Renewed Life – Br. Luke Ditewig

Br. Luke Ditewig

Acts 8:26-40
John 15:1-8

Glorious spring is here with green popping up everywhere. Trees bud and flower with abundant, renewed life. Jesus describes himself as the true vine, us as branches, and God as the vine grower. Abide with me, Jesus says. Dwell, remain, stay connected to receive life from me. “Every branch that bears fruit [my Father] prunes to make it bear more fruit.” Pruning indeed helps bear fruit. It’s letting go in order to live.

Here’s what I was taught to look for when pruning trees. First, water sprouts, new young growth often all over a tree’s trunk and major branches. Second, branches touching or crossing each other. Third, anything growing backward toward the trunk instead of out. Fourth, branches that are actually dead. In all this, clear the center trunk, encouraging outward angled growth with space for each branch to grow.

Pruning lets go what is alive but not growing in a helpful direction. Pruning lets go what is dead but still taking up space. Pruning lets a tree more fully live and bear more fruit. Letting go is hard on trees and in our lives, yet key to living well. We Brothers say in our Rule of Life: “… we are to accept every experience which requires us to let go as an opportunity for Christ to bring us through death into life.”[i] Read More

God is Reigning from the Tree – Br. Lucas Hall

Br. Lucas Hall

Palm Sunday

There’s no such thing as a tree.

I’ll explain.

Biologically, we tend to group living creatures, different species, together with their closest relatives. Take birds, for example. There are many different birds, ostriches, hummingbirds, penguins, vultures, the list is vast. But every bird is more closely related to every other bird, than they are to any creatures outside of that group, “birds.” It’s a neat, tidy category.

But that’s not true of trees. When we look at plant genetics, when we look at the fossil record, we see that what we commonly call “trees” isn’t a neat, tidy category of close relatives. Instead, the development of trees, of tall, massive, woody plants, extending up above other plant life, is a strategy, a structure, a way of being, that emerges again, and again, and again, in different plant families over many years. Our much-vaunted palm trees are more closely related to grass than they are to, say, a pine tree.

But, come on. Of course trees are a thing. Of course there’s such a thing as a tree. They’re just not a neat and tidy biological category. Instead, we should think of trees as a phenomenon, a dynamic happening, bubbling up from the substrate of the natural order, erupting forth in any place where this particular mode of being can gain purchase, and thrive, and live. Read More

Knowing God – Br. David Vryhof

Br. David Vryhof

John 7:1-2, 10, 25-30

Each of the gospel writers has come to know Jesus and in his gospel is trying to convey his understanding to others in order that they, too, might believe in Jesus.  For Mark, Jesus is the “Son of God,” proclaiming the good news that the “kingdom of God” has come near (Mk 1:1,14).  For Matthew, he is “the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Mt 1:1).  For Luke, he is the “Son of God” (Lk 1:35), the one whose miraculous birth was foretold by an angel (Lk 1:30-33).  For John, he is “the Word” who was “with God” and who “was God” from before all time, and who has taken on himself our human nature (Jn 1:1-2, 14): “The Word became flesh and lived among us,” John tells us.

 The gospel writers declare openly what they believe about Jesus’ identity, but throughout their narratives, we see people – including Jesus’ own disciples – struggling to grasp what the evangelists have already come to believe.

In today’s gospel passage from John, the question of Jesus’ identity is, once again, at the forefront.  The people of Jerusalem have heard of this teacher-healer from Nazareth in Galilee and know that the authorities are trying to kill him.  They wonder aloud why Jesus is being allowed to preach so openly among them.  But they also claim to know him, or at least know something about him.  “We know where this man is from,” they say, “[how can he be the Messiah?]” Read More

An Ever-Unfolding Purpose – Br. Keith Nelson

Br. Keith Nelson

St. Gregory of Nyssa

John 14:23-26

In John’s gospel we hear Jesus say: “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.”

What does it mean for us as followers of Jesus to be taught by the guidance of the Holy Spirit? How might that guidance be felt and known in new ways during our journey through the season of Lent?

The Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner wrote: “We are pressured from within to become more. The Spirit invites us to evolve; to respond graciously to the changes that God may be inviting us to embrace.”

In this vision, the Spirit is intimately present to who and what we are in this moment. At the same time, the Spirit exerts a dynamic force – a pressure – urging each creature forward into God’s future, a further unfolding of its purpose. Unlike the day-to-day economic or social pressures that bear down upon us from the world; or even the internal pressures of our own psyche; the pressure exerted upon us by the Holy Spirit is always creative, generative, and life-giving beyond what we can anticipate or imagine. Read More

The Properties of God – Br. Jim Woodrum

Br. Jim Woodrum

2 Peter 3:11-18
Mark 12:13-17

The other evening, I engaged in a discussion with a friend about the Prayer of Humble Access. This prayer, recited just before communion in the Rite I liturgy; of the Prayer Book, and is known for its poetic, though somewhat outdated, language. I pointed out to my friend that is a version of the prayer, in contemporary language, which begins: “We do not presume to come to this your table, O Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in your abundant and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under your table; but you are the same Lord whose character is always to have mercy.” Opinions on this prayer vary; some may find its tone overly submissive, while others, like myself, prefer to focus on the aspects of God’s grace.

My friend observed that, for him, the modern language didn’t capture the depth he found in the more traditional language, especially highlighting the phrase: “But thou art the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy.” He argued that “characteristic” doesn’t convey the same depth as “property.” The term property refers to a quality or feature uniquely belonging to an individual or thing. Being a science enthusiast, he likened it to a “physical property of matter,” explaining that such a property is an attribute observable and measurable without altering the substance’s chemical identity. Properties observable only through chemical changes are chemical properties, whereas physical properties are apparent without change or during physical alterations. Examples include changing states of matter or altering matter’s shape through actions like folding or cutting. Physical properties are detectable through our senses, making them crucial for describing matter.[i] Applying this analogy to the Prayer of Humble Access, we recognize that mercy is an unchanging attribute of God amidst a constantly changing and evolving world. Read More

A Tree and Its Fruit – Br. David Vryhof

Br. David Vryhof

Luke 6:43-45

In our gospel lesson today, Jesus once again – as is so often his custom – draws on natural imagery to illustrate spiritual truth.  Here he contrasts “good trees,” those which naturally produce figs and grapes, with “bad trees,” those which naturally produce thorns and brambles.  A “bad tree” cannot produce good fruit; good fruit only comes from “good trees.”  Similarly, Jesus says, one whose heart is good will naturally and without effort produce good fruit, while one whose heart is evil will naturally produce evil fruit.  The point seems obvious.  The metaphor is clear.

But there are two things to note: First, there is a difference between trees and people: A “bad tree” cannot stop producing thorns and brambles and suddenly begin producing good fruit.  Because of the type of tree it is, it is incapable of bearing fruit; it can only bear thorns and brambles. But that is not the case with people.  A person with an evil heart can be transformed into one whose heart is good.  That’s a key difference.  Someone whose life is oriented towards evil rather than towards God can change!  The gospel is all about repentance, forgiveness, conversion of life, and reconciliation.  Sinners can become saints – and they do! Read More

Life and the Living God – Br. Lucas Hall

Br. Lucas Hall

Isaiah 55:10-13
Romans 8:1-11
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

As many of you know, when a man comes to join the monastery, he passes through a number of stages before finally taking vows for life. Before each of these transitions, he’s given some time of retreat, alone in prayer, to really listen for the call of God, to discern, to confirm his response the question and the choice he has before him.

It was a little more than a year ago when I was on one of these retreats, looking ahead to taking my life vows. I was up at Emery House, our farmhouse and woodlands up in northern Massachusetts. There were a number of things I did up there to facilitate my prayer. I prayed the daily office. I journaled. I met regularly with another brother. But what I didn’t plan to do, or expect to do, was what I still remember most about that time.

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First Comes Knowledge, Then Wisdom – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

Mark 6:1-6

Learned people were already impressed by the knowledge of this precocious Jesus by the time he was age 12, maybe earlier.[i] Now there is something more. He is age 30 or so, and now people are asking, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him?”[ii] In the New Testament epistles, Jesus is named “the wisdom of God.”[iii] He is called the one “in whom all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden.”[iv] Wisdom and knowledge. Knowledge is about one’s breadth of information; wisdom is about one’s depth of understanding. Jesus had become wise.

The English words “wisdom” and “vision” come from the same etymological root.   Wisdom is a kind of deep seeing, an “in-sight,” what Saint Paul calls “the enlightening of the eyes of the heart.”[v] Wisdom is not a skill, nor is wisdom learned from a book. Wisdom is a gift from God, a seedling implanted in our soul at birth that needs to be cultivated. Here are two practices that cultivate the gift of wisdom. Read More

Learning to Pray – Br. Luke Ditewig

Br. Luke Ditewig

Genesis 18:20-32
Luke 11:1-13

In our lesson from Genesis, we hear the second half of a story. The first part, which we heard last week, is more familiar which Abraham welcomes three strangers, prepares a feast for them, and hears a promise God to which Sarah laughs.[i] Here we continue as three guests move on, and God and Abraham have a serious after-dinner conversation, one-on-one. Many translations, including the one we use, say Abraham is standing before God as in previous visits. Some scholars point out, remarkably and uncomfortably, that God is standing before Abraham.[ii] It’s a shocking reversal of power, position, relationship and an unusual conversation. Read More

It is I; Do Not Be Afraid – Br. David Vryhof

John 6:1-21

Given our proximity to the ocean, we might imagine a vast body of water when we read in the Gospels about the Sea of Galilee.  But the Sea of Galilee is no ocean.  The Sea of Galilee is a lake, a large fresh-water lake in northern Israel/Palestine.  The lake is 33 miles long and 8 miles wide.  It is fed by the Jordan River which flows from north to south, and also by underground springs.

The Sea of Galilee is as dangerous as it is distinctive: distinctive because it is the lowest freshwater lake on earth – it’s surface almost 700 feet below sea level, with a beautiful shoreline, pristine drinking water, and a plentiful stock of fish.  Anddangerous because of its surprising and violent storms. From the Golan Heights in the east, fierce, cool winds meet up with the warm temperatures of the lake basin, sometimes creating the perfect storm.  Storms literally come out of the blue, even when the waters have been tranquil and the sky perfectly clear.

This must be the very thing that happened here with the disciples.  They had set off in their small fishing boat in seemingly tranquil waters, when suddenly a violent storm arose.  Their tiny boat was being battered by the wind and the waves, and there seemed to be no possibility of safely reaching the shore.  They were swamped by fear.  They had fished on this lake for a living.  They knew this water, they knew these storms, and they were terrified!

And you?  You probably know how it is to be sailing through life in radiant sunlight when swiftly and unexpectedly a storm arises and you suddenly find yourself swamped by mighty waves and tossed about by terrible winds.  Perhaps something tragic or frightening has happened to a family member or friend, or to you; maybe it’s a health issue, a financial disaster, an accident, some kind of assault, or some other unforeseen suffering.  There is so much to be afraid of in life, and our fears can seem so great when we feel so small.  Fear is no respecter of age, or gender, or social standing.  Fear may be the most common experience we share with all of humankind: the consuming, crippling, sometimes-irrational visitation of fear.  We can experience fear when we face impending danger, or pain, or evil, or confusion, or vulnerability, or embarrassment.  Whether the threat is real or imagined does not matter.  What does matter is our sense of powerlessness. We don’t feel we can stop or divert or control what threatens to swamp our lives and make us sink.  Whatever its source, our fear is real.

Jesus speaks a great deal about fear and anxiety, which is quite revealing.  He would have learned his lessons about fear from two sources, one being the Hebrew scriptures.  The scriptures which he would have known – what we call the “Old Testament” – are replete with messages about worry and fear.  We are told very plainly that we do not need to be afraid, and this is because of God’s promise and provision, God’s steadfast love and unfailing faithfulness.  Fear’s tight hold on us is loosened, the Bible assures us, when we put our trust in God.

“I sought the Lord, and he answered me,” the psalmist says, “and delivered me out of all my terror.” (Ps.34:4)

“The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom then shall I fear?” another psalmist declares. “The Lord is the strength of my life, of whom shall I be afraid? …. Though an army should encamp against me, yet my heart shall not be afraid; and though war should rise up against me, yet will I put my trust in him.” (Ps 27:1,3-4)

“Whenever I am afraid,” the psalmist says to God, “I will put my trust in you.” (Ps 56:3)

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble,” writes another, “Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be moved, and though the mountains be toppled into the depths of the sea; though its waters rage and foam, and though the mountains tremble at its tumult…. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold.” (Ps 46:1-3,11)

Jesus would have known these words, just as he would have known the words of the prophet Isaiah:

“But now, thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel:  Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.  For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” (Isa 43:1-3)

Jesus would also have learned about fear from his own life.  I am not talking about the fear he observed in other people.  I am talking about his own personal fear, what he experienced.  We don’t know the specifics of what Jesus feared, but we do know that Jesus lived a fully human life, and therefore he must have been acquainted with fear, undoubtedly.  If you want to imagine what Jesus feared, use your own life as an example.  Of what have you been afraid?  If you went back in memory to your earliest childhood, then your adolescence, then coming into your twenties and beyond into adulthood, what has caused you to fear?

Were you afraid there would not be enough of something, or afraid there would be too much of something?  Were you afraid because you might be excluded from something, or afraid because you might be included in something?  Were you afraid because you might be asked to speak, or afraid because, when you spoke, no one would listen, or no one would understand?  Were you afraid because you might be left alone, or afraid because you would not be left alone?  Were you afraid because of too much work, or afraid because there was no work, or no meaningful work?  Were you afraid because you stood out, or afraid because you felt unnoticed, lost in the crowd, forgotten, invisible?  Were you afraid because you were bullied, or because you faced prejudice or persecution?  Were you ever so afraid that you feared for your life?  Or were you afraid because of your own temper?  Some of our fears are pathetic: tiny, tedious, embarrassing to even admit… and yet they are very real.  We suffer with our fears – which are the kinds of things Jesus must also have been afraid of, because these are the kind of fears that visit us in life.

When Jesus talks about not being afraid, he is not speaking clinically, nor is the source of his teaching primarily from external observation.  He is rather speaking from his own experience.  He is speaking about fear from the inside-out, autobiographically.  He had as much to be afraid of as you and I have.  And then, something slowly happened to Jesus.  Something shifted in Jesus in the nearly 20 years between when he was, at age 12, discussing theology with the elders in the Temple in Jerusalem, and when appeared before his cousin, John, to be baptized in the Jordan River.  These 20-some years are often called Jesus’ “hidden years,” and we are not told where Jesus was or what he was doing.  The scriptures are silent on this period of Jesus’ life.  I am certain he was making peace with the terms of his life, and that included facing his fears.

When Jesus finds his voice – at around age 30 – he speaks a great deal about fear, worry, and anxiety: he tells us that we need not be afraid, that we need not worry, that we need not be anxious.  Why is that?  Because of God’s powerful presence and provision; and because of God’s enduring faithfulness.  Jesus learned this.  In facing his own fears, he discovered he was not alone.

Going back to the Gospel lesson appointed for today: When a violent storm descends upon the disciples in the boat, Jesus appears to them.  The disciples are terrified.  Whatever we make of Jesus’ walking on the stormy water, we can see that he is not afraid.  Had he ever been afraid of storms on the Sea of Galilee?  I’m sure he had.  He had grown up in Nazareth, which is not far from the Sea of Galilee.  He knew storms, inside and out.  But he is no longer afraid of storms.  And he tells his disciples, he tells us, not to be afraid.  He isn’t scolding us; he is reassuring us not to be afraid, because we don’t need to be afraid.  He has come to know this, from the scriptures and from his own experience.  And he promises us his power, his provision, his presence to be with us always, to the end of the storm, and to the end of life.

If your life now is swamped with fear, or if you are afraid about an incoming storm in your life – and I presume that all of us are acquainted with fear – remember this: our fear is not an obstacle to God but rather an invitation from God to take Jesus at his word.  We need not be afraid.  Jesus will know every reason why we could be afraid because he’s been there.  He assures us not to be afraid, not to have anxiety, because he is with us: his presence, his power, his provision.  For us, fear can seem such an inmovable impediment.  But for God, our fear presents an opportunity to show forth God’s presence, and power, and provision; and an opportunity for us to learn to trust.  Our fear is God’s invitation, and Jesus will make good on his promise to be with us always.  There is so much of which we could be afraid in life, but Jesus assures us not to fear.

Saint Francis De Sales, a 17th century Bishop of Geneva, who lived during a very stormy time in history, left us with these words of assurance:

“Do not look forward in fear to the changes in life;
rather look to them with full hope that as they arise,
God, whose very own you are, will lead you safely through all things;
and when you cannot stand it, God will carry you in his arms.

“Do not fear what may happen tomorrow.
The same everlasting Father who cared for you today
will take care of you then and every day.

“He will either shield you from suffering,
or will give you unfailing strength to bear it.”

Jesus has the last word: “Do not fear, for I am with you, always.” (cf Mt 28:20)