Advent Reflection: Keep Awake. Be On the Watch.

Advent1

Therefore, keep awake– for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake. (Mark 13:36,37 NRSV).

My readers can look forward to daily Advent reflections here.  The constant theme that I will be writing about is watching and waiting.

We live in the age of mass instant gratification.  In many States you don’t even have to go in person to renew the registration and/or tabs on the license plate of your car.  Just look up your local registry of motor vehicles on the internet, click, pay and they will arrive in the mail in no time.  Combine the speed by which we can get just about anything we want with life itself being faster than ever; and waiting is more old fashioned than ever.

There is a saying that goes: “Good things come to those who wait.”  That is why this Season of Advent is such a fantastic time for contemplative prayer.  Contemplative prayer does not come because we press a button and it appears.  Contemplation comes because at a moment of God’s choosing, God infuses the waiting soul with that which cannot be seen, touched or smelled; but is very real and beautiful.  The soul knows that God is so present that the only thing missing is a way to describe it accurately.   One does not have to have her/his life in order.  Nor do we have to have some theological mystery figured out.  All we need is a heart that is quiet enough, a desire for God in the emptiness of ourselves and there God will be.    The darkness becomes light.  Despair gives way to hope.  Everything that has been suddenly becomes insignificant.  All that matters is God.

In our watching and waiting this Advent, let us seek union with God as our only reason for living and breathing.   May we know the presence of the Lord with every fiber of our being; even if we don’t know why it is that our being experiences the reality of God’s mysterious existence.   All we have to do is watch and wait in faith, and God will be there before we know God is there.

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB

God’s Faithful Love

Faithfulness

Give thanks to the LORD because he is good, because his faithful love endures forever.  (Psalm 118:1. The Common English Bible).

Most of the time we are so focused on ourselves and all the nonsense in the world, that we don’t think enough about who God is or what God does. Perhaps we are of an age where we do not think of ourselves as the center of the universe as much as we used to.  But, we are way too focused on ourselves.  Our self centered egos bring us to a spiritual slumber that makes us sleep well past the alarm clock ring of God’s call upon our lives.

In The Prologue of The Rule of St. Benedict, he writes:

Let us get up then, at long last, for the Scriptures rouse us when they say: It is high time for us to arise from sleep (Rom 13:11).  Let us open our eyes to the light that comes form God, and our ears to the voice from heaven that every day calls out this charge: If you hear his voice today, do not harden your hearts (Psalm 94 [95]: 8). (RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English, p.15-16).

We rise every morning to offer our prayers of thanksgiving and praise in the Daily Office, because God’s faithful love endures forever. Though there are many things that maybe going on in our lives that seem full of darkness, doubt and despair; God’s love for and belief in us never dies out.  God has more faith in us than we have in ourselves.  God’s faithful love is always reaching out for us and giving a new light to our lives and bringing out into the open all that is hidden.  This is why we should always give thanks to the LORD, even in moments of sorrow.  God’s faithful love endures forever.  May we never forget it.

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB

Light and Salvation

LightPiercingDarkness

The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear?  the LORD is the strength of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid?  (Psalm 27:1 The Book of Common Prayer. p.617).

I am writing this blog post after receiving some very sad news.  Evan Karges is 19 years old.  He has been battling cancer in the form of tumors for quite a few years.  His parents Karen and Dave have been at his side supporting him and loving him throughout Evan’s illness.  Last week, Evan had surgery to try to remove a tumor on his brain.  The surgeons were unable to remove the whole tumor because it contained blood vessels.  The prognosis for Evan is that he has days maybe weeks left to live.  The news is heart wrenching.  I cannot imagine the emotions of the family.  The news could not have come at a worse time with Thanksgiving one week from today.

As devastating as this news is, it is the words of Psalm 27:1 that gives me a vision of God’s mysterious will through this very dark experience.  Amidst the darkness of death, despair and life’s most challenging times; God is our light and salvation.  We have nothing to fear.  As I meditate on this verse and the situation with Evan, I am inspired by the Karges families’ courage.  They are the embodiment of the courage that well all need when confronted by a tragedy such as this. Such courage comes from faith that is our path to trust in God no matter what happens.

The photograph above the Psalm verse shows a blinding light that pierces the storm and/or night clouds.  The light is illuminating everything that is hidden.  The scene below is full of beauty and mystery.   We know there is a mountain, some trees and possibly a river.  What we do not know is what is going on in each of them that even the light cannot help us see.  Such can be the case for us in our own lives.  Whether everything is visible to the human eye or only known to God and ourselves alone; the Light that is the God of our salvation is there in the Person of Jesus Christ walking through our dark times with us.  God is grieving and weeping with and for us.  God doesn’t always heal or deliver us from death.   However, our hope of salvation here and in the next life is always in God’s hands.  We should therefore, never be afraid.

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB

The Hill of The Lord

Hill

“Who can ascend the hill of the LORD?  and who can stand in his holy place?”  “Those who have clean hands and a pure heart,,,”  (Psalm24:3,4a).

There is quite the irony in these words from Psalm 24.  To climb (or ascend) the hill of the Lord or stand in God’s holy place is impossible; from a human perspective.  Speaking only for myself, I certainly do not possess such holiness to be worthy to stand in God’s holy place.  There is so much about myself and my life that is not perfect.  Among them, I am often way too focused on myself.

Thomas Merton in his book Bread In The Wilderness wrote, “The highest and most perfect fruition of God is found in a love that rests in Him purely for His own sake alone” (p. 128).

The purity of heart that Merton mentions is exactly what the Holy Spirit is saying through the words of this Psalm verse.  To ascend to God’s holiness requires of us a heart so pure that it seeks union with God for the sake of God; without wanting anything from God for ourselves.  Not even a warm fuzzy feeling.  Warm fuzzy feelings in and of themselves are not good or bad.  However, like most things, if we cling to them for the sake of themselves and/or for ourselves alone; the result can be that God becomes our least concern.  On the other hand, God often provides these for us because God knows that we have not yet reached “the summit” of a pure heart.   So God out of God’s pure love for us; gives us a glimpse of God’s Self in the Contemplative Vision.  Through the gift of Contemplative Prayer we can see everything and everyone; including ourselves; from God’s perspective.  God’s perspective is holy and unconditional love.  Even for those of us who have yet to obtain a pure heart.

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB

Those Who Seek the Lord Lack No Good Thing.

Seeking

Those who seek the Lord lack no good thing. (Psalm 34:10b. RSV).

I just looked up a definition of the word seek.   The definition I would like us to focus on for this Simple Reflection is seek as, “an attempt or desire to obtain or achieve (something).”   Someone who seeks something (or someone) does so with an intense amount of attention on what it is they are wanting to find.  When a seeker is seeking they tend to avoid all other distractions so that they can focus on discovering what is hidden.

When it comes to the Spiritual Life, seeking God is like looking for a lost set of keys while they are already in your hand.  God has already been found.  Seeking God is the foundation of Benedictine Spirituality.  All other parts of Benedictine Spirituality including the infamous Ora et Labora (pray and work), are a means towards seeking God.  We pray and work, work and pray; so that we may seek a deeper union with God in and through all things.

The photo above the verse from Psalm 34:10b represents that seeking God is not necessarily a matter of us doing something.  The man who is sitting there in the dusk seems tired and worn out.  There is darkness in his life, but there is a great reflection and revelation through what remains visible.  There is still so much beauty and possibility around him.  Whatever he may be lacking, he is lacking no good thing.  There is still hope for him.  There is still hope for all of us.

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB

Jesus, the Gentle Mother

MotherwithChild

Jesus, as a mother you gather your people to you; you are gentle with us as a mother with her children. (Canticle Q, A Song of Christ’s Goodness by St. Anselm of Canterbury.  Enriching Our Worship 1. p.39).

One of the messages I have to tell myself over and over is to be gentle with myself. I remember the first time someone said those words to me, “Be gentle with yourself.”   It wasn’t long after my father died.  I was filled with grief along with many emotions.  As a way of trying to escape from my grief, I tried to do everything I always did as if there was nothing wrong.  When it all caught up with me, I found it necessary to let go of so many things for a while.  I felt so guilty for letting other people down.  One person who was among them said to me, “Be gentle with yourself, you have things you need to give attention right now. Give yourself permission to let go.”

The words I quoted below the picture, are strange.  We don’t think of Jesus in the feminine.  The message here is what the gender symbolizes.  There is nothing so wonderful and intimate; as when a mother tenderly picks up her baby and holds the child near her heart.  Whatever crisis the child may be experiencing; the mother is there to receive the child and provide her loving and tender care.  She knows that as the child grows older, she won’t be able to hold the child as close.  The child will get bigger.  The child will go many places where she will not be able to hold and comfort the child in quite the same way.  But, for that single moment in time, she gets to hold this child and give her love.

In Jesus Christ, God loves all of us as tenderly as a mother loves her child.  Jesus gathers us in the arms of God in the midst of our sorrows, confusion and grief.  He holds all of us in the bosom of God’s heart; in the enfolding embrace of holy love and grace.  He does not let us go.  We are never too far from His sight.  In the contemplative vision, we are always embraced from God’s perspective to continue our journey back to God who is our true and everlasting end.

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB

The Dawn From On High

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Many thanks to Rebecca Otto for allowing me to use this photo this morning.

In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace. (The Song of Zechariah Benedictus Dominus Deus.  Canticle 16. The Book of Common Prayer. p.92).

I will always remember when I prayed Matins for the first time on an Easter Sunday morning in 1994.  I was a young soon to be college graduate.  I had been discerning during my Senior year about becoming a Catholic; which I did in 1995.  In 2010 I was received as an Episcopalian.  Since I had first visited Glastonbury Abbey in Hingham, MA in November 1993; I had begun a regular routine of praying The Liturgy of the Hours.  On that Easter morning, I read those incredible words from St. Matthew’s Gospel Chapter 18:5-6, “I know you are looking for Jesus the crucified, but he is not here.  He has been raised, exactly as he promised.”  As I was reading those words, the Easter sun came out.   I felt a rush of light, a warmth, a sense of faith.  It was as though the Holy Spirit gave me a kiss of hope.   I have had this experience on numerous occasions when I have prayed the words from the Song of Zechariah that I used below the picture featured above.

Among my current practices is to pray Matins at 5:00am on Weekdays, 5:30am on Saturdays and 6:00am on Sundays.  Among the reasons is to celebrate the hope of God in the remaining hour of the darkness of night as it gives way to the light of the dawn.  It is a reminder that darkness and death are not a finality.  They are only a transition.

Many of us are walking through times of darkness.  Our lives are overshadowed by our jobs, relationships, families and the ins and outs of daily life.  We are confronted with the reality of violence, sickness, poverty and despair.  It seems that the light of faith is elusive.

Our God of compassion and infinite mercy though veiled from our physical sight; remains ever present and showing through the light of the dawns of our lives.  “The darkness is not dark to God.  The night is as bright as the day.  To God, light and darkness are both alike” (Psalm 139:10, 11 paraphrased).   The light of God shines into our life as life actually is; including the snow, the ice and the cold.  All that is will be illuminated by God’s abiding presence.  All of us may be equally assured that Jesus Christ who is God’s perfect revelation of God’s Self is walking with each of us as we make our way toward God as God directs our path “into the way of peace.”

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB

Winters First Snowfall

Winters First Snowfall

In the bulb there is a flower; in the seed, an apple tree; in cocoons, a hidden promise: butterflies will soon be free! In the cold and snow of winter there’s a spring that waits to be, unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see. (Words from Hymn of Promise written by Natalie Sleeth. Hymn #101.  The United Methodist Hymnal).

Minnesota is getting our first snowfall today.  If you are not familiar with the climate in Minnesota, allow me to tell you about it.  Minnesota winters are really cold.  In the months of December, January, February and March; Minnesotans experience temperatures as low as -5 degrees Fahrenheit with a windchill of -35.  The first snowfall can occur as early as Halloween. The snowy weather will most likely be with us through late March.  It is not unusual for us to get snow in April.  A year and a half ago, it snowed here on May 5.  Many Minnesotans dread the first snowfall because it means the beginning of a long winter.  A few of us love the first snowfall and love it until Christmas; then we wish for it to go away.

The hymn by Natalie Sleeth is one of my all time favorite hymns during the winter months.  The words, “In the snow and cold of winter there’s a spring that waits to be, unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see” are suggestive of letting go.  They tell us to live by faith and not by sight.  What we see on the surface covers the beauty being recreated beneath.   As with anything worth while, what is beautiful and giving birth to new life cannot be fully appreciated; unless, we accept the reality of what is in the here and now.  Death is a reality of life that cannot be avoided.  In The Rule of St. Benedict Chapter 4 “On the Tools of Good Works” verse 47 it reads, “Day by day remind yourself that you are going to die.”  St. Benedict included this as part of his admonition for us to do all we can do in the here and now.   It is so vital for us to submit ourselves to the contemplative vision of God in the everyday ordinary events of life as they are.

Could the reason why we become so down and dreary during the snowy cold weather is because of how much it reminds us of death?  As warm as we all are, someday our bodies too (even if we chose cremation) will sleep in the coldness of death.  Yet, what is really happening is a new spring being born in snow and the cold of winter; just as the greater hope of Resurrection is awakening in death.  The Preface to the Liturgy of the Commemoration of the Dead includes these words.

For your faithful people, O Lord, life is changed, not ended; and when our mortal body lies in death, there is prepared for us a dwelling place eternal in the heavens. (The Book of Common Prayer,. p. 382).

“Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.”

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB

The Image of Humility

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The photo above was taken earlier today at St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church in St. Paul, Minnesota.  Pictured here is the High Altar with its stunning reredos behind it.   As I was preparing for the Mass there today, I was drawn into a deep contemplation of the images of the Lord’s Supper with the Cross above it and the two angels on either side.

The reason I found myself lost in contemplation, is because I have seen many Altars and reredos’.  The majority of them (and they all have their beauty and lead to contemplation) depict Jesus as a Priest vested for Mass or figured as someone mighty and powerful.  This image is full of humility.  Jesus is seated among his Disciples celebrating the Eucharist that He would later live the meaning of in His death on the Cross, which is also depicted above the wood carved Last Supper.   Here, Jesus is doing what His life and ministry were about.  Giving His whole Self in humble service as our Bread of Life and Cup of Salvation.  Jesus in humility fulfilled the Father’s Will.   He did not lord Himself over them.  Jesus served all of us with the gift of Himself.  That is something wonderful to contemplate.

This humility is something that St. Benedict wrote about in Chapter 7:1 of The Rule.

Brothers, divine Scripture calls to us saying: Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled, and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted (Luke 14:11: 18:14).

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB

The Cross

Cross

Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34).

It never ceases to amaze me that after all of these many centuries of Christianity, the one symbol that has never been lost is the Cross.   The Cross has been painted, put on the chain of necklaces and bracelets, hung on walls, made into marble monuments, sits on the top of church steeples, etc.   All of the human flaws of the Christian Church could not take away the beauty and mystery of the Cross.

What continues to inspire me personally, is that the Cross is glorified with beautiful colors and the like.  Yet, what took place at the Cross was hardly anything beautiful to look at.  Jesus Christ, God’s prefect revelation of God’s Self was crucified on the Cross, and died for the sins of the world.  Perhaps the beauty of the Cross comes from the love of God and us, for which Christ died on the Cross.  Perhaps the glory of the Cross is that it was the pathway to His Resurrection.   Maybe all of those things are true, and perhaps we are missing the point altogether.

One thing we can be sure of, is that the Cross is an opportunity for endless contemplation, prayer and reflection.  It is a symbol of a deepening relationship with God through self-sacrifice and loving devotion; especially when everything evil is showing its ugly head.  We can meditate on the reality that whatever is happening in our lives that brings disappointment, sadness, death and hopelessness; God is right there with us drawing ever closer to us.   We are never alone.

“I will lift up my eyes to the hills; from where is my help to come?   My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:1-2).

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB