Tag Archives: DeKoven Center

Peace with every step

 If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. (T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets)

There is only one way into a labyrinth. It’s not a maze, but a winding path.

Earlier today at the DeKoven Center in Racine, Wisconsin — at Education for Ministry (EfM) mentor training — we watched a video called With One Voice.

Contemporary mystics from 14 spiritual traditions, monastics and lay people, men and women, spoke of the universal human experience that mystics have, even though they seem to pursue many different paths toward (or following) that experience.

One of the mystics who spoke, Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev of the Isha Yoga Center, suggested paradoxically that “there is only one path. That path is you.”

In just the same way, there is only one path into the labyrinth, and you must take the winding road toward the center.


As you approach the center, you come very close, but then the winding path leads you farther away, back around for another loop.

Similarly, as you leave the labyrinth, retracing your steps along the one path, you seem to get quite far along, and then you suddenly find yourself near the center again.

There’s a quality like breathing to a labyrinth — the rhythm of going in and back out, out and back in again.


As I approach ordination to the priesthood, I have been walking for the past few months in company with members of my discernment group (a priest, a deacon, and two lay people).

I am feeling the same sort of in-and-out, near-and-then-far sensation as in the labyrinth.

Some days, the prospect of beginning a new pastoral ministry seems crystal clear and tantalizingly close (what are we waiting for?), then a question from the group causes me to wonder if I’m really as ready as I think I am.

Other days, it feels like Jesus might have felt at the beginning of Mark’s gospel: “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness ….” I’ve had a chance to meet many members of the new congregation, and it feels in some ways like we’ve already started. But the ordination date hasn’t even been set.

Back to the center. Loop back around.

Perhaps I should “put off sense and notion,” as Eliot suggests. I’m not here to “verify,” to nail things down, to organize the whole project. Other people, like my bishop, are in charge of that.

Perhaps all I need to do right now is kneel right here, where prayer has been valid. I know from experience that the DeKoven Center is just such a place.

There is only one path, and it will wind wherever it leads, to the center and back again, as long as it takes.


Friends abiding in Christ

The Fellowship of St. John is composed of men and women throughout the world who desire to live their Christian life in special association with the Society of St. John the Evangelist … Together [with the brothers] they form an extended family, a company of friends abiding in Christ and seeking to bear a united witness to him as “the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” following the example of the Beloved Disciple. (Rule of the FSJ)

Singing the Daily Office

I was first drawn to the Society of St. John the Evangelist because of the Daily Office.

When I was in the Diocese of Chicago’s discernment process leading to ordination as a deacon, I attended a weekend retreat held at the DeKoven Center in Racine, WI. In the bookshop (a necessity wherever Episcopalians gather) I found a cassette tape of the SSJE brothers discussing and singing Morning and Evening Prayer.

I’m a devotee of the Daily Office, as those who read this blog will understand.

What I found most attractive about SSJE was that they were a monastic order who worshiped according to the Book of Common Prayer. That meant they were praying essentially the same prayers I was, using the same forms for Morning and Evening Prayer, for Noonday Prayer, and for Compline.

My own project, so to speak, has been to pray the Daily Office “by the book” these last 20 years — and I find immense support and encouragement knowing that the brothers are praying from the same book.

A sign to the Church

Later I came to value even more the Society’s wisdom about Christian community.

When the Church Insurance Company began to mandate training in sexual misconduct prevention in the early 1990s, the Diocese of Chicago’s pastoral care officer (Chilton Knudsen, who went on to be Bishop of Maine) invited me to help write the curriculum for the diocese.

All told, I spent more than a dozen years training lay people and clergy in the Dioceses of Chicago and Milwaukee in the prevention of child abuse and sexual harassment.

The early years of teaching were very difficult. Nobody wants to talk about child sexual abuse in the first place. Lay people, especially vestry members, resented the mandatory training that focused so heavily on penalties — up to and including the threat of losing insurance coverage. Clergy resented being told how to practice pastoral care and being required to accept limits on their freedom.

The tension was palpable; I would finish each four-hour training session with a splitting headache.

When the community published their Rule of the Society of St. John the Evangelist in 1997, I discovered in its pages an extended meditation on right relationship in Christian community.

The contemporary Rule helped me reframe my teaching, away from penalties and toward a vision of ministry and interpersonal behavior so clear, so transparent, that any attempt at abuse would stand out by sharp contrast.

That vision of right relationship also transformed those who attended the training in later years. Rather than grudging, reluctant attendance, parish leaders became more eager to invite each year’s new Sunday School teachers and youth workers. Many parishes even began scheduling training sessions a year in advance.

Christ’s gift of enduring love

Meditating on the SSJE community’s Rule transformed not only my teaching, but also my own spirituality.

I began training sessions with an icon of Jesus and the Beloved Disciple — an image of the intimacy which God desires each one of us to experience with God and with each other.

Icon of the Beloved Disciple from Mt. Angel Abbey

Icon of the Beloved Disciple from Mt. Angel Abbey

My teaching focused on the ordering of our affections and our disciplined care for vulnerable children and adults, over against the disorganized, scatter-shot attention to safety that is too prevalent in our institutions.

My spiritual life these last 17 years has blossomed with extended reflection on the Beloved Disciple and intimacy with God.

That’s not to say I don’t fall short, and sometimes pretty spectacularly. Disorder and lack of discipline, sin and failing, are a daily reality. The Rule of Benedict, on which most Western monastic Rules are based, observes that “every day we begin again to follow our Lord’s teaching.”

What I have come to understand in the company of the SSJE brothers is that I do not need to hide from that suffering, for it will be transformed by Christ and will bear fruit in my life.

If we abide in that perfect love shown on the cross we will receive the grace to face together all that we are tempted to run from in fear. Christ’s gift of enduring love will be the heart of our life as a community … Love will make us [people] of faith who know God’s power to bring life out of death. (SSJE Rule, Chapter Two).


Not a destination but a starting block

Taylor Hall at the DeKoven Center in Racine, Wisconsin

Taylor Hall at the DeKoven Center in Racine, Wisconsin

Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:7-11)

It feels a little strange reflecting on “the loss of all things” while I am also enjoying a weekend at the DeKoven Center, one of the places I have come to cherish, “a place where prayer has been valid,” (to echo T. S. Eliot’s description of Little Gidding).

This place always reminds me of the heritage I have in the church, and the voice in my head sounds a little like Paul as I describe it:

“If anyone else has reason to be confident, I have more: baptized in my second month, a member of the people called Episcopalians, of the tribe of clergy; an acolyte, reader, LEM, campus minister, deacon; as to the church, “Anglo-Catholic among friends” and a member of the Fellowship of the SSJE; as to zeal, an EfM mentor and preacher; as to righteousness, made my mature commitment to Christ in the summer of 1989.”

Even the image at the top of this blog evokes that confidence — a page from my grandfather’s prayer book and Bible forms the backdrop to a picture of him sitting on the steps of this very place back in the 1940s.

But what if, as Paul goes on to say, all that is “rubbish” because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ?

What if I didn’t need to cling to “a goodly heritage” but could instead step out freely, secure in Christ?

I think even Paul would admit that his extensive training in the law and his upbringing as a Pharisee served him well in his new role as an apostle and as a mentor to others, but I think he is exactly right that they count for nothing in the most importance race of his life: pressing on toward the kingdom.

In fact, I picture him shedding his long Pharisaical robes in order to run more swiftly, free and unencumbered.

Perhaps this place where prayer has been valid is not supposed to be a destination, but rather the starting block against which I can push off and run, “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead … the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”

All who stand by night in the house of the Lord


Therefore, if you would not fall, cease never in your intent, but beat evermore on this cloud of unknowing that is betwixt you and your God with a sharp dart of longing love, and be loathe to think on anything less than God. (The Cloud of Unknowing, 14th c.)

I am attending the Annual Lenten Retreat at the DeKoven Center in Racine, Wisconsin, led this year by Phyllis Tickle.

The topic of the retreat is “the Observant Christian: Pilgrims of the Emergence.”

While the content of Phyllis’ talks will be primarily on Emergence Christianity, the weekend is shaped by the practice of “fixed-hour prayer” using the offices she compiled in a series of volumes titled The Divine Hours. She organizes the prayers appointed for each season and day of the week so that you do not have to flip back and forth in a breviary but can more easily pray the offices.

The brief passage above from the Cloud of Unknowing is contained in the office of the Night Watch for today.

Whether you are awake before dawn on purpose or restless from being in an unfamiliar place, when you pray the Night Watch you join with all “who stand by night in the house of the Lord” (Ps. 134).

It is good to be back in this particular “house of the Lord,” a place that figures heavily in my own spiritual geography. I look forward to the next couple of days spent with Phyllis and my fellow-pilgrims.