Recognizing the Lord – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Sirach 48:1-11
Matthew 17:9-13

The prophet Elijah is one of the great figures of the Bible, and straddles both the Old and New Testaments. In our first reading today from the Book of Sirach, we have this great paeon of praise for Elijah: ‘How glorious you are Elijah in your wondrous deeds’. There is also a profound hope that he would come again, to prepare the way of the Lord. This hope grows through the Hebrew scriptures, and culminates in the very last verses of the Old Testament, in the Book of Malachi: ‘Lo I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes.’  And to this day, when Jewish families celebrate Passover, they leave a place at the table for Elijah, and at one point a son goes to the front door to see if Elijah has come.

In our Gospel reading from Matthew, the disciples Peter, James and John are coming down the mountain having just experienced the glorious Transfiguration of Jesus. At the Transfiguration they saw Elijah, as well as Moses, who were talking with Jesus. As the disciples walked down the mountain they questioned Jesus about Elijah. They wanted to know why Elijah had not come earlier, as promised in scripture, preceding the coming of Jesus. Jesus told them that Elijah had already come, but that people did not recognize him. ‘Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them about John the Baptist.’ John came preaching repentance and prepared the way for the promised Messiah. In this way, he was fulfilling the role of Elijah, but the religious leaders simply did not recognize him. They did not recognize him. The scriptures are full of this theme of failing to recognize the one who is in their midst; of not truly seeing; of spiritual blindness. Of course, Jesus’ enemies did not recognize who he was. Remember all those chapters in John’s Gospel, where the Pharisees keep asking him hostile questions about his identity. ‘Where are you from? Who is your family? How do you know so much – you’ve never been taught. You are not yet fifty; how have you seen Abraham?’  Finally, in chapter 8: 25 in exasperation, ‘Who are you?’  as the prologue to John puts it, ‘He was in the world, yet the world did not know him,’ Read More

Desire, Distilled – Br. Keith Nelson

Isaiah 40:1-11
2 Peter 3:8-15a
Mark 1:1-8

I was blessed in the second year of my novitiate to work with a spiritual director who was a Trappist monk. Once a month, he patiently listened to the many words I would summon as I circled around my inmost experience of prayer. With a verbal precision sifted by silence, and great love, he would wait. And at the right moment, which would always come, he would name the heart of the matter. Suddenly, words would feel small and superfluous, and the way forward obvious, in the presence of a God whose one desire was simply to be with me.

He shared with me an adage I still remember:

Filled with ardent desire
yet not pressing the point
we become a place
where the Lord may rest.

The words capture the essential invitation in swift, clean strokes. We let our thirst for God rise up from within. We refrain from any agenda of our own contriving, any attachment to this or that experience. And we wait. As we wait, it may happen that God rests – and we rest in God, drawn by this harmonious alignment of wills. Read More

Hope for Healing – Br. Lain Wilson

Isaiah 30:19-21, 23-26
Psalm 147:1-12
Matthew 9:35-10:1, 5-8

We find ourselves this Advent in a world that seems to be breaking down. A litany could encompass all ills and lands and peoples, and still feel incomplete. We find ourselves, this Advent, hurting, injured, crying out. Crying out for hope. Crying out for hope in God’s promise of healing.

The season of Advent layers time: past and future, memory and expectation, already and not yet. And God’s promise of healing is present in both layers. Part of Jesus’s ministry, as we hear in our Gospel today, was in curing every disease and every sickness. In the next chapter he will answer the messengers from John the Baptist by pointing to his own healing: “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, [and] the dead are raised” (Mt 11:5).

This healing is also in the future—at the end of things: the time of the harvest, in Jesus’s words. The prophet Isaiah reports God’s promise that, after the day of judgment, the people of Zion will weep no more, and that the Lord will bind up the injuries of God’s people, and will heal their wounds. Read More

God’s Majesty to be Praised – Br. Curtis Almquist

Isaiah 11:1-10

The Euclid Telescope made news just several weeks ago. You may have seen in the media an astonishing sample of photos from this new robotic telescope, launched in July, and which is mapping the “extragalactic sky.” [i] I find most striking a photo of what is being called the  “Horsehead Nebula,” an equine-shaped cloud with baby stars. It is many light years away: 1,375 light years away from us. One light year is almost 6 trillion miles from earth. This “Horsehead Nebula” we can now see is 1,375 x 6 trillion miles away from us.[ii]

If I sound as if I know what I am talking about, I do not. I know virtually nothing about the science of astronomy. I am a reader, and an awestruck observer, as you may be also. This interstellar experience of the vastness of God’s creation is the very thing we read about in the Psalms. The psalmist writes about the God, the Creator:

“Your majesty is praised in the heavens…
When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars you have set in their courses,
who are we that you should be mindful of us…?”[iii]

Who are we?  We are among those whom the scriptures call “children of God” who have lived the generations of time before us and who, in God’s mercy, may live generations of time beyond us. This is what God has had in mind since the dawn of creation: we come from God, and we belong to God, and we have captured God’s desire to share life in eternity with us. All of us, all God’s creatures. Read More

Wake up and watch – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Mark 13:24-37

Today is Advent Sunday – the first day of a new Christian year. It is, as the Scriptures urge, a time to wake up. To shake ourselves, to take stock of our lives. And to do it NOW! There is an urgency to Advent. Urgent, because God is working his purposes out in our world and in our lives.  Advent proclaims loud and clear that there IS a purpose to our lives, and that there will be an end, and that that end is coming ever nearer. For that reason, Advent has always traditionally had as its themes, the ‘four last things’; death, judgment, heaven and hell. These sober realities are coming nearer to us each one of us. Or as a friend of mine used to put it with a bit of a grin, ‘None of us gets out of this alive’! So, Advent is a serious and challenging season, and challenges us to take stock of our lives, and to do it NOW.

The Gospels are full of this sense of urgency. Jesus’ words are so often full of this urgency. We hear it whenever Jesus encounters men and women. Jesus doesn’t just wander around Galilee uttering timeless, philosophical dictums or epigrams. He is not essentially a philosopher – he is a prophet. He speaks OUT, he speaks hard things which challenge, and shock, and outrage.  He tells a parable and immediately says, ‘What do you think?’ How will you respond? Now. He challenges, and confronts, and brings judgment, now. To one he says, ‘Change your life.’ To another, ‘Repent. Follow me. Sell everything you have. Leave your mother and father and family. Come. Now.’ Read More

Called and Sent: Becoming Apostles – Br. Keith Nelson

St. Andrew the Apostle

Deuteronomy 30:11-14;
Romans 10:8b-18;
Matthew 4:18-22

In the Eastern Church, St. Andrew is known by the title Protokletos: St. Andrew, the First-Called.

In this first week of Advent, the first week of the liturgical year, today’s feast provides a simple but profound opportunity to return to first principles.

In a contemplative spirit, we can pause to reconsider some fundamental questions about what it means to be called by Jesus, and what it means to be sent.

Through whom did Jesus first call you? Read More

Rejoice in the Lord always – Br. David Vryhof

Br. David Vryhof

Zephaniah 3:14-20
Philippians 4:4-7
Luke 3:7-18

I don’t spend a lot of time reading for pleasure, but when I do, I usually gravitate towards mysteries.  I love the way skilled mystery writers can weave together a complex plot involving a whole cast of characters, somehow leaving us hanging at the end of each chapter, eager for more.  The situations the detectives find themselves in are always so complicated – there are numerous suspects with possible motives and pieces of evidence that don’t seem to fit, and we’re wondering how this tangled situation will ever be resolved.  But, invariably, in the final pages the truth comes out, the villain makes a fatal mistake, a key piece of evidence comes to light, or the detective has a brilliant flash of insight, and the whole complex situation finds resolution.  95% of the book is spent weaving the complicated plot, and the last 5% is spent resolving and explaining the mystery.

Most of the time I find these kinds of stories satisfying.  (I do like a tidy ending!)  But at times the ending feels too neat and I think to myself, ‘that’s not how life works.’  Situations in life that are as tangled as this don’t resolve themselves quite this conveniently, most of the time. Read More

Discerning God in Advent & Christmastide Podcast

Listen in on two seasonal podcast episodes, as Br. Curtis Almquist joins Steve Macchia on the Discerning Leader Podcast, to discuss how Advent can allow us to get in touch with our deepest longings and prepare our hearts for the coming to Christ into this world.

Episode 1: Gifts of Advent

Advent invites us to slow down and create space in order to receive Christ in the fullness of our being.” – Curtis Almquist, SSJE

Discerning God during the season of Advent takes prayerful intentionality, especially with the onslaught of alluring messages from our over-commercialized world. It’s the beginning of the church year, where we prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ in his physical nativity, in our own hearts, and in his future second coming. It’s also a time of disciplined fasting and abstinence, a time to ponder and pray, which helps us to get in touch with our deepest longings as we prepare our hearts for the prophetic and mysterious coming of Christ into this world.

Episode 2: Blessings of Advent

Learning the value of waiting has largely been removed from our vocabulary. Advent gives us the gift of waiting.” –Curtis Almquist, SSJE

Advent is a season of anticipation. A time of preparation for the Christian community. The promised Messiah is coming in Jesus and the Church remembers once more. With a penitential quality to the season, Advent is a solemn time to pay attention to what is standing in the way of our walking in the way. It’s a time for personal reflection in our prayer closet where stillness and silence are our teacher. It’s a season of noticing those around us who are lost and lonely, reaching out to those who fear being forgotten. It’s a time to practice presence and gratitude.

The Dawning of the Light of Christ – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

Luke 21:25-36

It is curious that we begin a new season today, the First Sunday of the Advent season. Outside the walls of this monastery chapel, a new season began just after Halloween, called “Holiday Shopping Season,” along with the Amazon promise that you can have it all now… at least by tomorrow. The season of Advent interposes quite an opposite theme. Anticipating Christmas is not about immediacy. Rather, it is about watching, and waiting, and preparing to celebrate Christ’s infant birth at Bethlehem, and to prepare for Christ’s promise that he will come again in real time. In Advent, you will see no holiday glitter here in this chapel. What catches our eye’s attention is the Advent wreath, front and center, on which we slowly light candles. In the Hebrew scriptures, the promised Messiah teems with the language of light. The Messiah is called “the Dayspring,” “the Morning Star,” “the Sun of Righteousness,” “the Light of the World.”

And don’t we need light, especially as we approach the winter solstice?  Meanwhile, there’s more and more darkness outside. The reason why Christmas came to be celebrated on December 25th probably has to do with light. The earliest Christians most likely wanted the date of Christmas to coincide with the festival of the Roman Empire on December 25th which marked  “The Birthday of the Unconquered Sun.”[i] This festival celebrated the winter solstice, when the days again begin to lengthen and the sun rises higher in the sky: December 25th.[ii]  And so light has historically figured very importantly into this Advent season preparing for the coming and coming again of Christ: light. Light in the sky and light in our souls. Read More

The Lamp of Imagination & the Womb of Faith – Br. Keith Nelson

1 Samuel 1:19-28 & Luke 1:39-56

The visitation of Mary to Elizabeth always captures my praying imagination.

I see an old, tough woman suffused with the giddy joy of a young girl, the kind that visits mothers, grandmothers, and aunts at wedding receptions. In squeals of laughter, flushed cheeks and bare feet on the dance floor, a youthful radiance gleams from the young at heart.

And I see a young girl, centered, purposeful, and wise beyond her years, with a confidence and vision that are usually the gifts of chronological maturity. She declares words of passion and purpose about the true order of things in a voice that does not quiver. It is a strange combination of purity and precociousness, the kind that we glimpse in the old souls of certain children.

The Spirit touches the first with a buoyant exuberance and a cry of joy that begins deep in the belly. The Spirit touches the second with anchored assurance and a song that echoes down the generations. Read More