Unheard Voices – Br. Lain Wilson

Luke 16:19-31

Whose voice aren’t we hearing?

This has been the question that rings loudly in my mind as I hear our Gospel lesson today. In it, we learn a lot about our characters: what Lazarus wanted in life, what the rich man is desperate for in the afterlife, and that Abraham cannot—or will not—give to the rich man what he desires.

“Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue,” the rich man begs (Lk 16:24). No, Abraham replies. There’s a chasm fixed between us, and no way across.

“Send [Lazarus] to my father’s house . . . that he may warn [my family]” (Lk 16:27-28). No. There’s nothing the dead can do for the living that the living can’t get from the law and prophets.

This story illustrates Jesus’s own statement, from just a few verses before, that “it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one stroke of a letter in the law to be dropped” (Lk 16:17). The rich man’s reversal of fortune is because of how he lived his life. The remedy was there in front of him all along, in the law and the prophets. We have that remedy, too.

But whose voice aren’t we hearing? Read More

The Divine Rule of Prayer – Br. James Koester

Matthew 6:7-15

One of Father Benson’s less well-known books is a small volume entitled The Divine Rule of Prayer or Considerations upon the Lord’s Prayer. It was published in 1866, the same year he, Father Grafton, and Father O’Neill made their professions as the first members of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist.

What is fascinating, in part, about this book, is that in two short chapters, both about 2500 words long, he lays before the reader his understanding of the nature and purpose of prayer. He does this by constantly rooting himself in Lord’s Prayer, of which he says as prayer is the great work of life, so the Lord’s Prayer is the great form and model of [all] prayer.[1]

Many of the themes which Father Benson introduces to his audience in this book, he picks up repeatedly over the course of his life, in his other writings. Reading things published many years after The Divine Rule we hear echoes of what he says within it, perhaps reminding us that most, including it would seem Father Benson, have only one or two things worth saying, and we spend the rest of our lives saying them in different ways. Read More

Prayer with Substance – Br. Keith Nelson

2 Corinthians 11:1-11
Matthew 6:7-15

Monks pray often. But as we learn many times over, quantity or frequency in themselves don’t equal quality or depth. Neither, as Jesus points out here, do length or verbal sophistication in themselves equal substance in the realm of prayer. Even when the phrases are full of meaning, such as those drawn directly from Scripture, it is possible to come to them with absence of mind or heart, and miss the meaning because something in us is missing.

The Christians at Corinth seemed to go weak in the knees for verbal sophistication. In this slightly odd snippet from Paul’s second letter to the church at Corinth, I hear Paul’s sense of humor and his deep sense of irony. The Corinthians are distractible; they are flirtatious with other teachings, other teachers, and other “gospels” with finer phrases and finer reputations than Paul’s gospel, which can be a bit of a downer. Length and sophistication were these teachers’ specialty: in public prayer, in preaching, and in their long and impressive resumes. Paul was capable of great rhetorical sophistication himself, but the gospel he stewards is, first and foremost, treasure in a clay jar, “so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us” (2 Cor. 4:7).  Rather than a super-apostle– a term heavy with irony – Paul is a kind of subapostle. He’s a messenger on a distinctly downward trajectory, whose “resume” includes only the most ridiculous, painful, and shameful things he has endured for the sake of the gospel. Rather than marrying up in the world, spiritually speaking, Paul has married down… and down and down. He has wedded himself to a Bridegroom Messiah who makes him look like a loser. And that is his greatest boast. Read More

Lord, Teach Us to Pray – Br. James Koester

Matthew 6: 7-15

Several years ago, I found myself in a small, subterranean chapel within sight of the Old City of Jerusalem. It had once been a cave. At some point, a modern church was built over it. The floor was littered with scraps of paper. On them people had written prayers, and then dropped them through a grille in the floor of the upper church, onto the floor of this cave chapel, where I stood with Sr Elspeth. Elspeth was an American. She had begun her religious life as a sister of the Order of Saint Anne, here in Arlington. The deeper she entered the mystery of her vocation, the more she realized it was to the contemplative life she was called. So, there she was, a Carmelite nun of the Pater Noster Carmel, showing me the cave, where tradition says, Jesus taught his disciples the Lord’s Prayer.

Like many of the holy sites in Jerusalem, it is impossible to know if this is the place where Jesus taught his disciples the Lord’s Prayer. None the less, this place has been hallowed by the memory of that occasion, as well as by the prayers of countless believers. Like this monastery chapel, the walls of that cave are soaked in prayer. You feel it the moment you enter.

Of all the prayers we pray, none is so universal, so loved, as the Lord’s Prayer. Wherever we go as Christians, we find others who love, and pray this prayer. We may be divided by language, culture, race, gender, economics, education, ecclesiology, or theology, but we are united by this prayer, and by praying it. Read More

Our Invitation into Jesus’ Prayer – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

Colossians 1:15-20; Matthew 6:7-15

Our first lesson, from the Letter to the Colossians, is sometimes called “the Creation Hymn,” how things came into being from the very beginning. The Son of God existed prior to Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. What we experience in the human form of Jesus – using the language from Colossians – “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation… All things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” The Son of God had already lived forever, eternally, prior to his taking on human life as Jesus. 

The best sense the Church has been able to make of this comes from experience. There is One God, the Creator of everything who, while remaining God, takes on human form: God the Son. This is Jesus, who grows, ministers, prays, dies, is resurrected, and returns to the life of God who has no beginning or ending. Jesus departs from earth. He ascends. He leaves us, not abandoned, but leaves us with another manifestation of the One God, whom Jesus calls “the Spirit,” the Spirit, another Person of the One God. It took the Church several centuries to find the language to try to describe the mysterious yet undeniable experience: that there is One God in Three Persons.

God took on human form in Jesus. How did God make this decision? I’m speaking here very anthropomorphically. How did God decide to become human? What was the “cost” to God to become human? The great Welsh poet and Anglican priest, R. S. Thomas, in his poem, “The Coming,” pictures God’s decision in a primordial conversation between God the Father and God the Son. The picture is of a desolated, hopeless, helpless earth.

And God held in his hand

A small globe. Look, he said.

The son looked. Far off,

As through water, he saw

A scorched land of fierce

Colour. The light burned

There; crusted buildings

Cast their shadows; a bright

Serpent, a river

Uncoiled itself, radiant

With slime.

                 On a bare

Hill a bare tree saddened

The sky. Many people

Held out their thin arms

To it, as though waiting

For a vanished April

To return to its crossed 

Boughs. The son watched

Them. Let me go there, he said.

“Let me go there.” And that was the decision. 

God comes to us as a child of Bethlehem. We know him as Jesus, who grows up, like we grow up, and after many, many years, finds his voice and claims his power. He also prays. Jesus prays, enough so to catch people’s attention. This is God the Son in a very human way praying to God the Father. Very mysterious, and yet, clearly, this is what is happening… frequently.

The Gospel lesson appointed for today is Jesus’ response to his disciples’ question how to pray. Jesus gives us what we call “the Lord’s Prayer.”[i]  What I find most revealing in the Lord’s Prayer is the opening word, the plural pronoun, “our.”[ii]OurFather.” Consider the context:

  • Jesus is speaking to his disciples, and Jesus’ prayer envelopes his disciples as if he and they are all one: the 1stperson, plural possessive pronoun: our. How to pray? Jesus says we begin like this: Our Father…
  • Jesus here regards his disciples not as his servants, but as his friends. They are his peers. They share the same prayer. He doesn’t say, “My Father,” or “Your Father.” He says, “Our Father.” 
  • The name Jesus uses for “Father” shows a very tender, childlike, trusting intimacy. A better, sweeter translation of the Greek word would be “Papa” rather than “Father.” “Our Papa in heaven.” 
  • Jesus speaks as a human being, as human as you and I are, and as full of as many wonders and needs as the rest of us. His prayer isn’t just “heavenly”; his prayer includes our need for food – for daily bread – and this isn’t metaphorical. This is table bread. This is about sustenance.
  • Just prior to this – the preceding verse – Jesus has said, “Your Father already knows what you need before you ask him.”[iii]So Jesus is teaching us to pray, but this is not about the dissemination of information to God. God already knows our needs. God is God. This is about our trusted and tender relationship to God.
  • And the rest is history. I mean, our own history. 

The Lord’s Prayer is so familiar, probably to most of us, perhaps too familiar to some of us for us to be mindful of its profundity. These are Jesus’ words, words which completely embrace us as if we, with Jesus, all belong to the same Father, the same Papa. You might inspiration for some meaningful meditation for Lent:

  • Reflect on God’s “deciding” to become human, and its “cost” to God to be truly human and truly divine.
  • Take R. S. Thomas’ haunting last line in his poem, “Let me go there.” Why? Why did God the Son say to the Father, “Let me go there?”  Why did Jesus come?
  • Why does Jesus pray? Jesus prayed and he presumed we would, also. He says to his disciples, “When you pray…” What does it mean to pray – to quote Jesus – when “your [heavenly] Father already knows what you need before you ask him.” So why is Jesus praying? Why are we praying? 
  • And lastly, where I began with the Lord’s Prayer, with the plural possessive pronoun, our: “Our Father.” What does that pronoun “our” invite in terms of your relationship to Jesus and the God whom he calls Father. And if you get in touch with some resistance within you – resistance to that kind of intimacy with God – then pray about your resistance.

[i]Matthew 6:9-15.  See also Luke 11:2-4.

[ii]The Greek word (ἡμῶν) literally means “of us”: i.e., “Father of us.” 

[iii]Matthew 6:8.

Lord, Teach Us to Pray – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester

Isaiah 55: 6 – 11
Psalm 34: 15 – 22
Matthew 6: 7 – 15

Several years ago, Brother Robert and I found ourselves in a small, subterranean chapel on top of the Mount of Olives, within sight of the Old City of Jerusalem. The chapel where we were had once been a cave, but over the centuries had been dug out and expanded, and then a newer, larger, modern church had been built over this cave chapel. The floor around the altar was littered with scraps of paper on which people had written their prayers, and then dropped through a grille in the floor of the church above us, down into this smaller cave chapel where Robert and I stood. We were there with Sr Elspeth, an American, who had begun her religious life as a Sister of the Order of Saint Anne here in Arlington, but the deeper she entered the mystery of her vocation, the more she realized that it was to the contemplative life that she was called, and so there she was, a Carmelite sister of the Pater Noster Carmel, showing Brother Robert and me the cave where tradition tells us that Jesus taught his disciples the Lord’s Prayer. Read More