The Unclarity of Holiness – Br. Lucas Hall

Br. Lucas Hall

Mark 6:14-29

One of my favorite films came out roughly five years ago. It’s called A Hidden Life. It’s a Terrence Malick film, if you’re familiar with him. One reviewer called it a “grand cathedral” of a movie. And I agree, because it’s very big. It’s about three hours long. It’s quite quiet, reflective. The story—It’s based on a true story—of an Austrian, alpine farmer, living in a small, rural village during the Second World War. He receives a draft summons to join the Nazi army, and he can’t. His conscience will not allow him to swear an oath of loyalty to Adolf Hitler. He is told repeatedly that it’s merely a formality, that he can be assigned to non-violent, non-combat work. He could even be assigned to hospital work. He could help people, save lives.

No. He refuses over and over again. He is imprisoned. His wife and children are ostracized in their village. He is tortured, beaten, moved around from prison to prison to prison, interrogated. His wife is brought to him to try and convince him, remind him of what he’s giving up. Instead, she agrees with him, and encourages him, and says she will be with him, whatever he decides. So he stands firm. Ultimately, he is executed. That story has a clear hero, a clear main character, but what really struck me about the film was the way it ended with this man’s death. Because he, with a number of other prisoners, was brought to a place of execution, a military installation. It was a gray, cloudy day. They were sitting outside in a gravel courtyard area. One by one, they were brought into a dingy old building with a concrete floor and unceremoniously killed. It wasn’t a heroic setting. It was mundane, normal, dingy, depressing. And each of these people to be executed had no idea whether they were on the winning side or not. There was certainly no hint of it at the end of their lives, powerless against a much bigger foe, and ultimately killed. Read More

Frozen Roles – Br. James Koester

Mark 6:1-13

About thirty years ago, we Brothers went through a period of renewal. We were stuck, and we knew it. It was difficult for us to make decisions. We were busy all the time, but it seemed, we were mostly busy spinning our wheels. We didn’t know which direction we wanted to go, and we weren’t even sure how, or who, would decide that. We were stuck, and we knew it. Luckily, we also knew that something needed to change. We weren’t sure what, but we knew we could not go on like that. And so, we asked around. What had other people and organizations done in similar situations? Eventually we were led to a woman named Jean. Jean walked into our life one day, and while there were countless times when we all wished she would walk right back out, she and we persisted, and we’ve never been the same.

Thirty years later, all of us who were here then, still speak of her. Brothers who were not here, certainly know of her. She is perhaps quoted, and referred to, only slightly less frequently than Father Benson. Ask some of us, and we all have our favourite Jean story.

One of the things that was eye opening for me, was the day Jean introduced us to the concept of frozen roles.

Jean’s point was that we often cannot see what another is doing, or saying, because we think we know what they will do, or say, even before they do, or say it. She always reacts this way. He always does that. I don’t need to bother listening because I already know what they will say. We freeze people, and even ourselves, into certain patterns, and we don’t allow them to break out, or to be different than how we expect them to be.

The dynamics of frozen roles are perhaps most prevalent in families, small work situations, and dare I say it, monastic communities, where members have known one another over decades. Here he goes again, we say to ourselves. How many times have I heard this in the last 10, 20, 30 years? I don’t need to listen. I already know what he will say. Read More

Captives to Truth – Br. Lain Wilson

Feast of Irenaeus of Lyons

2 Timothy 2:22-26

“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, patient, correcting opponents with gentleness” (2 Tim 2:24-25).

I’m not sure “gentle” is how I’d first characterize Irenaeus, the second-century theologian and bishop whom we remember today. In his great work Against Heresies, he sought to combat the heterodox versions of Christianity that surrounded him in a point-by-point refutation of their beliefs. At the same time, he laid out a Christian vision that affirmed the authority of the apostolic tradition and succession, the goodness of creation, and the relevance of the Hebrew Scriptures, a vision that would largely carry forward into the era of councils and creeds and orthodoxy of subsequent centuries.

The heresies Irenaeus faced are different than those that face us, but I think he speaks to us today in two important ways.

First, the truth matters, and it is worth arguing for and defending. We, like Irenaeus, live in an age of contested truth. Irenaeus makes clear his intent to address this head-on in the opening sentence of Against Heresies: “Inasmuch as certain men have set the truth aside, and bring in lying words and vain genealogies . . . and by means of their craftily-constructed plausibilities draw away the minds of the inexperienced and taken them captive, [I have felt constrained, my dear friend, to compose the following treatise in order to expose and counteract their machinations].” Read More

Herod’s Perplexity – Br. David Vryhof

Br. David Vryhof

Luke 9:7-9

In today’s very brief gospel lesson, we get a glimpse into the heart of Herod Antipas, the Roman Jew who was the ruler of Galilee and Perea during Jesus’ lifetime.  This short text from Luke’s gospel reveals that he is both frightened of Jesus and fascinated by him.  It calls to mind Herod’s relationship to Jesus’ forerunner, John the Baptist.  We read in Mark 6:20 that Herod “feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him.  When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him.”  We know the rest of the story, don’t we… John’s popularity posed a threat to Herod and he had John arrested and imprisoned.  Not long afterwards, in a state of drunkenness at a party he was hosting, Herod made an extravagant promise to his daughter, which led to John’s beheading.  It was a promise he deeply regretted.  It is clear that he was both fascinated by John and fearful of John’s influence. Read More

The Emergence of Courage – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

Saints Agnes and Cecilia of Rome, Martyrs

Matthew 18:1-6

In the calendar of the church we remember today two early Christian martyrs: Saint Cecilia and Saint Agnes. Saint Cecilia, as a young woman, was married. She converted to Christianity members of her own household; however in the face of the demand from the Roman government to offer sacrifice to pagan idols, a demand she refused, Cecilia was martyred year 280. Saint Agnes, a 12-year old child, was brought to a civil magistrate, before whom she refused to renounce her Christian faith, and she, too, was martyred, this in year 304. Saint Ambrose of Milan wrote about Agnes that “all were astounded that she should come forward as a witness to God when she was still too young to be her own mistress.” The various accounts of Cecilia and Agnes’ martyrdom are appalling, which show something of the impact of the life and death these two young women made upon their contemporaries and succeeding generations.

The word “courage” comes to mind in remembering martyrs such as Cecilia and Agnes. Our word courage comes from the Latin word for heart, cor, then the Old French, corage. Courage emanates from the heart, the heart symbolizing the essence of a person. We hear Jesus say, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid.”[i]  But courage is not something to work on. Becoming courageous is not a spiritual calisthenic. Courage comes as a byproduct, a characteristic or an action which is quite invisible to the person themselves. I have never once heard someone described as having done something courageous who sees this about themselves. Courage is in the eye of the beholder, not in the awareness of the actor. Read More

The Courage We Need Now – Br. Lain Wilson

2 Corinthians 6:1–10
John 13:12–17

I don’t often think of Jesus’s courage, but that’s what has come to mind during my prayer with today’s Gospel passage. Knowing that his end was near, Jesus shows his closest friends how unlike their world his kingdom will be. The Teacher and Lord humbles himself and performs the work of a servant or slave, overturning all expectations and proprieties.

This act takes courage—courage that we can look to; courage, no doubt, that our departed Brother David Campbell looked to in his challenges of leadership. Facing an English Congregation that was ageing and declining in numbers, Father Campbell managed the withdrawal from the longstanding missions in India and South Africa, closed the Mission House in Oxford, and dispersed the remaining Brothers to continue the Society’s ministries as long as possible. His actions took courage, as did the humility to accept that the Society in England’s end might be coming. Read More

Take courage … I am with you … do not fear – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester,

Haggai 1: 15b-2:9

I want to begin by saying how glad I am to be back among you, and to express my gratitude to the Brothers for the opportunity to be on sabbatical for the last 10 weeks, and especially to Brother Keith who covered for me. I also want to say thank you, to all of you who have held me in your prayers these last weeks, as I did you in mine.

My time away was extraordinary. I was able to see members of my family, some of whom I have not seen since before 2019. I spent time in Oxford, which, as you know is where the community began in 1866, and is a place over the last years I am coming to know well, and where I feel at home. The Sunday before I left Oxford, I preached in Father Benson’s former parish, standing in the pulpit where he once stood, which for me is always a thrill.

The bulk of my time away however I spent walking in Wales. The experience was exhilarating; the scenery spectacular; the people constantly generous. Even on the day, which my sister described as level 2 fun (in other words, not fun at the time, but fun in hindsight) when it took me 8 hours to walk 9 miles, which included the equivalent of 82 flights of stairs, and along paths far too close to the cliff edge for my liking, I never once thought of giving up, or wondered why on earth I was doing this. Every afternoon at the end of my walk, I was simply glad of a beer, a hot shower, a good meal, and a comfortable bed. Every morning, except for a few days when it was pouring rain; the day of the Queen’s funeral; and a couple days when all I wanted to do was sit in a coffee shop with my novel, I was ready to head out once again and walk. Of a possible 190 miles, I walked 135 of them, so I’m totally thrilled. Read More

The Cost of Speaking Up – Br. David Vryhof

The Beheading of John the Baptist

II Chronicles 24:17-21
Hebrews 11: 32-40
Mark 6:17-29

It takes courage to speak truth to power.  There can be real consequences to boldly speaking the truth, especially when it challenges political, social, economic or religious systems that favor the powerful.  Speaking the truth to powerful people can result in the loss of one’s job, the loss of one’s friends and allies, the loss of one’s liberty, and even the loss of one’s life.

We have a powerful example of this in tonight’s gospel lesson, which presents us with a shocking contrast.  On the one hand there is the prophet John, the “voice crying in the wilderness,” now alone in his cell, doomed and helpless to save his life; on the other, the king, surrounded by the ‘successful’ and powerful members of his court.  John is in prison because he has dared to criticize Herod for marrying his brother’s wife; he is paying a heavy cost for speaking the truth. Read More

Something Better and More Lasting – Br. James Koester

Hebrews 10:32–39

It was Lent 1977, and Anglicans around the world were asked to flood the Ugandan postal service with Easter cards. A few weeks earlier, the Archbishop of Kampala, Janani Luwum[1] had disappeared. The government reported he had been killed in a car accident while resisting arrest. Weeks later his bullet riddled body was found dumped by the side of the road. He had been murdered, not simply on the orders of Idi Amin, the Ugandan dictator, but probably by Amin himself. I took several addresses, and months later I received cards in return, expressing gratitude that the events in Uganda had been watched by the world, and that the people had noticed.

The history of the church in Uganda, indeed the history of the church, is a history of martyrdom. Today we remember the martyrdom of 32 young men, pages in the court of King Mwanga, who in 1886 refused to give up their loyalty to Christ, and so were martyred, in an attempt to wipe out the small Christian community in East Africa. Read More

Ask, Search, Knock – Br. Keith Nelson

Br. Keith Nelson

Matthew 7:7-12

Ask… and it will be given. Search…and you will find. Knock…and the door will be opened for you.

What prevents you from asking, searching, or knocking?

It might be literal lack of clarity. Who should I ask? Where should I search? Is this the right door, or is it that one?

It might be an emotion on the fear continuum: anxiety; suspicion; pessimism; insecurity; loneliness. What if I hear “No” in reply? What if I spend all that energy searching but find nothing helpful, nothing worthwhile? What if I knock and that door remains shut tight, with not a light to be seen behind the dark window panes as night falls?

It might be a well-intentioned desire for independence or self-sufficiency; or the desire to appear competent or smart. What if I can just figure this out by myself? That way, I won’t have to be a burden or impose my question or need on someone else…

It might even be fear of the very gift, opportunity, or invitation we long for.  What if I hear “yes” in reply? Am I ready to walk through that door if it does open? What would I do or say next? Read More