Since the sixth century, St. Benedict’s Rule has guided individuals and groups of people to live well in community by engaging members in a balanced life of prayer, work, study and leisure. St. Benedict invites his readers to “listen with the ear of your heart,” an invitation that is welcomed in a noisy world. This early monastic rule is part of the wisdom tradition of Christianity and is firmly rooted in, and inspired by, the scriptures. Despite its antiquity, it remains fresh for our time, for it is primarily a guide to daily life lived in Christ; it is a call to live such a life extraordinarily well with others.
Living is often a hectic existence. Despite being instantly connected to people and events half-way around the world through technology, individuals can feel increasingly disconnected from others. While the Internet offers an on-line community for every interest, it lacks tangible, in-depth human interaction. Though products such as FaceTime and Skype offer visual community in real time, the warmth of human proximity remains illusive.
Today, many Christians are seeking fresh ways to express ancient truths. The Sisterhood of St. John the Divine (SSJD), an Anglican order based in Toronto, is planting new seeds of community life and mission, renewing the monastic life both in the church and for the church.
The 11-month Companions program, an initiative of SSJD begun in 2016, invites women of any denomination, age 21 and up, to spend a year in spiritual formation – learning to pray, serving others and studying while living among the Sisters in intentional community at their convent.
Why would anyone, much less a woman in her 20s or 30s, want to embark on such an adventure? The experiences of those who embraced the program in its inaugural year bear witness to the program’s inimitable value.
Christine Stoll, a former math teaching assistant, found the Benedictine balance of the Sisters’ life formative. “I think living here, for me, has been good and healing,” she said. “In terms of discernment, I wasn’t expecting to have everything all figured out at the end of this year, but I think I have a clearer sense of what it is I need to do.”
Another participant, Amanda Avery, a director of a program for low-income children in Halifax, described her time in the program as “exciting, stressful… yet joyful.” She went on to say, “The experience has changed me and has given me new insights and new ways to look at not just God, but myself and my community and the people who are in my community.”
Those who participate in the Companions program step into a challenging daily rhythm of prayer, study and service – and no doubt, participants will be surprised by what they discover about themselves. Alongside their personal spiritual quest, a key aspect of being a Companion is committing to a life lived fully, faithfully and authentically with others. Community life, both inside a convent or out in the world, calls us to be our best selves. Where better to discern gifts and explore call than within a community already engaged daily in those very things and who have insights to share?
The 2018-2019 cohort begins in September. A woman interested in exploring the Companions program may request a program description, application and further information from the Companions’ coordinator, the Rev. Canon Sister Constance Joanna Gefvert, by e-mailing [email protected] or phoning 416-226-2201, ext. 316. Applications will be considered anytime before June 15.