Brother, Give Us a Word, I look forward to contacting my “gurus” every morning when I start my prayer session.
When I wrote my will, I decided that I wanted to leave a specific percentage of my estate to charity. In addition to my local Episcopal church and school, I wanted to give to a select few national Christian communities that not only have had a profound impact upon my life but which also have a vision for the future of Christianity that comes closest to my understanding of what the Kingdom of God should look like here on earth. SSJE is one of those communities. First, it is a shining example of the both-and holy paradoxes of our Anglican faith: contemplation & action, traditional & progressive, liturgically rich yet simple, high tech & personal, and monastic & radically hospitable. Second, the Brothers’ outreach to individuals and communities across the Episcopal world through their on-site retreat offerings as well as their weekend retreats which they lead in faith communities is a uniquely powerful ministry that is essential to the long term health of The Episcopal Church. I was recently reminded of the Brothers when I read Eugene Peterson’s final paragraph to his commentary on Jesus’ Final Discourse, “The pattern holds: Whatever we do in Jesus’ name, we begin on our knees before our friends and neighbors and conclude looking ‘up to heaven’ praying to our Father. Washing dirty feet and praying to the Holy Father bookend our lives” (Conversations, p. 1672).
I am a far-flung, antipodean member of the Fellowship of St John, and have been since 1994. I met SSJE in their southern outpost, Durham, NC and joined FSJ at CDSP in Berkeley, CA. Keeping in touch through prayer or electronically, the brothers of SSJE remind me that, wherever we are, Christ meets us with an understanding heart. With thanks for your presence to so many. Arohanui.
– Nancy Barnard Starr
Being a member of the FSJ, I share a mutual bond of prayer with the Brothers. Just knowing that makes a difference in my life, really. I know that I am part of a circle with this group of men who are living a life of prayer for the world. The relationship of mutual prayer is a very stabilizing thing – both subtly and strikingly effective. It’s a preview of the Communion of Saints.
It’s been helpful to me, in really practical ways, to have this relationship of mutual prayer as I’ve discerned a call to ordination. I have felt supported in this by the Brothers, even though I haven’t had any conversations about it with anybody from SSJE. My decisions or directions have felt the added discernment and support of a body of men who are very committed to what they’re doing, and that’s helped me, just as following the FSJ Rule has helped me to have a clear head and a clear heart as I discern forward with my own life.
Supporting SSJE financially is just a practical, material part of this relationship. Imagine how it would be to say you love someone, but never doing anything for them. How would that work?
– Ross Bliss