I recently had an opportunity to visit the brothers at the Society of St. John the Evangelist (SSJE), the authors of the Growing a Rule of Life video series that our Adult Series explored last Lent. Over the years many have recommended to me monastic retreats, but typically with Catholic Orders. But after learning of SSJE, I was intrigued to experience the discipline of the Episcopal tradition, especially the daily offices, as practiced within their walls and according to their rule of life.
Needless to say, it was a remarkable experience. To witness the focus, the passion, and the collective will to bring alive every word of worship, despite the constant repetition was inspirational, and, admittedly, quite daunting! However, as the brothers might say, it is an experience that is not meant to be instantly transformative but part of a lifetime of dedicated and devotional transfiguration.
If I might share one reflection….
At the monastery I started a book by the late Brother Thomas Shaw, who had served 20 years as the Bishop of Massachusetts, entitled Conversation with Scriptures and Each Other. Admittedly, I was captivated by the coincidence of reading the following quote immediately after seeing several emails about an issue with our sewer at Holy Communion:
As much as you care about your congregation, you also remind me that forming and nurturing a congregation are often hard and depleting work, tending to the inevitable conflict of parish life can seem far removed from the unfolding of the kingdom of God and the spiritual renewal we desire and cherish. I remember one meeting with a vestry after a long summer of dealing with an expensive and complicated sewer project, when the rector remarked, “There has to be more to life together in leadership than this.” Sometimes when we are caught up in a project like this, we lose sight of why we are doing any of it in the first place.
What I admire about his approach to the subject of church leadership and its challenges is his focus on the timeless connection between the disparate communities to whom Paul’s letters and the Gospels were addressed and the gathered communities of today. It is a conversation that reminds us we are not alone, most especially when it seems that the business of worship is impacting our desire to worship, when sewer lines form crosses of a different, more disturbing kind. It is a conversation that draws us into community with those who were closest historically to Jesus and defines how we listen and respond to God’s purpose for us. And it is a conversation in which, I believe, our community is uniquely prepared to engage ever more deeply.