Good News Amidst Bad News – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

Isaiah 7:1-9

Our reading from the Prophecy of Isaiah is an 8th century BC version of what we are seeing every day in our own newspapers and online: a world, including our own homeland, teeming with conflict. For Isaiah, the players were King Pekah and King Remaliah of Israel; King Rezim of Aram-Syria; and Kings Tabeel, then Uziah, then Ahaz, and then Jotham the successive Kings of Judah.[i] For the life of me, I cannot keep it all straight – neither the political players whom we are reading about from the 8th century BC, nor our own present-day news stream: the historic territorial disputes, the ever-changing political alignments, often created by common enemies; the fracturing of treaties and goodwill; the political threats and promises; and the suffering of the innocent. Whether in the 8th century BC or in the 21stcentury of the Common Era, there are so many parallels in strife that span across time.

There is a word of hope buried in this Prophecy of Isaiah, hope for the 8th century BC which also pertains to us in our own day. Isaiah speaks an assurance in the voice of God: “Take heed, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint…” “Take heed, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint…” Read More

Jesus’ Abiding Presence – Br. Jim Woodrum

Isabella Stewart Gardner Memorial Mass
(given at the Gardner Museum)

Which painting stands out to you the most in this incredible museum? In a group like ours, everyone likely has their own favorite painting, with some choices overlapping. Among the many exceptional artworks here, one that I particularly admire is Sandro Botticelli’s “The Virgin and Child with an Angel.” Painted sometime between 1470 and 1474, it was acquired by Mrs. Gardner in 1899. I’ve been reading Natalie Dykstra’s new biography, “Chasing Beauty,” where I discovered that this painting was also one of Mrs. Gardner’s favorites.[i] Interestingly, I think it bears a resemblance to a famous photo of Belle (as Mrs. Gardner was known familiarly) and her beloved son Jackie, taken in 1864.[ii] This painting, like that photograph is iconic.

When I say that, I am not suggesting that the painting is admired for its great influence or significance in a specific sphere, perhaps like Mrs. Gardner—herself to this day, an icon. Instead, I use the term “iconic” in the sense that when we gaze at this painting, it conveys something much deeper than merely a depiction of a woman, child, and angel with wheat and grapes. Like a religious icon, every detail in the painting prayerfully hints at a richer narrative—one that may require time and contemplation to fully appreciate. Similarly, in the gospels, Jesus often taught his disciples using iconic stories called parables such as the parable of the Prodigal Son and the parable of the Good Samaritan. Read More

You Are My Sunshine! – Br. Jim Woodrum

Br. Jim Woodrum

John 20:1-18

When I began to pray with this morning’s Gospel lesson from John, I was struck at first by two sentences: “Then the disciples returned to their homes. But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb.” The feeling these sentences evoked for me was kenopsia. In his book of neologisms, author John Koenig defines his word kenopsia as: “the eerie, forlorn atmosphere of a place that’s usually bustling with people but is now abandoned and quiet—a school hallway in the evening, an unlit office on a weekend, vacant fairgrounds—an emotional afterimage that makes it seem not just empty but hyper-empty, with a total population in the negative, who are so conspicuously absent they glow like neon signs” (from Greek, kenosis “emptiness” + opsia “seeing”).[i]

Have you ever experienced kenopsia or “emptiness-seeing?” The sense of kenopsia often takes me back to a memory from April of 2019. My father had just passed away, following my mother’s death 11 months earlier. As the extended family left, leaving me behind after the funeral, I found myself sitting alone in the den of my childhood home. Surrounded by the echoes of my upbringing, I listened to the air conditioner cycle on and off, a sound all too familiar. The house smelled just as it always had, and atop the dryer lay a stack of bath towels, neatly folded, waiting to be placed in the linen closet upstairs—a task meant for a day that never came.

Despite the comfort of familiarity, an overwhelming difference cast a shadow over everything: the absence of my parents. Gone were the aromas of dinner cooking on the stove. The evening news or my mother’s favorite true crime shows no longer filled the air with sound. Though the house was crowded with remnants of my parents’ lives, it felt profoundly empty. This emptiness wasn’t just a lack of presence; it was an active, almost tangible void. The experience was as fascinating as it was sad and unsettling. Read More

Joy in the Midst of Grief – Br. Lain Wilson

Luke 18:9-14
Psalm 30
Philippians 1:15-20

Just over 1600 years ago, a young couple dreamed a dream:

“One night we went to sleep, greatly upset, and we saw ourselves, both of us, passing through a very narrow crack in a wall. We were gripped with panic by the cramped space, so that it seemed as if we were about to die.”

This young couple was Valerius Pinianus and his wife, Melania. They were two of the super-rich of the later Roman world. They were also Christians. And at this period in history these two things, wealth and Christian faith, were increasingly at odds with one another.

Pinianus and Melania, along with many of their contemporaries, were uncomfortable with their vast wealth. They grieved what their wealth afforded them. The open vistas of estates, the splendor and ostentation, the luxury of free time, had become for them a “narrow crack” and a “cramped space.” They grieved the weight of wealth on their souls. And this grief prompted them to make an unprecedented renunciation of their worldly wealth.[1] Read More

Road Food – Br. Luke Ditewig

Br. Luke Ditewig

Matthew 7:6, 12-14

One of my favorite places is a camp on Catalina Island off the coast of Los Angeles.[i] After seminary, I was on staff for over a year. During that time there was a major wildfire on Catalina. We quickly evacuated our guests and ourselves by boat to Catalina’s town. We left the island with the eerie sight of flames in the night near our home.

To our great relief camp was saved, only singed around the edges. We returned to power and telephone down, plastic water lines melted, and ashes everywhere. Portable generators gave limited power for essentials for a few weeks. With no cell reception in camp, leaders occasionally drove a boat out to make calls.

Soon stress rose and tempers quickened. We complained about what we lost. We complained about what we had, especially what we had to eat. Days had passed before we got the generators. Lots of meat from the walk-in freezer was fine to eat if it was cooked soon. So as some staff cleaned off ashes and others laid plastic water pipe over the hill, our cook barbequed. We ate BBQ chicken and more BBQ chicken and yet more BBQ chicken. Most of us got very tired of BBQ chicken, but we kept eating it. Read More

Trust and Strive: Embodying Christian Endurance – Br. Keith Nelson

Luke 21:5-19

Jesus says: Not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.

 Endurance is intimately associated in the New Testament with the posture of active waiting for the “day of the Lord.” In today’s gospel reading from Luke, Jesus draws our attention to the urgency, the sense of responsibility, and the vigilance that the day of the Lord awakens in those who are waiting for it in faith. This is a theme we’ll hear a lot more about in a few weeks, during the season of Advent.

But after introducing this theme in today’s reading, Jesus places the “day of the Lord” in the background, and directs our gaze to the foreground of Christian persecution. Jesus prophesies about the challenges Christians will suffer at the hands of both public authorities and those people closest to them in their web of human relations. This is a shift from “out there” in space and time to “right here,” to up-close and personal events involving everyday encounters, that must take place first. Read More

Grief and Gratitude – Br. Luke Ditewig

Br. Luke Ditewig

Joel 2:21-27

As colors turned and leaves fell, trees beckoned us. I often stopping to look and sometimes stretched up mirroring their limbs. For God’s creation is good and wondrously made. Wow. Thank you. As branches also broke, limbs fell, hanging down or collapsing on the ground. I also stopped to look and sometimes let my arm bend, droop, and hang, feeling the weight of what is broken. O God, have mercy. Bodies hold it all, our diverse and competing truths. As I pray with my body, trees are teaching me to pray both gratitude and grief, including at the same time. [i]

Among the calamities of 2020, a plague of locusts caused a food shortage for millions of people across dozens of countries in the Middle East and Africa. The prophet Joel wrote to people who had experienced such crisis. Joel describes locusts “like the crackling of a flame of fire devouring stubble, like a powerful army drawn up for battle. Before them, people are in anguish, all faces grow pale.”[ii] Joel wrote that the long awaited Day of the Lord would come like such a frightening plague.

“Blow the trumpet in Zion, sound the alarm on my holy mountain! … Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your heart and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.”[iii] Read More

Behold, I tell you a mystery! – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

1 Corinthians 15: 51-57

Today we celebrate All Souls Day. We ‘celebrate’? How can we celebrate when shortly we shall be remembering by name before God our loved ones who have died, and whom we so miss?

‘Behold, I tell you a mystery! We shall not all die, but we shall all be changed. In a moment, in a twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible.’  Those amazing, thrilling words from St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. I can never read them without hearing Handel’s Messiah ringing in my ears! And they are words which tell us just what it is that we are celebrating today.  We are celebrating what lies at the very heart of our faith as Christians. Jesus truly died, and yet was raised to life by God. And all who have faith in Jesus, although we too will die, will also be raised to life by God.  Paul goes on to proclaim in ringing terms, ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where O death is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.’  The promise and hope of resurrection, of new life, IS our gospel as Christians. It seems to me that so much in life points to this. Just as winter leads to spring, so death and resurrection, loss and hope, seem to penetrate the very fabric of life itself. Read More

Aslan is on the move! – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

John 10: 22-30

‘It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon.’  ‘It was winter.’  I have been to Jerusalem in the winter, and there was snow on the ground, and it was bitterly cold. We think of Jesus in light, flowing robes and sandals, preaching in warm and sunny climes. But not in our Gospel today. John tells us very specifically that ‘it was winter.’ Usually John marks time by referring to the Jewish religious festivals, but here, very pointedly, he tells us that it was winter. As so often for John, seemingly insignificant words carry a profound, symbolic meaning. ‘It was winter, it was night…’

This story at the end of chapter 10 marks the climax of several chapters describing the increasingly hostile controversies between Jesus and the Jewish leaders. Here on this winter’s day, in the very temple itself, the words become ever more cold and bitter. Jesus finally seals his fate by declaring unequivocally, “The Father and I are one”, and the Jews pick up stones to stone him to death.

It was winter in Narnia, when those children in C. S. Lewis’ much-loved stories, first entered through the wardrobe into that magical land. Lucy went first. ‘She was standing in the middle of a wood, with snow under her feet and snowflakes falling through the air. “Why is it winter here?” “The witch has made it always winter and never Christmas. But Aslan is on the move.”’ Read More

Present Alongside – Br. Luke Ditewig

We never thought today would be like this, never considered we could lose so much. Death keeps shattering us, our plans and expectations with loss upon loss. Everything is upended. We are sad, so sad at all that has happened and is happening. It is confusing. Life is so strange. Things don’t make sense anymore. What in the world happens next?

Two companions are talking this way on the road to Emmaus, sharing grief. They talk of Jesus, their friend, whom they expected would save them, but who was betrayed, killed, and buried. There is talk of the body missing, and people supposedly seeing angels.

We are talking this way, talking much of our grief at so much death and loss. Talking of we have lost or fear losing: loved ones, health, employment, plans, and direction. The disorientation of life upended: staying at home, now all the time with the same people or so starkly alone, of aching added work or loss of work, with little idea what’s next or when this will change.

As the two walk to Emmaus, Jesus comes and walks alongside. They don’t recognize the one whom they most love and grieve. He is a stranger to them. Jesus asks about their conversation, sees and hears their sadness, and then shares about his own suffering, talking through scripture. Read More