The Light Through the Cracked Ceiling

CrackedCeiling

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in

-Leonard Cohen, Stranger Music

On this Sixth Day of Christmas, most of us are feeling the let down after the Christmas Holiday while we look forward to New Year’s Day.  The magic has sagged.  The mood is mixed.  Nevertheless, the Christ Child is still calling out to us.  In the midst of everything that is not so perfect about us, Christ is our Light that shines in the darkness.

The wonder of contemplative prayer is that God doesn’t wait for us to be perfect.  God knows about our human limitations. When it seems that the chaos of life could not get worse; God comes and enlightens our minds and hearts with the wonder of God’s presence.  The darkness around us becomes overshadowed by the love of Christ who shows us the path to God.

We do not have to be the master of anything.  Though what we are good at is God’s gift too.  Even that which seems so imperfect to us, is something God can use to do God’s perfect will through.  All we have to do is trust God with all that we are and have.  Should our trust in God have some cracks in the pot, God still uses it to give birth to all sorts of good things around us.

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB

Contemplate the Word

Nativity

“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.  The Word was with God in the beginning.  Everything came into being through the Word, and without the Word nothing came into being.  What came into being through the Word was life, and the life was the light for all people.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light.  The Word became flesh and made his home among us. We have seen his glory, glory like that of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1-5, 14. The Common English Bible).

Christmas is not Christmas for me without reading and reflecting on this amazing text from St. John’s Gospel.

We do not think of the Word (as in the word itself) as being anything but a word written on paper.  Until we ponder as Mary did on this holy night/day, that the Word is a Person.  The Word is Jesus Christ.  On this celebration of the Nativity of our Lord, we celebrate that the Word is God’s perfect revelation of God’s Self in the wonder and holiness of the Son of God.

Contemplative prayer is as much a mystery as the Incarnate Word is.  We know that God is present in a way so wonderful, so incomprehensible; but, ever so real.  The experience is not the kind of thing that we can run to our best buddy and say, “You’ve just gotta come see this.”  Contemplative prayer is visible in us, in so far as Jesus, the Word is able to infuse our hearts with the grace that purifies our souls.  The evidence of contemplative prayer is that there is something so unique about us.  The only words that seem appropriate to describe what has been happening to us are, “personal growth in relationship with God, through the Word, by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

On this Christmas Eve/Day,  may the Word be reborn in us through the gift of prayerful contemplation.

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB

Advent Reflection: Keeping Watch in Prayerful Reverence

St.BenedictStainedGlass

Whenever we want to ask some favor of a powerful man, we do it humbly and respectfully, for fear of presumption.  Howe much more important, then, to lay our petitions before the Lord God of all things with the utmost humility and sincere devotion.  We must know that God regards our purity of heart and tears of compunction, not our many words.  Prayer should therefore be short and pure, unless perhaps it is prolonged under the inspiration of divine grace.  In community, however, prayer should always be brief; and when the superior gives the signal, all should rise together.  (RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English, Chapter 20: Reverence in Prayer., p.48).

St. Benedict lived in a time in which nobility was well known for its many privileges. Benedict himself was born of a noble family.  His yearning for more is why he left it all to seek union with God.  Benedict knew all about humility and respect and what being careful not to presume anything meant.  This being the case, he also knew how easy it was to use God as an excuse for focusing exclusively on ourselves.  We can be with God in the quietness of our hearts while looking for only what we think would be best for ourselves.  In so doing, we miss the whole meaning of praying with a pure heart.

Benedict encourages us to lay our petitions before God “with the utmost humility and sincere devotion.”   The word humility is best explained as what it means to be “human.”  In short, God is God and we are not.  In humility we recognize our limitations and God’s capacity to give us more than we could ever hope for.  Our focus needs to be on the Gift-Giver and not the gift.  To pray in humility with sincere devotion is to prefer God’s will over our own.  We do this by emptying ourselves with faith and trust in God’s gracious providence for our lives.

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve.  Our Season of watching and waiting in the calendar of the Church Year is ending.  In our prayer and contemplation, we are always watching and waiting to experience God anew in our hearts and lives.  The mystery of the Incarnation is our sure and certain hope that God is already here among us; and is waiting to be reborn anew in us.  In our prayer and contemplation, God is always revealing Jesus to us in The Holy Spirit and being reborn in our response to God in all aspects of our lives.

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB

Advent Reflection: Keeping Watch in Relationship

HolyTrinity

We are created to be a social being, as God is a social Being. And as the Three Divine Persons have no life whatsoever except in this relativity of action, so have we no life whatsoever except in relative actions towards others. -Richard Meux Benson, SSJE (1824-1915).

Genesis Chapter 1:26a reads, “Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness,,,” (NRSV).  Notice the absence of the word “my”.  God relates to God’s Self in community. God relates to us in the great community of the Holy Trinity.  While we correctly understand the Holy Trinity in our Baptism as Christians, we often miss the mark.  The Holy Trinity is about the relationship of God with God’s Self, with us, and us with one another.

The mystery we will celebrate this week in the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, is one of God relating to all humankind through the Incarnate Word.  In Christ, God is present among us, relating to us and calling us to relate to God’s presence in one another.  Every relationship we are in in the here and now, is an extension of the relationship of God with us, and us with God.

Our Christian Faith, prayer and contemplation are full of opportunities to encounter Jesus, the Word in a relationship deep within ourselves; as we seek God’s presence beyond ourselves.  As we will see in the Nativity, God is looking to relate with us when we are in the midst of our messes and most vulnerable state.  When we find ourselves in such situations, God reaches out to us through relationships with one another.  God hears our cry to be kept warm from the cold.  God entrusts Jesus to all of us in a wondrous mystery of relationship, through which the best is yet to come.

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB

Advent Reflection: Keeping Watch, Even When

I Believe

I read the quote I wrote into the image above while reading about perseverance in Benedict’s Way: An Ancient Monk’s Insights for a Balanced Life.  This particular quote has stayed with me, in part because of where it was found.

Sometimes I think that we Christians in much of Western culture are spoiled.  Christians in America and in many European countries can practice our faith relatively peacefully.  As for Christians in other parts of the world, our Jewish Sisters and Brothers, in the religion of Islam and others; they have experienced persecution in ways that we just cannot identify with.

On the other hand, many of us experience hardships in our own lives.  Economic collapses.  Job losses.  Divorce. Friendships lost.  A parent experiences the death of a child.  A child experiences the death of their parents, and at any age it is difficult.  A person is the victim of a violent crime.  Churches are vandalized.  Monasteries and Friaries close down.  Religious orders and Monastic communities disband.  Church leaders disappoint us.  We go through those spiritual dry spells.  All of these and many more challenge our faith.

It goes without saying that the Jews who were hiding from the Nazis in the cellar in Cologne showed all of us an amazing example of perseverance.  They were understandably terrified.  If they were found (and it is possible that they were), they could be shot on sight or sent to a concentration camp.  Even with all of that going on, they still believed in what they could not see.

In our Advent watching we are waiting for what we cannot see.  On Christmas Day we will remember that God came to us in Christ, but, we will not physically see it.  Faith and perseverance tell us to keep believing, keep watching and “incline the ears of our hearts” even if God seems to be silent.  In Christ, God is closer to us than we think.  In all our uncertainty, doubt and messy lives; God in Christ is already here.

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB

Advent Reflection: Keeping Watch in Prayer and Hope

Hope

‘When we live with hope we do not get tangled with concerns for how our wishes will be fulfilled.  So, too, our prayers are not directed toward the gift, but toward the one who gives it.  Our prayers might still contain just as many desires, but ultimately it is not a question of having a wish come true but of expressing an unlimited faith in the giver of all good things.  You wish that…. but you hope in ….

In the prayer of hope, there are no guarantees asked, no conditions posed, and no proofs demanded.  You expect everything from the other without binding the other in any way.  Hope is based on the premise that the other gives only what is good.  Hope includes an openness by which you wait for the promise to come through, even though you never know when, where, or how this might happen” (With Open Hands, by Henri J.M. Nouwen, p73).

This time of the year, children in the thousands are sitting on Santa Clauses’ lap in houses, schools and malls telling him what they want for Christmas.  It is a wonderful and humbling sight.  Children with their eyes a glow with expectation and wonder.  There is an unspoken poverty of spirit at work.  A child knows that they are somewhat helpless to get what they want unless they ask for it.

On the other hand, the childlike behavior of only liking the other so long as we get what we want, lingers on into adulthood.  We live in a very “get it your way” kind of culture.  Technology and corporate investments make it possible year after year to get more, bigger, better, faster and most convenient.  Can many of these be answers to prayer?  Yes they can.  However, we can also innocently nurture in our subconscious a relationship with God that is based primarily on getting what we want through prayer.  In the quote I used above, Nouwen wrote of praying with hope in God the Gift-Giver, so that we are liberated to let go of our own will as if it is our only true end.  If we have our hope in God with purity of heart, we are contented with allowing God to be enough.  We accept with thanksgiving the answer God gives to our prayers; whether or not we get what we want.

If we need an example of God giving us the best of God’s Self so that we can have hope in God; look no further than the mystery we will celebrate on Thursday, December 25th.  I think that is a very good reason to have faith and hope that God will always do what is best for us.

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB

Advent Reflection: Keeping Watch, Forgive as We Forgive

Lord's Prayer

“Assuredly, the celebration of Lauds and Vespers must never pass by without the superior’s reciting the Lord’s Prayer at the end for all to hear, because thorns of contention are likely to spring up.  Thus warned by the pledge they make to one another in the very words of this prayer: Forgive as we forgive (Matt 6:12), they may cleanse themselves of this kind of vice” (RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English, pages 42-43).

St. Benedict was a very wise and practical man.  He knew that there would need to be some strictness in establishing the monastery as the “school for the Lord’s service” (RB 1980, Prologue vs.48).  At the same time, Benedict made provisions for human weakness to avoid the occasion of murmuring as much as possible.  However much he wanted to avoid it, he also knew that a monastery with more than two Monks in it, would most likely have some kind of contention going on.  It usually takes two (or more) to tango.  To be sure that the members of the community kept in mind who it was that they were there to serve, he asked that the Lord’s Prayer be said during at least two of the Offices.  As Episcopalians and/or Anglicans, we recite it at all four of our Offices.

I think I can speak for most people when I write that all of us know how to assert ourselves to get what we want. If you are like me, you know when to assert yourself, you just are not always good at backing off when enough is enough.

It is easy to pray the Lord’s Prayer at an Office or Mass and feel like we have done our duty. If doing our duty stops at saying the prayer itself, then, we miss the point of saying it at all.  We pray the words: “Forgive as we forgive” to invoke God’s help with both in equal measure.  We acknowledge our poverty of spirit in that we need the mercy of God for ourselves.  Having said that, we also need to admit our poverty in spirit by asking God’s help to forgive those who hurt us.  The words from The Lord’s Prayer afford us the opportunity to pray for our own healing and for the healing of others.

As Advent is drawing to its close in only five days, it is a good time to spend some time in silent prayer going through our memories of those we have injured, and asking God for the strength to forgive those who have hurt us.  Do not be surprised if the “other” you need to forgive is most often, yourself.  God is more than able to help you do that.

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB

Advent Reflection: Keeping Watch, Becoming

Becoming

With Christ’s spirit working within us we can be the means by which his saving work is extended throughout the world. We become his hands, his feet, his voice, and like Mary his mother, bring Christ into the world for others. -Br. Eldridge Pendleton, SSJE.  (Taken from Brother Give Us a Word.  A Ministry of the Society of St. John the Evangelist).

One of the greatest teachings from The Rule of St. Benedict is, “always we begin again.”  Today, we will have those choices before us that I wrote about two blogs ago.  We can chose to allow ourselves to become Christ for others in the world.  We can also chose to just live the day for ourselves.

Allow me to be more fair by writing that all of us need some time to ourselves.  In Chapter one of The Rule of St. Benedict, he describes four kinds of monks.  The first two types of monks are the cenobites and the anchorites or hermits are among the monks he had a lot of admiration for.  The cenobites live in a monastic community under a rule and in obedience to an abbot.  The anchorites or hermits live a more solitary life. Benedict would’ve had to think well of both, because he spent three years in solitude at the cave in Subiaco before he eventually went to Monte Cassino where he wrote The Rule.  The point of historical certainty is, that whether Benedict was at Subiaco or Monte Cassino; he drew individuals who were yearning for something he was finding.

It is important that we allow ourselves to become who God has created and redeemed us to be.  We can learn more about who we are and who we are to become, by spending moments in solitude with God along side periods of work, study, social interaction and recreation.  A balanced spiritual life makes time for all these various things.  The things are the simple part.  The balance is what we all need God’s grace to work at.

In our Advent watching, may we become a greater image of God for ourselves and others as we strive for a better balance in our daily life.

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB

Advent Reflection: Keeping Watch with Yearning

OpenGrave

“Yearn for everlasting life with holy desire.  Day by day remind yourself that you are going to die.  Hour by hour keep careful watch over all you do, aware that God’s gaze is upon you, wherever you may be” (RB: 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict. Chapter 4 On the Tools for Good Works, verses 46-49).

The image and quote I have used to introduce this reflection today do not exactly inspire us.  At least not in the way we would like.  We have grown use to making our lives so comfortable.  In addition, the news media over charges our sensations to the point that we have to tune it out.  Not without good reason.

St. Benedict gave these tools for good works in The Rule so that his monks would work at holiness through both interior and exterior means.  It was not enough to have those sappy moments of contemplation and remain motionless.  God was to be found in what we do from the secrets of our hearts to those things we do before others.  The search for God was to be an all encompassing venture that God calls us to.  Our job as disciples, is to listen and respond.

Lonnie Pratt Collins and Fr. Daniel Homan, OSB in their book, Benedict’s Way: An Ancient Monk’s Insights for a Balanced Life suggest that the image of seeing ourselves next to an open grave should help us ponder very deeply what we are doing with our lives in the here and now.  One day at a moment in time, we will breath our last. Our bodies will be part of the ground people walk on, or be cremated to stay in a box before someone’s fireplace and/or shrine of memory.  Death is inescapable.

St. Benedict admonishes us on God’s behalf to put God first in our lives.  He tells us to yearn for eternal life with God with a holy desire that sees in many possibilities the Holy Spirit’s work to purify our souls .  St. Benedict tells us to remember that one day we will die; and that God’s gaze is upon us in the here and now.  Having written that, it is our responsibility to make good use of what we are given in the here and now.  We are admonished to put ourselves and all we do at the service of Jesus Christ who’s return we are all awaiting in this Season of Advent.

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB

Advent Reflection: Keeping Watch in Serenity, Courage and Wisdom

Serenity

O God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.  (Reinhold Niebuhr).

This famous little prayer is so beautiful because it is equally truthful.  We go through life’s daily activities trying to grab hold of this straw and the next to control what flows through them.  We want more.  We want what is better than what we already have.  We are not satisfied with having won a particular argument with that certain someone, because, we didn’t get them to see our point of view.  We live in a fantasy world with ourselves and others.

The inescapable reality is, that we really do not have total control over any one thing or any one person.  Ultimately, we are not in control of any particular situation to have the desired outcome.  We can apply for the job. We may get it, we may not.  We can take the medicine, but we cannot make it work.  We can plead with a friend of ours to address their addiction, but we cannot make them do the right thing.

There is one thing we do have in just about any situation.  We have choices to make. Each day and moment, God gives us the opportunity to make choices.  In this prayer that has been used by Al-Anon members for decades, we acknowledge our helplessness to make many of those choices.  So, we ask God to help us to accept what we cannot change with a total peace and surrender of ourselves, or to dedicate ourselves in courage to change what we can, and most importantly that wisdom that will know the difference.

Advent is about letting go, finding courage and looking for the Wisdom that is the Incarnate Word of God.  Jesus wants to come to us.  He can come and knock at the doors of our hearts, but, He cannot make the choice for us as to whether or not we let Jesus in.

May we have the serenity, courage and wisdom to let Jesus in and show us the way to love God, our neighbor and ourselves.

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB