Lenten Reflection: Approach the Throne of Grace

ThroneofGrace

Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16, New Revised Standard Version).

I once knew of a paraplegic who said that the worst thing any one would tell him is that they understand what he is going through.  His biggest hangup was that almost every person who told him that was someone who could walk on both legs.  How could someone who can walk, understand what it is like to be unable to walk, use a bathroom without some kind of help or take about an hour to dress himself relate to his experience?  In his defense, they could not understand him.

The writer to the Hebrews tells us that Jesus is our great high priest who identifies with us in all things.  We can become the sore sight of self pity anytime we want, but, as Christians we really have no excuse for going there.  In Jesus Christ, God has experienced the full array of what every human being does.  Including the sudden inability to move His legs as they were nailed to the cross at His crucifixion.  Yet, Jesus is also our example of what it means to live from our essence in the face of suffering.  Rather than dwelling in self doubt or self absorption, Jesus embraces our human suffering with faith in the God that appeared to have abandoned Him.  In that moment, Jesus hung on to nothing at all.  Not even His relationship with God to help Him feel better or hold Himself in higher esteem.  He accepted His suffering and let go of everything else with complete faith and trust in God alone; only full of God’s love for all of us.  “Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34 NRSV).

We can approach the throne of grace that is the Cross boldly; that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.  We are never alone.  We are always in good company.

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB

Lenten Meditation: My Help Comes from God

Hill

I 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 The Book of Common Prayer, p.779).

As we celebrate the feast of the martyr Polycarp, these words from Psalm 121 have a lot to say.

We are reading and/or hearing of stories of how the Coptic Christians are giving their lives in witness to their faith.  Yet, what is really amazing is that we have seen Muslims and Christians come together in various places to guard not only their faith, but also each others dignity.  There are photographic images of Muslims making a human circle around the Coptic Christians as they break bread together.  In return, the Christians make a human circle around the Muslims as they exercise what is important to their religious tradition.  In the face of horrific violence and the very real threat to their personal safety, their single concern is to safeguard each others faith.  The faith they believe and practice in worship, is becoming what they do in real time.

Among the most important truths about centering prayer and/or contemplative prayer is that what we experience should become what we do.  The words from Psalm 121 are the most beautiful of prayers.  There is an acknowledgement of our inability to have all things in life planned and/or mapped out.  We can accept with humility our limitations and failures at various times in our lives; and let them them go.  When we let go we are able to receive in faith the help that comes from God who made heaven and earth.

As we wander through the wilderness during our Lenten journey, we will face the best and worst of ourselves.  We will see areas where we have really been growing.  We will also see in a clearer light; those sins, wounds and behaviors that need our attention in the presence of our loving and healing God.  The message of the Temptation of Christ is that in our times of testing, God is with us and loving us whether we succeed or fail.  God is there reaching out for us to redeem, heal and console.  We can accept and let go because God is never far away.

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB

Lenten Reflection: Be Still

Lit Candle

Be still, then, and know that I am God… (Psalm 46:11a).

Yesterday, the devotional publication Forward Day by Day‘s entry was based on Psalm 37:1,7 which reads, “Do not fret yourself….. Be still before the Lord.”  The writer reminds us that when we do fret over things, we really accomplish nothing more than indulge in our false sense of self.  When we fret we become self centered.  Our faith diminishes, because we base the outcome on our ability to control something.  The more we try to control, the more out of control we become.

The very familiar words I used to begin this blog post from Psalm 46:11a are found in a poem that sounds very much like everything is in chaos.  It begins with talking about God being our refuge and strength in time of trouble, mountains being toppled, waters raging and foaming and later on moves to kingdoms being shaken.  It seems to be both a Psalm of exaltation and facing the realities of life around those who wrote it.  It appears to me, and perhaps it will to you too, that the words I quoted for this post come in the midst of all the turmoil to suggest not so much a stillness of the world around us, but a stillness of ourselves in the presence of God in spite of chaos.   In these words, is a word from God to know God from within the depth of ourselves so that whatever else may be going on, we are still and maintain our confidence in the power and presence of God.

It certainly seems that this stillness must have been in Jesus as He endured the reality of His passion and death.  Jesus experienced the depth of human rejection, betrayal by a good friend and the total surrendering of even His relationship with God to the point of His death.  Yet, He was never completely separate from God, as He was the Word of God in human form.  In spite of all that went on around Him, Jesus clung to God by faith in obedience out of love.  Though the world around Him and about Him fell apart; Jesus remained still in the presence of God trusting that no matter what He had to face, God was still with him.

May God help us this Lent to spend some time being still in silence and solitude.  May we have the faith and trust that Jesus had, and become a still and peaceful light of God’s presence in the chaotic world around us.

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB

Lenten Reflection: God’s Treasured Possession

Treasured Possession

Moses convened all Israel, and said to them: You are a people holy to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on earth to be his people, his treasured possession. (Deuteronomy 7:6 NRSV).

These words are both a reason for celebration and a word of caution.  God really does love and cherish us as God’s own treasured possession.  We also have a tremendous responsibility to the One who treasures us.

In this reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, God has brought Israel out of the slavery of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.  God is challenging the people through Moses to see how much they are loved by God, that God let nothing stand in God’s way of delivering them.  Not even the Red Sea.

As Christians, our God showed us how much we are treasured by giving us Jesus Christ who died a horrible death to save us from our own bondage.  The bondage of living and believing that we are only worth what we say, do, think, believe, own, smell, taste, see and touch.  Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, we have been redeemed and reclaimed by God.  We have not been reclaimed to continue to live by our false-sense of self.  We have been redeemed to own nothing.  God is so madly in love with us, that God wants us to search for and find union with God with a pure heart.

May we contemplate on this Thursday after Ash Wednesday, how much we are treasured by God.  May we bask in the Light of God’s love and enjoy being God’s treasured possession.

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB

Ash Wednesday: The Beginning of the Road

Beginning Lent

“Do not be daunted immediately by fear and run away from the road that leads to salvation.  It is bound to be narrow at the outset.  But as we progress in this way of life and in faith, we shall run the path of Gods commandments, our hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love.” (RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English.  The Prologue, vs.48,49. p.19).

The saying is more true than we like to admit; the first step is the hardest one.  We live in an era of procrastination due to all of the things we put in the way of the important things in life.  There is an email to read, a Facebook wall to look over, a job task, a place to go; that takes up our time and energy.  So, we put off that difficult conversation we really need to have with a member of the family or a dear friend.  “There’s always tomorrow.”

As we celebrate the beginning of Lent on this Ash Wednesday, we read in 2 Corinthians 6:2b, “See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!”  Today and at this moment we can take that first step towards a deeper relationship with God.  The beginning is always the most difficult.  St. Benedict wrote The Rule for beginners.  He knows that when we begin something we see all the obstacles in our way, including but not limited to ourselves.  St. Benedict and St. Paul tell us to not be afraid and run away.  We are beginning again on a new day, a new season in which we can contemplate and walk on a new path towards real personal freedom in God’s unfathomable mercy.

What I love about what St. Benedict wrote in this quote from the Prologue is his assurance that the road itself is a means of progress.  It is a progress that will deepen our awareness of God that “our hearts [will be] overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love”.  It means that no matter how difficult taking that first step is, once we do take it; the love of God and our neighbor will pour out of us and give the new life of a holy Easter with a joy that we will not be able to contain.

May God bless you as we begin Lent today.

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB

Contemplate Hope

Hope

For we are born in the present only to be reborn in the future.  Our attachment, therefore, should not be to the transitory; instead, we must be intent upon the eternal.  Let us think of how divine grace has transformed our earthly natures so that we may contemplate more closely our heavenly hope.  We hear the Apostle say: You are dead and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  But when Christ your life appears, then you will also appear in glory with him, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever.  Amen.  (By St. Leo the Great, The Liturgy of the Hours, Volume III, Ordinary Time Weeks 1-17, p.192).

If there is one thing that I have been learning throughout my Novitiate that has had a powerful impact on me, is how much I cling to my false-sense of self.  It is something we all do to some degree.  The false-sense of self contains our “need” to be comforted, approved of, to be right all the time, to insist that others must like me, be treated the way I like to be treated, and to have control over everything and anything.  Our false-sense of self is also where all of our thoughts are.  The thoughts of things, places, people, events, ideologies, pride, our need to possess things and more.  Our false-sense of self also contains our high expectations of ourselves and others around us.  Within our false-sense of self is also the notion that if I live by the labels that others place upon me, I will find self acceptance and the acceptance of others.

In this reading from St. Leo today, we are invited to contemplate the eternal hope we have in our Loving God.  The labels, possessions, pride, theologies, events are all temporary and passing away.  They do not contain the reality of who we are, and for Whom we are created and redeemed.  In the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, our real life is hidden in the bosom of God’s unconditional love and boundless mercy.  Our true-sense of self is forgiven and restored by God’s grace.  The true and eternal hope that we are invited to contemplate today, is union with God.  A union that is not found in comfortable feelings or the praise of human words, but by faith in God with thanksgiving, adoration and praise.

May we contemplate the heavenly hope we have in Jesus Christ today, and pray for one another in our journey of faith.

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB

The Importance of Solitude

Anthony

Just as fish die if they stay too long out of water, so the monks who loiter outside their cells or pass their time with men of the world lose the intensity of inner peace.  So like a fish going towards the sea, we must hurry to reach ourselves, for fear that if we delay outside we will lose our interior watchfulness. (St. Anthony the Great).

There are those who have great difficulty with the idea of dispersed monastics, such as The Companions of St. Luke of which I am a Novice Member.  The complication is quite valid in light of a writing such as what I quoted above from St. Anthony.  There are many who admit that they could not live with and/or in a residential monastic community, but the idea of the existence of a community that is non-residential; let alone allows their members to be married/partnered, have every day jobs and pray our Offices on our own; that kind of thing just seems too wrong for many.

The Companions of St. Luke/Order of St. Benedict along with other Christian Communities within The Episcopal Church are part of a New Monasticism.  A Monasticism that views the Vow of Stability for example, as being about finding Stability in Christ and the particular Community we are vowed to.  We observe The Rule of St. Benedict in that we pray the Daily Offices, pray Lectio Divina daily, and we are obedient to our Superiors in what they require of us in terms of our work of Formation, or any other work we might do as requested.  We also seek stability in all of our relationships including but not limited to our spouses, family members, etc.  Incidentally, the Companions of St. Luke/OSB and Communities within The Episcopal Church are joined by a similar Catholic Community such as the Brothers and Sisters of Charity at Little Portion Hermitage founded by John Michael Talbot, also part of the New Monasticism.

One of the requirements I have accepted as a Novice is to seek those moments of silence and solitude. It is a time to turn off all the electronic devices, close the door of my room and center myself, my thoughts and seek the presence of God.  As Thomas Keating wrote in Open Minds, Open Hearts, “God speaks the language of silence.”  In this way, even dispersed monastics are “in the world, but not of the world.”  We give up the pleasures of continual conversation, doing everything to please others to get our own pleasure, a never ending wandering of our own desires and face ourselves in the presence of God.  We do not spend time in silence and solitude to escape ourselves.  On the contrary, we enter into silence and solitude to meet the best and the worst of ourselves in the presence of God; to experience God refining us as silver is refined in the fire.

The need for solitude and silence is not isolated to monastics.  As Christians, we are all inundated with social media, the news media’s endless campaign to over charge our senses, family obligations, work and more.  Contemplative prayer is not impossible with these things going on, but our ability to listen to God becomes quite limited.  It is very important that we take time as Elijah did to listen for the still, small voice of God that speaks not in the earthquake, the fire or the wind; but in the silence of our hearts, stilled by the Spirit’s gentle whisper.

May we remember today and every day to take those moments unselfishly, so that just as two people in love can spend time together and not say a word; God can spend some quiet time with us.

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB

Show Me Your Path

Pathways

Show me your ways, O LORD, and teach me your paths.  Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; in you have I trusted all the day long.  (Psalm 25:3,4 The Book of Common Prayer).

In The Rule of St. Benedict, chapter 7 on Humility, he writes about steps two and three.  Step two, Benedict writes is about not loving our own will; while step three is about being obedient to our Superior.  Why are these so difficult to comprehend much less do today?  It is because we live in a society where self sufficiency is the name of the game.  If you cannot do it all by yourself, there must be something wrong with you.  There is also the matter of how we define the word freedom.  Freedom is defined by our contemporary society as being able to do as we please, without being accountable to anyone.  Is it any wonder that wealth, power, consumerism and the stewardship of the earth’s many valuable resources are so out of control?

St. Benedict challenges us with these words about not loving our own will and being obedient to another, because we were created to live in community with one another.  It is much too simple to do our daily devotions, go to Mass, engage in conversation about the Scriptures; and still miss the mark of what living the Christian life is about.

Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB probably wrote it best in The Rule of Benedict: A Spirituality for the 21st Century.

It is so simple, so simplistic, to argue that we live for the God we do not see when we reject the obligations we do see.  Benedictine Spirituality does not allow for the fantasy.  Benedict argues that the third rung on the ladder of humility is the ability to submit ourselves to the wisdom of another.  We are not the last word, the final answer, the clearest insight into anything.  We have one word among many to contribute to the mosaic of life, one answer of many answers, one insight out of multiple perspectives.  Humility lies in learning to listen to the words, directions, and insights of the one who is the voice of Christ for me now.  To stubbornly resist the challenges of people who have a right to lay claim to us and an obligation to do good by us–parents, spouses, teachers, supervisors–is a dangerous excursion into arrogance and a denial of the very relationships that are the stuff of which our sanctity is made.

Rungs one and two call for contemplative consciousness.  Rung three brings us face to face with our struggle for power.  It makes us face an authority outside of ourselves.  But once I am able to do that, then there is no end to how high I might rise, how deep I might grow (pages 84-85).

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB

Your Light Shall Rise

LightinDarkness

“your light shall rise in the darkness” (Isaiah 58:10b, NRSV).

The Prophet Isaiah is telling God’s people of all the things God wants to be able to do through them.  Our lives are not an island unto ourselves, however much we might like things to be otherwise.  We share our lives with the poor, the lonely, the sick, the discouraged and those who are different than we are.  God challenges us to do more than just fast and pray, but to use those things to respond in reverence and love to the presence of God in others around us.

The few words from Isaiah “your light shall rise in the darkness” spoke very powerfully to me today.  Through these words, I hear the Holy Spirit wanting to make a change in my life that is so profound that the light within me rises from the darkness.  If that light rises in my life, it is because I accepted God’s call within myself to respond in love to be roused from my slumber “to translate into action, God’s holy teachings” (The Rule of St. Benedict, Prologue 35).

Lectio Divina (the prayerful reading of Scripture) is about more than knowing this truth in my mind.  I have to allow God to transform me in my heart (that is the whole of myself) so that it becomes more and more the way I live.  God is very patient with me, but calls me to take a step toward a transparent way of living the Gospel.

May God continue to transform you and me so that we may all respond to God in our hearts; that our light will rise out of the darkness and illuminate the world around us with the love of Christ.

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB

O God, Eagerly I Seek You

Serenity

O God, you are my God; eagerly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you, as in a barren and dry land where there is no water.  Therefore I have gazed upon you in your holy place, that I might behold your power and your glory. (Psalm 63:1-2, The Book of Common Prayer, p.670).

Just before I began writing this blog post, I did a search on Google for an image of searching.  The only images I could find were copied and pasted images of a Google search engine. LOL.   So, I settled for what I used above the Scripture verse for today.  I chose it because the verse from Psalm 63 speaks of searching for God eagerly with a firm faith that God is the One who quenches our thirsting souls.  The picture is of a person sitting on a dock looking out at a foggy body of water, with very little visibility.  What inspires me is that the one sitting there views all of it with beauty and hopeful expectation.

We do not always get to chose the moment or environment in which to search for God.  Most circumstances are beyond our control.  Yet, those moments are opportunities to search for God beyond what we can see or understand; so that God can give us a new perspective.  Each opportunity for a new perspective widens our vision of God in what is invisible.  It is experienced and lived; even if it isn’t something that can be touched or comprehended.

Today, right where we are, whatever we are doing or experiencing; God is searching for us more than we are for God.  Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB often writes, “We are seeking God, who has already been found.”  God is already deep in our hearts, longing to be loved and held; only to become the most pure expression of who we really are.  God’s Beloved, with whom God is well pleased.

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB