Reflection on Mount Zion’s Unshakableness

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Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion: which cannot be shaken but stands forever.  As the hills enfold Jerusalem: so you enfold your people O Lord, now and forever.  (Psalm 125:1-2 A New Zealand Prayer Book. p. 352).

All of us have those moment in our lives when we might question the symbolism written in this Psalm.  How can we be like Mount Zion which can never be shaken?  How many of us have prayed for the restoration of health for ourselves or someone we love believing in the power of God to answer our prayers, yet we do not get what we asked?

The writer of this Psalm knew exactly what it is like to struggle with trusting in God with what feels like life around him crumbling to pieces.  The Psalmist knew that trusting in God was the only hope he had.

Praying these Psalms with such picturesque language gives us a sense that God knows what we go through and is not very far from where we are.  The Holy Spirit uses them to  open our hearts to contemplate the wondrous mystery of God’s abiding presence.  God gives us the grace to listen for how much faith God has in us and wants us to have unwavering trust in God.  Our greatest strength is to let go, and allow God to love us and heal us.

The Psalmist gives us another hopeful analogy.  Just as the hills around Jerusalem enfold the city, so God enfolds us at this moment and for ever.   We are never left alone and without love.  God is always with us and embraces us in the Incarnate Word and gives us the most affectionate experience of God’s love.

Are we ready to trust in God and receive the love God wants us to experience?

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB

Searching for Answers When There Are None

Hope

 

I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them and give them gladness for sorrow.  (Jeremiah 31:13.  A New Zealand Prayer Book, p.695).

In The Rule of Saint Benedict, Chapter 4: On the Tools for Good Works, he wrote in verse 74, “And finally, never lose hope in God’s mercy.” (RB 1980, p.29).

Life is cruel at times.  Life makes no sense.  The are no answers for many of the horrific things that happen to us or around us.  We mourn and live with sorrow when excessive violence occurs.  That was certainly the scene as we recall this Commemoration of the Holy Innocents.  We remember today all of the children up to 2 years old that were slaughtered.   We can speculate what God may be saying to all of humankind through these things, but, unless we know the mind of God (which no one but God knows), looking for answers when there are none; will only leave us more confused.

What we do know through our faith, is that when we feel so alone with all of our unanswered questions about what happens in this world; God is drawing closer to us.  God comes closer to be our consolation, to share our sorrow and to walk with us in the Incarnate Word so that we may “not lose hope in God’s mercy.”  Only three days after Christmas, the Church asks us to meditate on the Holy Innocents to know that in Christ, God is present and weeps when we weep.

Among the things that happens to us when we are grieving the things we cannot wrap our minds around; all of our certainties become out of order.  Through it, God turns our world view upside down and leads us to a deeper relationship with God in a mystical union of holy love and grace.  Through such experiences we are able through God’s grace to contemplate ever so deeply, what God wants of us, individually and collectively.

Are we listening?

It is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes; these have been redeemed form humanity as first fruits for God and the Lamb. (Revelation 14:4. A New Zealand Prayer Book, p.696).

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB

The Incarnate Word and The Light

LightPiercingDarkness

 

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.  (1 John 1:5 NRSV).

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:5 NRSV).

 

The First Sunday after Christmas repeats the use of John 1:1-18 that we heard on Christmas Day.  This year, this Sunday and the commemoration of St. John the Evangelist occurs on the same day.  Because it is a Sunday, the Feast of St. John the Evangelist is replaced by the First Sunday after Christmas.   At the same time, I think that both occurring the same day and date are prophetic in their own right.

The two themes that repeat themselves in the Gospel of John and his first letter is the Word and the Light.  Jesus who is the Incarnate Word is inseparable from the Light.  We see through the darkness because of the Light.  We hear God because of the Incarnate Word.

As St. Benedict wrote in The Prologue to The Rule, his very first word was listen.  Rearrange those letters and we get the word silent.  Benedict tells us to “incline the ears of our heart.”  He begins with these words because to know God more deeply, is to listen deeply to God speaking through The Word.  To see God is to look for the Light.

May all of us look for the Light of God in love and holiness in our many relationships.  May we listen to the Incarnate Word so we may know God in our hearts.  May we respond by what we hear in our hearts, so that others may see things from God’s point of view.  It is a contemplative experience and quite mystical.

Jesus, new beginning, heavenly bread, living water, we hear the word of life, we see and grasp the truth; help us to proclaim it. Amen (A New Zealand Prayer Book, p.694).

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB

 

 

Reflection on St. Stephen

StStephen

 

Stephen said, “I can see heaven open, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God’. (Acts 7:56) (A New Zealand Prayer Book, p.693).

It sounds like St. Stephen had a contemplative and mystical experience while he was being stoned to death.  It certainly was not a peaceful or silent moment.  Being dragged out of the city and be stoned to death for proclaiming the truth he knew about Jesus as he did; yet, he had this vision of Jesus at the right hand of God.

In the last two days of my mother’s life, she groaned and moaned a lot.  To be honest, this was the first time I had ever been at the bedside of a dying person.  It was a very powerful spiritual experience.  When I asked the hospice nurse about the groaning and moaning, she said that mom was talking with the other side.  As my mother was handing over everything physical and material, she was embracing ever so graciously what is spiritual.  My mother could not talk in those final moments of her life.  Yet, she did say one word very clearly that she had not said in sixteen years.  She said, “Ma”.

St. Stephen’s mystical experience of Jesus, and my mother’s were the work of the Holy Spirit.  At the moment of the greatest chaos, pain, suffering and death; our God becomes ever more visible and tangible.  In those moments, we see everything from God’s view point.  All that is touchable in this life, becomes the “rubbish” that St. Paul wrote about in Philippians 3:7.  What becomes crucial is the revelation of God who seeks union with us, as we embrace God in a holy union of body, mind, soul and spirit.

Jesus, your glory is not in power alone, but even more in suffering and death, may Stephen’s vision crown our resolution and keep us true. Amen. (A New Zealand Prayer Book, p.693).

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB

Christmas Day Reflection

Nativity

 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.  What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:1-5 NRSV).

 

I want to apologize to all of you who have been wondering where I have been or what I have been doing.   This past Fall and leading into the Advent Season, my mother passed away on November 22nd.  I was her personal caregiver and advocate during her illness.  Her death was very peaceful, and I was most blessed to have shared those final moments with her.  I miss her very much, but I believe that she is at peace in the arms of our holy God.  I ask for and thank you for your prayers as I walk this year of grief as I try to fill in the gap that has been left in my life because of her loss.

The loss of my mother and the faith and knowledge that she is in God’s care is one of the greatest things for me to contemplate today.  It is that Word that “life” that has come into being because of the Incarnation.  That faith in the Word made flesh gives us hope as we travel the hardest journeys of our lives.  Jesus is the Word that has always been there, and always will be.  He is the Word that came to us as one like us in all things, to show us what our lives can be like from God’s perspective of pure love.

In contemplative prayer, we seek union with God so that more and more, we may enter into a fuller relationship with what is visible and invisible.  Christ the Incarnate Word is not just words written down, He is the Living Word who lives in relationship with The Holy Essence of God, who seeks to live in union with our essence.  It is a union that seeks purity of heart, so that we find that union with the God who has already found it with us.

May our Christmas celebrations be filled with the wonder of God’s holy presence.   May the Word that brings life to all things, bring peace and joy to our conflicts and sadness.

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB

Friday Reflection: The Hard Lesson of Peter’s Denial

Crucifixus

“Peter said to Jesus, “Even though all become deserters, I will not.”  Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.”  But he said vehemently, ” Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.”  All of them said the same.”  (Mark 14:29-31 NRSV).

I recently found myself in a place of deep grief.  A dear friend whom I had placed a great deal of trust in, turned out to be dishonest and deserted me.  I struggled deeply with the feelings I had of betrayal, hurt and sadness.  It was so difficult for me to believe what had happened.  I felt alone and in very deep personal pain.

One morning during the Greater Silence before Matins, I was sitting in prayer before the Altar with a Crucifix behind it.  As I brought my grief and loss to Jesus on the Cross in contemplative prayer, I said in my heart, “Jesus, I feel so betrayed.”  Jesus’ response to my thoughts were, “Tell me about it!”  “I know about betrayal and loneliness.  I had twelve disciples with me for close to three years.  One of them said he would die before he would deny me, but he denied me three times.  The other disciples scattered in fear.  Yet, I still loved them, and wished them peace at my Resurrection.”  In that moment, I felt a contemplative experience that transcended my grief, while being imminently close to what I was feeling.

In The Rule of Saint Benedict, Chapter 7: On Humility, he writes:

The sixth step of humility is that a monk is content with the lowest and most menial treatment, and regards  himself as a poor and worthless workman in whatever task he is given, saying with the Prophet: I am insignificant and ignorant, no better than a beast before you, yet I am always with you (Ps. 73:22-23).  (RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English, p.36).

Now to be perfectly clear, St. Benedict is not saying that we submit ourselves to low self esteem or accepting horrific abuse, etc.  Quite the contrary.  Saint Benedict is telling us, that it is okay to be last in line.  It is a good thing when someone else is preferred over us.  The notion that we are not fully human unless we are first in everything, have to be liked, preferred, accepted by everyone, agreed with etc; is based on a false-sense of self.  If we are last in line, etc, and have to talk about it with everyone by calling people’s attention to it without moderation, that is not humility either.  It is a form of self-indulgence that leads us to our false-sense of self.   Saint Benedict is telling us that our true selves is found in “preferring nothing whatsoever to Christ, that he may lead us all to everlasting life.” (RB Chapter 72: 11-12).  Preferring nothing to Christ includes our unrealistic need to be comfortable with everything no matter what.  God did not make us and redeem us to be miserable.  God created us to seek union with God through purity of heart with abandonment of everything else including ourselves with faith and trust in God’s Providence.  It is a process that takes a lifetime of living and turning ourselves over.

As we meditate on Peter’s denial and the meaning of The Cross, we can also find the greatest solace in knowing that whatever grief or trouble we are experiencing; our God in Jesus Christ is walking through it with us.  As Jesus gave up everything to depend only on God the Father through faith, so must we in the long run.  The Cross is about letting go of everything that holds us back from total dependence on God, and find our greatest meaning and fulfillment in God for the sake of God’s Self.

May all of us pray for and be with each other in Christ, as Christ remains with each of us in the difficulties and challenges we live through.

Amen.

Peace be to all who enter here.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB

Reflection on the Fall Season

FoliageConceptionAbbey(The image above is a photograph I took of the foliage at Conception Abbey in the fall of 2014.)

Day by day remind yourself that you are going to die.  (RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English, p. 28).

I imagine the above quote will rattle some of my readers.  What a way to begin the work week.  Yet, it is just as important.

The Season of Fall is about death and dying.  The grass that was so green during the Summer months has been turning brown.  The animals are gathering their food to begin hibernating for the Winter.  The leaves are turning into their beautiful colors as they prepare to fall on the ground and die.  All of these are reminders that life in this world begins and ends.  While we are so fortunate to be here at whatever stage of life we are in, we have work to do.  The work includes showing how beautiful the world really is and can be; even though it is all temporary.

All of the things that we hang on to and have to let go of; are passing away and leading us towards a new life beyond the grave.  Have you ever noticed that the leaves on the trees turn into their various colors without hardly ever trying to hang onto their leaves?  Can you imagine what the world would be like if the trees complained as much as we do about having to let go of what we think is beautiful and worth keeping.

Saint Benedict tells us to keep the fact that we are going to die in the front most part of our minds.  He tells us this because the prayer and work we have to do is preparing us for the ultimate act of letting go.  It is about letting go so that we can enter more fully into a relationship with God alone.  The goal for Saint Benedict is to “prefer Christ above all else.” (Chapter 72).

In centering prayer, we are practicing the acts of accepting things as they are and letting them go.  We let go as the Holy Spirit takes us through silence into letting go because “only you, Lord, make (us) dwell in safety”. (Psalm 4:8. The Book of Common Prayer, p.129).  As we let things go, we are led into contemplative prayer so that we may view things from God’s perspective.  Centering prayer and contemplative prayer open us up to enter into the realm of God with faith and trust so that we can receive God’s gracious presence and loving mercy.  We cannot do that, however, unless and until we let everything go (including our own lives) into God’s hands seeking only union with God for God’s sake and not our own.  “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (Matthew 5:8, NRSV).

May we all have the grace to accept things as they are, and let them go so that we may experience the fullness of God’s love in this world and in the next.

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB

Reflection on Desire

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O Lord, you know all my desires, and my sighing is not hidden from you. (Psalm 38:9. The Book of Common Prayer, p.637).  

We do not have to look very hard around us to know that we live in a time of instant gratification being on steroids.  Our computers, iphones, ipads and such can keep us tuned into everything from our favorite video games to social media and more.  As marvelous and amazing as these things are, there is still a deep void that cries out from within our hearts that longs to be filled by more than instant gratification can possibly satisfy.

The words from Psalm 38 are dangerous words.  They require us to let go of the things that bring us instant gratification, so that we may allow the God who wants to love us so deeply can truly fulfill our ultimate desire.  God brings us the fulfillment of desire that calls for us to abandon ourselves to give ourselves over to what is infinite and comes in God’s sweet time.  The desire to know beyond a shadow of doubt, that we are loved in ways that our minds could not possibly comprehend.  When we open ourselves to the God who knows all our desires and has heard our sighing even more that we can feel or utter; we risk being displaced by the Holy Spirit to be touched by things that we cannot see or explain, but calls us to a deeper love of God and our neighbor.  We can only know within ourselves that there is some thing or someone there, that touch cannot satisfy.  Our emotions may be engaged, but no feeling can actualize enough to say exactly what it is or surmised by any human logic.

In Contemplative Prayer and the mystical experience of the Holy One, we experience a glimpse of how much God desires us.  After all, the desires are there by God’s initiative not ours.  The sighs are not hidden from God, because those sighs are reaching out to our God who hears them as clearly as a sparrow in spring calling out for its mate.  It is that same creative and redemptive love through which Jesus gave His life on the Cross, and rose again from the dead so that we might experience such love from God’s perspective.  All we “know” is God, because God is all that matters.  The fulfillment of our desires for the One for whom our sighing is really meant.

May all of us grow in love and trust for our God who knows our desires, and hears our sighing.

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB

Reflection on Righteousness and Stumbling

BenVigilsCast your burden upon the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous stumble.  (Psalm 55:24. The Book of Common Prayer, p.662).

The words above spoke to me a couple of days ago during the Office of Diurnum (or Noonday Prayer).

The first part of the verse is beautifully sung in the well known Oratorio Elijah by Felix Mendelssohn.  The melody suggests the freedom from the burden by casting it upon the Lord with complete trust in God’s ability to sustain us.

The second part, “he will never let the righteous stumble” really caught my attention.  The Antiphon before this part of the Psalm is prayed read, “God will never let the righteous stumble.”  After I read those words, I found myself praying about them in Lectio Divina.  I have no reason to expect God to keep me from stumbling.  I am a weak man with the capability to think only of myself and about myself.  I can confess quite openly that I have those times in my life when I find myself caught between what God may want me to do, and what I want to do; only to choose my way with haste.

The answer to this prayer came by way of a book I am reading entitled, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  On page 48, Bonhoeffer writes,

“Can we, with the Psalmist, call ourselves innocent, devout, and righteous?  We dare not do so in so far as we are ourselves.  We cannot declare our virtue as the prayer of our own perverse heart.  But we can and should do so as a prayer out of the heart of Jesus Christ that was sinless and clean, out of the innocence of Christ in which he has given us a share by faith.  In so far as “Christ’s blood and righteousness” has become “our beauty, our glorious dress,”  we can and we should pray the psalms of innocence as Christ’s prayer for us and gift to us.  These Psalms, too, belong to us through him.”

In Chapter 19, The Discipline of the Psalmody, of The Rule of Saint Benedict, he wrote,

“We believe that the divine presence is everywhere and that in every place the eyes of the Lord are watching the good and the wicked (Prov. 15:3).  But beyond the least doubt we should believe this to be especially true when we celebrate the divine office.” (RB 1980, p.47).

What is our point of contemplative prayer here?

God’s perspective of us is through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  It is because of this great mystery of our faith as Christians that we can depend on God not letting the righteousness that is ours through Christ stumble with no place else to turn.  We can and should turn to the mercy of God in Christ so that the righteousness which we have gained through Christ Jesus becomes a living reality; even through our common faults.  God seems to know very well what to do with those.

This seems to be one incredible moment of contemplative prayer.

What do you think?

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB

The Transfiguration and Contemplation

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About eight days after Jesus had foretold his death and resurrection, Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”–not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.  (Luke 9:28-36 NRSV).

Last month I visit The Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration in Dallas, Texas.  The image above is a photo I took of their exquisite Altar with the art work of the Transfiguration behind it.  If you zoom into the image, you will see each of the characters in the Transfiguration narrative depicted as best as they can be.  This image has been attracting me in prayer and contemplation since I first saw it.  Now, here on today’s Feast of the Transfiguration which we commemorate every year on August 6th; I am so excited to share this moment of contemplation with my readers here.  Peter and John are featured in the two side panels, while James is laying on the ground at the bottom, with Moses and Elijah on either side of the Transfigured Christ.   We have two small images of Jesus and the three disciples going up the mountain before and down after.  The three images below it are Elijah being taken up in the chariot of fire, the Trinity Icon and Moses receiving the Ten Commandments on the other side.  Truly an amazing depiction of what we are commemorating today.  Happy Feast Day to this wonderful Parish.

What about the Transfiguration draws us into deep prayer and contemplation?  Is it the white light and Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah?  Is it the voice from heaven?  Are we thinking about the three Disciples, Peter, James and John?  Is the picturesque language of what Jesus might be like in the glory of Heaven after the Resurrection calling to us in wherever we happen to be in our own lives?

In The Rule of St. Benedict, he tells us that “We are already counted as God’s and therefore must not do anything to grieve God by our actions.” (Prologue, vs. 5).

Among the ways in which we can contemplate the Transfiguration, is that God has already counted us as belonging to God through Christ.  Whether we are sturdy on our feet or scared of the reality of the wonder of Christ in our lives; we are all in the presence of God and given a brief glimpse of Jesus through the ordinary things of life.  We have those moments when what God says to us is as clear as can be.  Other times, God is mysterious and we wonder what in the world is going on.  In any case, Jesus is there with us and it is good for us to be with Him.  I believe that the contemplation of God being close to us in Christ is that moment by which we see ourselves and the world from God’s point of view for today.

May we in moments of silence and prayer, be open to see Christ transfigured within our limitations to “behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6) among us in one another.

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB