Soil for Ministry: A Journey in Two Parts

EA & MariaPart 1

I believe that the monastic life is soil for ministry. Here I have found fertile soil for the cultivation of the fruits of the Spirit. To be still and to listen. To be. Here I hear the words of the Hymn by Carol Owens: “…freely, freely you have received, freely, freely give. Go in my name and because you believe, others will know that I live.”

This place is a school and a hospital for the soul. Within these walls are people that demonstrate with their lives the power of God’s love. It is the power that saves people’s souls. I know because it saved mine.

I first visited St. John’s Convent in July of 2016, when I attended the Women at a Crossroads Program. During Women at a Crossroads, I learned that the vows my parents made on my behalf at my baptism were to be a foundation for my life in Christ. When I renewed my Baptismal vows at the end of the three-and-a-half week program, I knew that I was embarking on a great journey, though I didn’t know what lay ahead.

Following the conclusion of Women at a Crossroads, I underwent a series of life-changing events that led to an exhaustion beyond belief. I was already living in this shadow when I lost my brother and my son within ten days of each other. Now total darkness came. I had lost all. Father, three brothers, and my son.

I felt like I had been hit by a train.

This loss called everything I had ever thought into question. I had never had much courage, and now, the courage that I did have was shattered. Worse, everything I had ever believed about God seemed to vanish. The beliefs that I had once cherished became like foreign thoughts. My faith had suffered serious trauma. I needed spiritual surgery. I needed a hospital.

I returned to St John’s Convent in February for a Lenten quiet day led by the Rev. Stephen Kirkegaard. The topic was God’s Peace in a Troubled World. It was a message I really needed to hear. We spoke about the prisons we build for ourselves. How in our efforts to save ourselves we build walls so high that we block ourselves in, away from everyone and everything. And we spoke about how God can break through these walls and break into our prisons.

You can imagine how my exhausted and groping soul clung to these words. All I heard was “God can break in.” This kindled a spark within me.

We spoke about seeing our calling with the eyes of our heart as in Ephesians 1:18. I had long felt a call to the religious life, but up to that point, everything had seemed to point me away from pursuing that call.

We spoke about how the Spirit sent by the Father in Jesus’ name will reveal all things, and in an Affirmation prayer, we prayed together:

God make haste to help me.
Sow the seeds in my heart
And open the eyes of my heart
That I might see again.

I thought I had prayed genuine prayers before, but now I was hanging on for dear life. I believe that God heard that feeble and weak-kneed prayer that day. And when I applied for the Companions Program, I knew two things. The first was that nothing mattered except getting my relationship with God fixed. The second was that if God was going to help in any way, shape, or form, it would be here.

To be continued . . . 

Maria Potestio
Postulant, SSJD

Ask, Seek, Find

Twenty years ago last January I received an invitation from the Sisterhood of St. John the Divine to be part of a group of women who, for whatever reason, and at whatever age, found themselves at a “Crossroads”, wanting some prayerful time-out to discern what-in-the-world God might be calling them to next. In a way, the invitation echoed a passage from Luke’s Gospel: “Ask, and it shall be given you, search and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you.” This of course is the invitation Jesus extends to all who would be his disciples, those looking for a way to live with authenticity and purpose.

We were offered an “enjoyable and challenging opportunity to participate in community living, to experience a healthy balance of life; time to deepen our relationship with God through regular prayer and meditation, reading, classes, and individual mentoring with a Sister; space to explore vocation as a way to live out our Baptismal call, as lay or ordained persons, in or outside the Church and to gain insight into how to discern one’s call to a particular life or ministry.”  What a generous invitation!

Ask, search and knock are three metaphors for petitionary prayer. True petitionary prayer is an act of exploration that seeks to discover God’s call and also the grace to accomplish it. They are all, for those who study grammar, present imperatives, the tense of “continuing action” as in: keep on asking, keep on searching, keep on knocking and do so faithfully, being assured that what we ask, will be answered; what we search for, will be found and what we feel we are knocking  against, will be opened to us. We are not asking an unfriendly neighbour, but One who is like a loving parent – though One infinitely more loving than we can ever really imagine. We need to be realistic though: God responds to our needs, not our fantasies. As one writer has commented, “Pray for a cherry-red sports-car, and God may answer your prayer by granting you the wisdom to make a more mature request.”

The month-long exploration had its ups and downs, highs and lows, thinking and re-thinking. We learned about prayer in a place of unceasing prayer. We learned various ways to pray: using Scripture as a basis for our prayer, using the name of Jesus as our prayer, finding ways through meditative postures or walking to give ourselves totally into God’s embrace, opening ourselves to hear the still small voice of the One who has always known us

Jesus’ image of the loving parent reminds us, as did C.S. Lewis and Kierkegarrd, that prayer does not change God; it changes the one who prays. The prescription to ask, seek and knock is preceded by what we now refer to as the Lord’s Prayer, which as Christians, has become the model for us for all our prayer. In it, we find all of Jesus’ most fundamental teachings: the primacy of love over hate, forgiveness over vindictiveness and, above all, the summons to unite our desire to that of God’s. It is the framework that encourages us to look beyond our own needs to the needs of others and to our needs in relationship with others. Once we take our focus off what we think we want, we can more clearly discern what God wants for us.

In these last twenty years I’ve discovered discerning God’s call is not necessarily an easy task. Nor is it a “one-time” task, but rather a daily, prayerful, life-long, on-going pilgrimage as the marvellous road unfolds before us.

The Rev. Frances Drolet-Smith
Oblate, SSJD

We’re Glad You’re Our Neighbour


There is a sign in the grass just outside the front door of St. John’s Convent which proclaims “Wherever you are from we’re glad you’re our neighbour”. It’s an almost childish sentiment but it references the twofold law of love which states we must love God and neighbour and as such, it represents the community’s intention to genuinely recognize all those around us as our neighbours.

This past week, as Toronto absorbed the shock of an horrific attack a short walk from that same front door, an attack which left 10 dead and many more injured and traumatized, we were once again made aware of our many connections within our local community and further afield. Emails, calls, and messages came in from people who wanted us to know they were upholding us, and all those affected, in their prayers. We in turn prayed for the victims, their families and friends and for the first responders. We prayed for all the people who stopped to help and for the young man who drove the van.

As I prayed with my sisters, aware of all the people in the city, the country, and around the world praying with us, I was reminded of a phrase often attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt, “It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.” I thought of our prayers as tiny, flickering candle flames together transforming the darkness the attack had caused.



The two disciples on the road to Emmaus encountered the risen Christ on their journey. That ordinary, dusty walk became for them a pilgrimage, a physical experience which spiritually transformed them. A prayer walk down Yonge Street this past Monday, marking one week since the attack, was also an experience of meeting God’s love in each other. May we all be open to see the reality of resurrection life in the sisters and brothers we travel with on our own pilgrimages through life.

Sr. Wendy Grace Greyling


Easter mornings were once filled with joyful greetings such as, “Alleluia, the Lord is Risen”, with the joyful response, “He is Risen indeed, Alleluia”, a word that had not been heard throughout the sombre days of Lent. In my private prayer and devotions through Easter my heart spends hours with the faithful beside the empty tomb, and I hear or feel the almost-breathless, almost-unspoken, loud whispered “Rabboni” of Mary Magdalene, a dear friend of our Lord. Some have suggested, or wanted, something sexual in that word, but there is far too much profound depth of love that touches one’s soul to imply anything less. How very much I pray that my Saviour may look upon me, call me by name—then I may know that all is well between us once more.

Many years ago I heard a soloist sing, in Handel’s Messiah, the aria ‘I know that my Redeemer liveth’—my soul was lost in awe and wonder by her voice. Every Easter since then, in my meditation and devotions around Easter morning, I stand at the empty tomb with the faithful that includes Mary. I hear her whispered Rabboni that touches my soul; and in that precious moment Mary and the soloist become one oice pressing upon my heart and soul: I know that my Redeemer liveth. Rabboni, My Master!

My Easter is rich in glory. May Christianity’s triumphant Easter Alleluia bring its glory into every soul.

Thank you to SSJD Associate, the Rev. Canon C. Russell Elliott, Nova Scotia, for sharing this reflection with us.

A Summer Week with St. Benedict

















June 25-29 at St. John’s Convent, 9:30 – 4:30 pm: spend a week learning about St. Benedict and the influence of his rule on contemporary Christians and new intentional communities. Sister Connie will teach this course at the Convent for Wycliffe College. Accommodation is available at the Convent, or people can attend as commuters. See the Wycliffe College website for registration information, as listed on the poster.

Download the poster:Flyer – Benedictine Spirituality


Rublev Trinity
Rublev, Hopitality of Abraham, 15th century Russia

Have you Have you noticed how busy and distracted everyone is lately? Have you noticed how busy and distracted you’ve become lately? Busyness and distraction have become a way of life. How do we keep all the balls in the air – all the commitments in balance? How do you carve out time to pray when there are so many demands on your time?

Ronald Rolheiser, theologian and author once wrote “Distraction is normal in our culture. Contemplativeness, solitude and prayer are not.”

When I look at my own life, and listen to the lives of those around me, I am struck by how often I hear the phrase that has become a kind of mantra for many: “I’m so busy!” Perhaps the time for teaching – and practicing – the contemplative arts has never been more pertinent. On the other hand, ever since Eve and Adam left the Garden, it has been our sad refrain.

The Christian classic The Way of a Pilgrim chronicles the journey of an unnamed nineteenth-century Russian peasant. Following the tragic loss of his wife and livelihood, the pilgrim is propelled on a spiritual journey with nothing but a Bible, a prayer rope, and some dried bread, seeking an answer to his profound conundrum: how does one respond authentically to St. Paul’s prescription to “pray without ceasing”? (1 Thessalonians 5:17)  His quest sets him wandering, searching for someone to teach him how to master such a seemingly impossible assignment.

At the very heart of The Way of the Pilgrim is the Jesus Prayer: “O Lord Jesus Christ, Son Of God, have mercy upon me a sinner!”  Known in the Orthodox Church as “the prayer of the heart.” and dating back to at least the 4th century Egyptian desert, these simple words have been a mainstay for Orthodox Christians. This humble prayer is aided when prayed with a prayer rope in hand. First made by monks for their own use, prayer ropes were later adopted by those outside the monastery. While we may be tempted to think of prayer ropes as an Eastern version of the Rosary, they are actually quite different.

Prayer Rope.jpgPrayer ropes are usually made of wool, sheared from sheep – a reminder that we belong to Christ, the Good Shepherd. While they can be made in different colours, black – the colour of mourning – is most commonly used, for in prayer we mourn the sins which separate us from God and our neighbour. Some prayer ropes include a tassel which is customarily used to dry the tears shed in sorrow for one’s sins. For some, this tassel also symbolizes Heaven, which can only be found through the cross which, in the rope, precedes the tassel.

The person praying says the Jesus Prayer for each knot on the rope. Often the rope is 33 knots long but they come in all different lengths. In The Way of the Pilgrim, the pilgrim said the prayer 2,000, then 6,000, then 12,000 times a day. Is 12,000 Jesus Prayers better than 2,000? It is not the quantity of the prayers that is important but rather the quality, the love with which the prayer is said and the faithfulness with which it is practiced. The pilgrim prayed much because that was his “heart’s desire.” Every prayer is an act of love, offered to the Author of Love, who waits expectantly for us and for our acceptance of his Love. Numbers have nothing to do with this kind of devotion or with a living relationship with Jesus.

When our hearts are restless and our minds wandering, the knots on the prayer rope can help us to focus on the words of the prayer. As our thumb and forefinger continuously move over the knots, our heart continuously cries out its plaintive words.  Some years ago now I was gifted a prayer rope by Bishop Henry Hill who devoted much of his life to study and dialogue with the Orthodox community. Its soft, well-worn texture feels reassuring in my hands, and in a way that I do not fully understand, helps move the prayer from my lips to my heart.

Perhaps what is old can be new again.  In our on-going quest to draw closer to Christ, I wonder whether the time has come for us to slow the pace, lose the distractions, leave the busyness behind and make a pilgrimage back to praying, without ceasing, the prayer of our hearts.

The Rev. Frances Drolet-Smith is Rector of St. Alban’s Anglican Church, Dartmouth N.S.
and Oblate of SSJD


The “Great O” antiphon for December 23 is “O Emmanuel.
(See an explanation of the Great O’s in the blog post for December 16.)

From Matthew 1: 18 – 23

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel’,
which means, ‘God is with us.’

EMMANUEL the law-giver, the peace-bringer, the heart-healer.  We long for a presence among us that can bring us to something we call ‘home’, where we are at one with our deepest longing.  You are our God, come and save us – from ourselves, from our selfishness, our pride and arrogance, from our self-pity and our self-doubt.  Come and save us Emmanuel, from the fears that hold us in the dark: our fears of others who are different than we are, our fears of changes and issues that clash.  Emmanuel – it is to us: to us that a child is born – and the government shall be upon his shoulders, and his name will be called ‘wonderful counselor, mighty and everlasting God, Prince of Peace.  To us does God reveal tenderness in the person of Jesus.  To us does God show might and power, in the fragile gift of a child born to a woman.  To us.  To our very selves is Jesus given!  God takes on flesh so that every home becomes holy, every human person becomes the Christ, and all food and drink becomes a sacrament. The very gift of Christmas is our own call to empty ourselves in order to be made pregnant with the Word.  We are responsible for the gift – and our task is to nurture it and love it into live.  Each of us are called to mother-forth the Christ given to us as gift.  St. Bernard said “what use is it to us if Christ be born in Bethlehem and not in our own hearts?”  We are called to bring Christ to birth in the world through the way we live with others.  We too are Theotokos – Christ bearers to the world. (Sr. Doreen McGuff)

From “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”:

O come, O come Emmanuel!
And ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice, Rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel.


The “Great O” antiphon for December 22 is “O King (or Desire) of the Nations.”
(See an explanation of the Great O’s in the blog post for December 16.)

From Jeremiah 30: 7 – 11a

Alas! that day is so great
there is none like it;
it is a time of distress for Jacob;
yet he shall be rescued from it.

On that day, says the Lord of hosts, I will break the yoke from off his neck, and I will burst his bonds, and strangers shall no more make a servant of him. But they shall serve the Lord their God and David their king, whom I will raise up for them.

But as for you, have no fear, my servant Jacob, says the Lord,
and do not be dismayed, O Israel;
for I am going to save you from far away,
and your offspring from the land of their captivity.
Jacob shall return and have quiet and ease,
and no one shall make him afraid.
For I am with you, says the Lord, to save you;

KING OF THE NATIONS and desire of our hearts – amidst all the senseless violence of life you are the cornerstone that binds us into a home for God.  God is the true desire of every heart, the ache of loneliness that plagues us all our lives, even in the most intimate loving encounters.  But how many of us human creatures realize that we are created to be so completely ‘at one’ with God, that our deep longing for love and union cannot ever be fully met outside of that at-one-ment?  And so we pray that Jesus, the cornerstone, will bind us into a home for God..  We are homes for God, each one of us, this is the single most important truth about us: inclusiveness not rejection is God’s theme song for us and God’s desire for our hearts in our relationships with each other.  There is no other criteria for a mutuality of love between the peoples of this earth other than this: we are one-ed in God by our shared humanity.  We pray to be at one – to make all nations one – to bind us together in a mutuality of love and respect: in our families, in our communities, in our churches, in the world.  All our roots are inter-tangled.  In our deepest selves we know that every struggle helps free those things we most cherish and hope for.  How many there are who have no realization of their own intrinsic loveliness of being, who do not understand the endless ache of their inner being, and who try to fill that longing through the accumulation of things, the exercise of power, the search for success or the endless quest for the ultimate ‘experience’ to make meaning of life.  In the darkness of the night – we sing “O Ruler of the Nations and true Desire of our hearts!  You are the cornerstone inviting us all into a home for God.  Come, Lord Jesus. (Sr. Doreen McGuff)

From “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”:

O come, Desire of nations, bind
in one the hearts of humankind.
O bid our bitter conflict cease,
and be for us our Prince of Peace.
Rejoice, Rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel.


The “Great O” antiphon for December 21 is “O Morning Star” (or “O Dayspring”).
(See an explanation of the Great O’s in the blog post for December 16.)

From Isaiah 60:1 – 3

Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;

but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will appear over you.
Nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

MORNING STAR – O brilliant Sun of Righteousness, of Justice, that lights up the path of life.  So often in the most inauspicious of circumstances the light of grace crosses our pathway and stops with us, keeps company with us.  God of surprises.  How we all long for justice with mercy, and cry out for the hand of God to intervene in the chaos we have created for ourselves.  We beg for justice with mercy for peoples, for nations, for the poor, for families, for this and that person, for the earth itself.  How often we cry out to God – why do you let these things happen?  We want God to break forth in brilliance and make all things better – right now!  Instead, God shines in the darkness that hides our path.  Little by little we see what we should do to drive back injustice and make the systems serve the least as well as the greatest.  Lord Jesus, come and light up the darkness concealing from us the path of life.  Light up even the motes of misery and make them merry with the light of God.  Grace is freely given, and little by little, it lifts us and our world from our self-centred and sometimes violent passions, and directs our feet on the way of peace.  Yes, come, Rising Sun, light of God’s love, promise of mercy, leave us no place to hide from You in the damp and chill of selfishness.  The morning star, the dayspring – come O Rising Sun of righteousness with healing in your wings!  We are now children of light – gift givers of light for the world. (Sr. Doreen McGuff)

From “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”:

O come, O Dayspring from on high
and cheer us by your drawing nigh;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
and death’s dark shadow put to flight.
Rejoice, Rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel.


The “Great O” antiphon for December 20 is “O Key of David.”
(See an explanation of the Great O’s in the blog post for December 16.)

From Isaiah 22: 20 – 23

On that day I will call my servant Eliakim son of Hilkiah, and will clothe him with your robe and bind your sash on him. I will commit your authority to his hand, and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and no one shall shut; he shall shut, and no one shall open. I will fasten him like a peg in a secure place, and he will become a throne of honour to his ancestral house.

KEY OF DAVID – the key to whatever meaning unifies our lives, the key that can open us to infinite possibilities.  The key to the prisons that confine us and to the doors that keep us safe.  The worst prisons are the invisible ones.  There is not a lot of security in the world – around us, competition for what we want, need, or feel driven to take.  Our lives are fragile and vulnerable and yet this antiphon provides a calming – you open and none can close, you close and none can open.  Within apparent chaos there is order.  Within death, new life.  The power of God is more than all the evil that we can do to one another, or to this world.  In spite of us, God will be God to us.  We can doubt it, we can blind ourselves to it, but in the end, we are images of God.  Born of God, like unto God.  Even the worst of us, a spark of the Divine.  But we are fragile and vulnerable.  All of us worship in mystery, be it God as Father, as Mother, as Scripture, as consecrated Bread and Wine, in the wonders of nature, hidden in hearts, or as the Cloud of Unknowing.  Come – let us rejoice in the small fragments that reveal the loving God in whatever manner and share with one another.  All of us are seated in darkness, but the lock in the door is turning – sweet sound!  And tomorrow He comes and we will be free!  Come, overcome us, pull us out of our inner prisons of mind and heart, break down the walls of isolation and open for us new vistas of grace.  Maranatha, come Lord Jesus.  Free us.  And after the darkness comes the dawning.  Come Lord Jesus, Ero Cras!  I shall be there tomorrow. (Sr. Doreen McGuff)

From “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”:

O come, O Key of David, come,
and open wide our heavenly home
make safe the way that leads on high,
and close the path to misery
Rejoice, Rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel.