Have you explored the Signs of Life Reader yet? This reader is a collaboration between the Brothers of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist and members of the Virginia Theological Seminary community. It emerges from a week-long exploration of the signs and symbols of our common worship. It is designed as an invitation to explore Signs of Life, a five-week series to be released by SSJE and VTS.
During the week-long collaboration, the Rev. Becky Zartman introduced each topic with a short homily and a set of provocative questions that became the foundation for structured conversations with both individual Brothers and groups of Brothers. It is our hope that this reader will be a resource for your spiritual life and prepare you for participation in Signs of Life.
1 Samuel 3:1-20
God calls out three times: Samuel! Samuel says: “Here I am” and runs to Eli.
God speaks. From the beginning with “Let there be light” in Genesis to Jesus saying “Come” at the end of Revelation, God speaks. Our faith is not simply about a divine being or deep truth. We believe in God who is personal. God speaks to people by name.[i] Samuel! Moses! Mary!
Samuel listens, answers “Here I am,” and is confused by Eli’s response. With repetition and an awakened guide, Samuel learns God is speaking. Samuel listens and responds. Samuel learns to pray, listening and responding personally with God.[ii]
While we long for God’s voice, in my experience we are often surprised when hearing it, especially to hear God speaking personally. I have not literally heard my name except through people, which is one way God speaks. I hear and witness many who hear God speaking personally. Grace and love come touching me as and where I am now, different from what I at another time or you as another person receive.
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Lent 2020: Signs of Life Daily Calendar
Thursday, 8 PM
December 5, 12 & 19
For centuries, monks have been gathering to chant their bedtime prayers in a service known as Compline (from the Latin word meaning ‘complete’). The Brothers of SSJE invite you to our monastery chapel to experience a special contemplative Compline on Thursday evenings during the season of Advent.
The service begins at 8 PM and is preceded and followed by 30 minutes of quiet meditation by candlelight.
Isaiah 43: 16 – 21
Philippians 3: 4b – 14
John 12: 1 – 8
Some of you will remember that in the old days this Sunday in Lent went by the title of Passion Sunday. It was on this day that the liturgical colour changed from purple, or Lenten array, to red, but not the fiery red of Pentecost, rather the deep, dark, blood red of Passiontide. At the same time, the focus in the readings changed and they began to point, not to what Jesus was doing, and the miracles he was performing, but what would happen during that last week of his life.
In many ways, while the liturgical colour has not yet changed, and today is no longer called Passion Sunday, the same shift has happened, and the readings invite us to ponder the way of his suffering. They do that by pointing us to the day of [his] burial.
The gospel for today is for me, one of the most tender of passages. It puts us back in the home of Mary, and Martha, and Lazarus. It is this family, you will remember, whom John tells us that Jesus loved.It’s important to remember when thinking about this family in Bethany, that it is about this family that we hear for the first time, in John’s gospel, that Jesus loved someone. Yes, we hear in other places in the gospel of the love of the Father for the Son, and the Son for the Father. And we will hear about the disciple whom Jesus loved. But it is only when we arrive in this home at Bethany, on the occasion of the raising of Lazarus in the previous chapter, do we first hear that Jesus loved another person.
Dear Members of the Fellowship of Saint John and other Friends,
When people first come to know our community, they are often surprised to discover that we Brothers – who gather to pray five times a day, every day – also go on retreat! “Don’t you already pray all day?” they ask. Of course it’s more complicated than that, which is one of the reasons that even monks need to set aside times for retreat. As a community, we take a yearly retreat every summer, as well as a retreat day each month. And individual Brothers have further times of retreat throughout the year.
Now I’ll confess that, depending on how I feel, I tend to use our annual retreat time for a number of different purposes. Sometimes it’s an occasion simply to catch up on my sleep or my reading. Other years I’ll use the retreat to spend significant periods of time in the garden. Yet what sustains me in the weeks or months that follow our retreat is not what I have accomplished, but who I have come to know.
I remember one evening after supper sitting in the Chapel. We had gathered to spend some time in prayer before the Sacrament and in the midst of our silence we could hear the chorus of birds singing as dusk fell. I remember being in awe as the song of the birds gave voice to the song of creation as it joined with us in praising the Creator.
I remember Sister Rosemary SLG inviting us one year to experiment with praying in the middle of the night. I got up at 2 am and made myself some hot chocolate. I wrapped myself in a blanket and sat in the rocker. I then had an incredible hour of prayer as I held before God all those who were in any danger at that very moment. I had the physical and emotional experience of literally standing between people and danger, of being their intercessor in the fullest meaning of that word.
I remember gathering one morning in the Chapel for the Eucharist and being overwhelmed by an awareness of the presence of Jesus in the gathered community; for “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Matt. 18:20). As I sat in my Brothers’ presence, I was deeply aware of the presence of Jesus, not simply in our midst, but embodied in my Brothers.
Retreat times sustain me for weeks and months – and sometimes even years afterwards – because of the memory of the One I encountered. Our founder, Richard Meux Benson puts it this way: “in the retreat you want the real surrender of your soul with all the affections of the heart to God” (Instructions on the Religious Life, 2). Surrender to God rekindles our love for God and renews our experience of God’s love for us. This surrender is the heart of retreat. “We have meditated well if in our meditation we have loved much” (3).
Retreat is a time to become lost in love with God. We hope this issue of Cowley will invite you to consider how God might be calling you to explore a time of retreat. Throughout these pages, Brothers share different approaches to retreat, as well as ideas for ways to weave retreat into our lives and daily routines. Whether we come away with God for a week or an hour, we know that when we truly look and listen for God, God will indeed reveal himself to us, for “none ever come unto God and are sent away empty. None come to God ever without receiving far more than they spend. Only come to Him, wait upon Him, look to Him, listen for Him, rejoice in Him. Put away everything else which can stand in the way of His being the simple joy of your heart” (9).
Yours in Christ,
Br. James Koester SSJE
Four days ago we finally began our Lenten pilgrimage after a long Epiphanytide. For a solid eight weeks following the Epiphany we have celebrated all the ways Jesus was made manifest as the messiah to the world and have studied how these stories help us recognize how Jesus is made manifest in our midst today. Wednesday, we received our invitation to a holy Lent, had ashes placed on our foreheads to remind us of our mortality, and we are now at the first Sunday in Lent.
As you might have gathered from our gospel lesson from Luke this morning, things have gotten really serious, very quickly! No sooner has Jesus come up from the waters of his baptism, he hears an affirmation of his identity from his Heavenly Father, and the Holy Spirit descends upon him. In a sense, Jesus has an epiphany and is filled with the Holy Spirit, which then leads him into the harsh Judean desert where the gospel writer says that he was tempted by the devil for forty days. Now, think about that for a moment: even though only three of Satan’s challenges are recorded in the lesson, Luke is quite clear that he is tempted for forty days, all the while with no provision of food or sustenance.
I do not know about you, but I am not encouraged by starting out on these forty days of Lent with a story of Jesus being subjected to mental and physical abuse by the devil! This may explain why Lent is not at the top of my list of favorite Liturgical seasons, especially since my track record with temptation is pretty dismal. I know you may find that hard to believe, but I am the guy who gives up craft beer for Lent and by week two I have succumbed to the desert heat and am quenching my thirst with a cold, refreshing IPA straight from the devil’s hand! In my frustration and disappointment with myself, I try to make myself feel better by thinking of something I can give up the next year where I might actually have success, like perhaps, asparagus. Nothing banishes temptation quite like asparagus. Yet to give up something that would not be challenging is to set out on an ‘adventure in missing the point’; the point being that temptation is a part of our everyday experience. Saint Antony, one of the first of the desert monastics was recorded as saying: “This is the great task of man, that he should hold his sin before the face of God, and count upon temptation until his last breath.”[i]
The Eucharistic Prayer we will use on Sundays and Tuesdays in Advent is one of the new Eucharistic Prayers of the Episcopal Church. The language of the prayer is rooted in the wisdom language of Scripture, and while the identification of Jesus as the eternal Word and Wisdom of God is perhaps unfamiliar to us, it is evident in the New Testament and the writings of the Early Church. Note that the Memorial Acclamation (Dying, you destroyed our death…)and the concluding congregational sung doxology (Blessed are you now and forever. Amen.) are different than what we are used to. The words and music for them can be found in the service part of the bulletin.