I was recently blessed by a stay at St. John’s Convent and the monastic daily rhythm of prayer (Morning, Evening and Night Prayer). Whenever I come, it is so easy to step back into that timeless river of prayer that flows through the Sisters’ daily schedule of prayer, work, study and recreation.
Most of the services are sung and incorporate much more silence than worship in most parish churches. I freely admit to what my husband gently calls my “monastic tendencies.” My time with the Sisters, enveloped in this prayerful daily rhythm, helps recalibrate me to a more balanced life.
The ambiance of the Chapel extends to the refectory where Sisters and guests eat most meals in silence. The Guest House brochure says the meals are silent “to encourage quiet reflection and awareness of God’s generosity to us.” For those of us used to eating rushed meals accompanied by hurried, sometimes harried, conversations, silent meals may come as a shock to the system. The curious thing about it though, is that once the silence is embraced – welcomed even, the Sunday night “talking suppers” become the shock!
As in many Christian homes, a communal Grace is said by the Guest Sister. After a leisurely amount of time for eating, the Guest Sister rings a small brass bell. We all rise and she shares a prayer of thanksgiving for the meal and the fellowship we have just received. As a final request, the Sister says: “God, give us your peace.” To which we all respond in agreement, “Amen.”
It is this request for peace that I find so compelling. It reminds me that peace is fleeting, needs to be sought after, lived and also, prayed for. Many people believe that peace is the opposite of war. But when we pray for peace, aren’t we asking for so much more than the absence of war? The Hebrew word for peace is Shalom which means peace that encompasses harmony, wholenss, compassion and tranquility. In other words, Shalom is God’s original dream for all Creation – it is the Kingdom come.
I was at a conference once where the speaker said “whenever two or three are gathered – there is friction!” Her tongue-in-cheek metaphor has a certain amount of truth in it. We can choose what our response will be when conflict arises, for it is so easy to react negatively, defensively, rather than seeking common ground and a way forward. In the friction of living with others, working alongside one another, we are polished, where rough edges are smoothed, making pearls where there might have been irritation. Every family, parish and community experiences conflicts. It is how we choose to resolve them that makes all the difference.
Every Thursday, the Sisters of St. John the Divine pray for the Unity of the Church and their special intention is signified by an oil lamp burning on the chapel altar. The multi-coloured globe glows softly all day long, reminding everyone that the Body of Christ is divided into many denominations and within each part there are divisions, great and small, that hinder us from truly modelling God’s Shalom to world so in need of God’s Shalom.
St. Paul, writing to the Christians at Rome, encouraged them: Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. (Romans 12:16-18)
May this be our prayer: “God, give us your peace” – not only for the Church, but for the whole world.
The Rev. Frances Drolet-Smith, SSJD Oblate and Rector of St. Alban’s Anglican Church in Dartmouth, N.S.