Those men and women who have felt that they have a special call to a monastic life have always been of interest to me.
I am certain they are of interest in part because I have spent much of my life as a student of religion and/or religions, although I need to make clear from the start that it was never a vocation I felt compelled to undertake or called towards.
I don’t mean a curiosity, that would strike me as rude. However, my interactions with those who have chosen a life of poverty, obedience, celibacy and prayer as the foundation of their lives has proven over the years to be instrumental in my journey. I have received inspiration, wisdom, hard questions, and centered counsel from these “saints” who have dedicated themselves to talking with the divine.
That is not to say that all men and women who have taken these vows are all full of such grace. Indeed, monasteries and convents are full of human beings who as human beings must wrestle with the same challenges as we. But, over the years I have been gifted with the counsel of many a wise monk or nun who has helped me see a path otherwise hidden in confusion.
I do not know what your image of a monk or nun might be.
Here in San Francisco I am apt to see one of two monastic orders: Franciscan (from whom the city derives its name) and Buddhist, mostly Tibetan.
The two orders most familiar to me happen to be Christian. One is Catholic, the Dominican Order. The other is from my tradition, Anglican, The Society of St. John the Evangelist (SSJE). The SSJE was founded in Anglican (The Church of England) England in the 1800’s and traveled across the Atlantic to found a monastic house in Boston, my hometown. As I explored my call to be ordained in the Episcopal Church (The Church of England in the USA) I reached out to this monastic order to see if one of the monks would serve as my spiritual director and help me figure it all out; at the time I was in a PhD program and hoping to teach.
As a result of my time with Brother David Vryhof, who is one of the wisest and most centered persons I have ever met, I have stayed connected to the order in an unofficial capacity. Every morning I receive SSJE’s “thought for the day” in my email. I recently received one that I wanted to share with you all because as soon as I read it it made me think of you all.
It is from the former “Superior” or head of the Order, Brother Curtis Almquist, who is another human being who deserves to be heard owing to his wisdom and centeredness. The thought is entitled “Encouragement.”
“Encouragement will convert someone’s fearful heart, or lonely heart, or a heart of stone into the new heart that God promises. Encouragement is how courage gets into our hearts. Encouragement produces courage; encouragement makes us strong, very strong. It is as simple and profound as that. Encouragement: you have the need; you have the power.”
-Br. Curtis Almquist
As Rebecca and I wrote our reflection on Braid’s first three years and recounted the stories of those last three years, many of them provided by you and your time with your youth, I was particularly inspired by your witness of Encouragement. Over and over again we have heard how you as teams and individuals have uttered words of encouragement that have converted fearful and lonely hearts; how your words of encouragement have birthed courage; how your continued courage to be present and trust that you are the gift and utter a word of encouragement has provided strength to your youth and your team.
Keep up the great work.
You are working wonders.
You are the gift.