Feast of Blessed Richard Meux Benson SSJE
1 Kings 19:9-18
1 John 4:7-12
It all happened so quickly. A letter arrived in early October and three weeks later, tickets had been purchased, luggage packed, work reassigned, a notice in the parish magazine placed, and an adventure begun.
It was October 1870 when a letter from the Wardens of the Church of the Advent arrived at the Mission House in Oxford, asking Father Benson if members of the Society would be available to assist the Rector of the Parish for a number of months. The invitation was so significant, and so unexpected, that Father Benson thought it best if he himself travelled to Boston to investigate. His departure was set for All Saints Day. The day before, he wrote to members of the Parish of Cowley St. John, encouraging them to be diligent in your attendance at all the means of grace, and in your prayers.
It was not an easy crossing. Father Benson, and his companions, Father O’Neill and Father Puller, were not good sailors. Early in the voyage Father Benson wrote home saying: We do not feel well. The motion of the boat makes one so dizzy and stupid that it is difficult to read or write. Last night we went to bed feeling very bad, but we are now getting wonderfully used to the motion. The sea is what sailors call smooth.
As you listen to these words there are ten thousand miracles, at least, within easy reach.
Easy, if only we accept Jesus’ invitation and abide in the Love of Christ. Then, God’s Truth dawns upon us, and we taste the peace and joy of Christ surpassing all understanding. And with Christ’s joy within us, and our joy would be complete. You would think it would be an easy sell for Jesus, since it’s hard to argue with the appeal of complete joy. After all, we’re all looking for happiness. In fact, right there in the Declaration of Independence it gives as a self-evident truth that we’re all endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, examples of which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And we’ve come up with limitless ways to pursue happiness.
Maybe in the pursuit of happiness we pursue an iPhone X or the latest smartwatch. Or maybe we have our eye on a new 65-inch, 4K, Ultra HD, Smart LED television. Or maybe a new car will do the trick. Getting a new job could bring us happiness, or perhaps an exciting new love interest. Maybe losing ten pounds of fat will bring the happiness we seek or adding ten pounds of muscle. Our smile filled with freshly-polished, sparkling white teeth might make us happy, or getting a new haircut, or just getting rid of the grey. Maybe a new theology or a new kind of spiritual practice will bring happiness to our door. Or maybe the next self-help book will be the one, the one that uncovers the “secret” of happiness. And then our pursuit will end, because we’ve found it, we’ve caught this elusive creature, happiness.
This Lent we have been reflecting on time as God’s gift. To review:
It’s time to stop. We were created to rest, refresh, renew, to breathe and be. We are wired for a rhythm with rests in order to be present to ourselves and others. Sabbath is not simply for sustenance but central to our identity.
It’s time to pray. God initiates connection. We don’t know how, but the Spirit prays for us with sighs too deep for words. All is welcomed and possible through our human senses and feelings. Pray however you can.
It’s time to work: to create, adapt, build, support, engineer, write, discover. Framing can help us focus. We need discipline to curb distractions. Work can be a blessing rather than an overbearing toil.
It’s time to play. For all of us at every age, play keeps us alive. “The opposite of play is not work but depression.” (1) Risk acting pure pleasure not productivity. Be imaginative. Keep learning. Our best work is playful. Play with your prayer. Stop to play.
Colossians 3:12-17; John 15:9-17
The story is told of a weary man, aged beyond his years, who walked slowly into the office of a country doctor. The man appeared spent, even by the brief walk back to the doctor’s examination room, and he sat down heavily onto the examination table.
“What seems to be the problem?” asked the doctor.
The man answered, “Doctor, life is very short and very hard, and I find no joy.”
The doctor listened to the man describe his symptoms, then examined him. On finding no physical abnormalities, the doctor wondered how he could possibly be of help? Finally, the doctor’s face lit up when he thought he might have a remedy. The doctor said, “There’s an amazing clown appearing in our local theater. Prokevia is his name. He’s absolutely marvelous! Go and see him, and perhaps he will remind you of the joy that lies hidden in your life.”
The man looked up at the satisfied doctor, breathed a sigh and said, “My dear doctor… I am Prokevia.”
R.M. Benson – I Kings 19:9-12; Psalm 27:5-11; I John 4:7-12; John 15:9-17
Today we remember the founder of our community, Fr. Benson, who died on this day in 1915. We have received a great deal from him, and his example and teaching continue to inspire our life and mission today.
Fr. Benson was a man who made a strong impression on those he met. One of his contemporaries described him as “shabby, untidy, ill-kempt, and quite eccentric,” but at the same time claimed that there was “a divine tenderness (that) shone through all that was most uncouth” (p.19). It seemed to those who knew him that his gaze was always fixed on things above, which were just as real to him – and far more valuable – than things below. He lived in the presence of God. “He conveyed a sense of the immediacy and nearness of God,” says Donald Allchin. “There was something in him and around him which spoke of eternal and heavenly realities” (A.M. Allchin, in Benson of Cowley, p. 19).
In the calendar of the church we remember today Aelred of Rievaulx, who was born in year 1109 not far from Durham, England. He was educated in Scotland and as a young man served in the Scottish King David’s court. At age 24, Aelred decided to become a Cistercian monk. Cistercian monks were 11th century French reformers of Benedictine monasticism, and they set out to more strictly follow the Rule of Saint Benedict.[i] By the end of the 12th century, more than 500 Cistercian monasteries had been built in France, England, and throughout Europe. Aelred, at age 38, was made Abbot of the great Rievaulx Abbey, the first Cistercian Abbey in the north of England, founded just 15 years earlier in 1132.
I imagine some of you here have visited the ruins of Rievaulx Abbey. It’s in the most serene, pastoral setting and with the most stunning architecture, something distinctive for Cistercians. Many of the most beautiful buildings of the Middle Ages were Cistercian monasteries: Fountains Abbey, Tintern Abbey, Byland Abbey, Aelred’s Rievaulx Abbey, to name just a few. More than one hundred Cistercian monasteries were built in England alone.
Cistercian architecture has been called the architecture of silence: austere and simple, focusing on stone and light, with open, proportional space, and visual harmony. The early Cistercian architecture drew inspiration from Romanesque, then Gothic architecture, two traditions which also inspired the architect of this monastery and chapel, Ralph Adams Cram.[ii] I’ll describe several architectural features of Cistercian monasteries which we also find here in this beautiful monastic chapel.
• Psalm 33:18 • John 4:7-21 • John 15:9-17
Back in the 1960s, as a young boy, I attended a series of services at a church. It was a called a ‘prophecy conference,’ and I knew I was doomed. The conference focused on a certain interpretation of the last book of the Bible, The Book of Revelation, drawing especially on the teaching of a popular Dallas-based preacher named Hal Lindsey.