Christmas Reflection: Receiving and Responding to the Word

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

“But to all who received him, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.  And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of the only son, full of grace and truth.  (John 1:13,14 NRSV).

I want to wish everyone a most blessed and holy Christmas Season.  What a joy it is to share this reflection with you.

The beauty and wonder of this Christmas Eve/Day/Night catches all of our human senses.   We find ourselves caught up in the wonder of God’s love born in Jesus Christ.  The Word made flesh.  The Word that is spoken, written is born into our living and troubled humanity.

The romantic and cozy feeling of Christmas is a bit of a disillusionment. Oh we sing and read those beautiful words of the Angels: “Glory to God in the highest and peace to His people on earth.”  However,  Jesus was born into our human messes.  He came in very dark times with a lot of violence, poverty and helplessness all around Him.  God was born as a vulnerable child into our poverty as one so helpless to tell us that God walks with us as one of us.

The Word came to us in grace and truth so that we who open our hearts to listen to His voice and accept Jesus are given the power to become children of God.  God revealed to us through Christ God’s perspective of all of us being God’s Beloved, with whom God is well-pleased.

God coming to us in the Incarnate Word is the wondrous mystical experience we can breath in and out in our Contemplative and Centering Prayer.  Christ comes to lead us to a deeper awareness so that we may seek union with God.  As we search for that union, God reveals to us through Christ that God has already found us.

May the Word who comes among us on this Christmas Eve/Day/Night, fill your hearts and lives with the love with which He taught us to love God. one another and ourselves.

Amen.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

Visit http://www.cos-osb.net

Advent Reflection: Forgive as We Forgive

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“Assuredly, the celebration of Lauds and Vespers must never pass by without the superior’s reciting the entire 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 us as we forgive (Matt 6:12)”.  (RB 1980: The Rule of Saint Benedict in English and Latin, Chapter 13: The Celebration of Lauds on Ordinary Days. p.209).

One of the more difficult things about beginning to live with a new spouse/partner is getting used to each others habits and routines.  Everything from how one wipes their feet before they walk in the door to where they leave their dirty laundry just drives us crazy.

In a Monastery, the number of different personalities is multiplied by more than six.  In some of the larger Monasteries there can be over 100 Monastics in one community.  The members live on top of each other 24/7.  Old, young, new and the long timers are all in one place.

St. Benedict included the chapter about Lauds and more specifically the words in The Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive as we forgive” because of human nature and the unavoidable consequence of conflict within the community.  Such conflict has the ability to bring division and harm to the wider community.  So, St. Benedict wants to take care of the initial “cut” if you will, before the poison from the wound infects the entire house.

So many things happen in our lives.  Things that are not our fault.  Other times we may have been a little short with someone. If you are like me, there are times in which I think about no one else but myself.

Among the most important persons we need to forgive is ourselves.  Forgiving ourselves is a very important piece of the Contemplative life of prayer and mysticism.  Failing to forgive others and ourselves is very toxic to our relationship with God and those around us.  If we can’t even forgive ourselves; we become our own worst enemy.

A few years ago when I was contemplating what I wanted to do in terms of a church vocation, I was led into a deep experience of the Holy  with the words, “Forgive as we forgive.”  As I walked through my mind with God down the list of people I needed to forgive, God began speaking to my heart concerning all the things I was still holding myself guilty of.  The Holy Spirit and I went through many instances where I blamed myself for things I was not responsible for; yet, I was still punishing myself with a guilt that was not even mine.  It was an experience that set me free from prisons I did not even realize I was keeping myself locked up in.

As we prepare to welcome the Christ Child at the celebration of the Nativity, we recall that Jesus came among us in the midst of our human messes.  Through Jesus, God came to tell us, “It is okay. I am here as one like you, to walk with you.”  Jesus journeys with us to help us forgive ourselves and others.

What do the words, “Forgive as we forgive” mean for you this Advent and Christmas Seasons?

Amen.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

Visit us at: http://www.cos-osb.org

Advent Reflection: God Is With Us

Nativity

 

“Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name, Emmanuel”  Meaning “God is with us.” (Matthew 1:23, RSV).

There is a lot going on around us.  Preparations for the celebration of Christmas.  Shopping.  Wrapping.  Writing out Christmas cards.  Choirs preparing for the Christmas Eve service.  Organists preparing their pieces with the additional instruments.  Clergy writing sermons, making their holiday rounds for the shut ins, etc.  People are volunteering for the local soup kitchens to serve a Christmas meal for those who are in need.

As we journey through Late Advent to the celebration of the Nativity, we are comforted by the words, “God is with us.”

There are many for whom the Christmas holidays are anything but comfortable and joyful.  Many of us have painful memories of family who are no longer with us.  Last year I was in a year of grief when my mother passed away November 22, 2015.  I was never so happy to see January 2nd arrive.  Perhaps there are families with members in the military who are far from home.  What does “God with us” mean for them?

Whether our lives are in some kind of happy order or not, the mystery that we can celebrate is that God is with us.  God is with us and we are loved beyond our wildest imaginations.  We are loved and viewed by God as God’s beloved in Christ, God’s Beloved Son.  God sees what is in our hearts.  God cares about what is happening, including, but not limited to those moments when our faith is shaken or weakened.

God is with us.  God is here seeking union with us and calling us to seek union with God.

How are you celebrating or longing for the words “God is with us”?

Amen.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

Visit http://www.cos-osb.org to learn more about The Contemplatives of Subiaco-Order of Saint Benedict.

Advent Reflection: Waiting, Hungry and Empty

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“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him” (Psalm 37:7, The Book of Common Prayer, p. 633).

A very wise spiritual director once told me that it is better to pray while feeling physically hungry.  His reasoning for this is that when we are hungry and wanting physically it is a reminder that we “do not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).   There is also the famous words from the Beatitudes. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God” (Matthew 5:3).  Matthew 5:6 is just as important. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.”

The inspiration for writing about waiting and being hungry came from a blog post by The Episcopal Bishop of Minnesota, the Rt. Rev. Brian Prior.

The Advent season invites us, dare I say challenges us, to NOT fill our waiting space. I know that sounds incredibly inefficient at best and uncomfortable at worst. However, when we allow our waiting space to be an empty place, in my experience, God’s grace begins to seep into our souls. I believe this is because God is always patiently waiting for us to empty our space in order to provide us with grace. And it is only that grace which will truly fill us, heal us and make us whole.

It is hard for me to write words better than those.  So instead of writing more I will conclude this blog with the following question.

Are you allowing an empty place in yourself while waiting for God alone to fill you this Advent?

Amen.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

“What, my dear brothers, is more delightful than this voice of the Lord calling to us?” (The Rule of St. Benedict, The Prologue, vs.19).

 

 

Advent Reflection: Prepare the Way

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This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.” (Matthew 3:3. NRSV).

About twenty years ago I was visiting with my spiritual director.  I was at the beginning of my vocation discernment.  I was excited, scared and anxious about where God might be leading me.  During the session, I said to my spiritual director “I know that God’s grace will be there when I find whatever it is that God has for me.”  My spiritual director looked at me with some concern and said, “God’s grace is in the here and now.  If you do not learn to look for God’s grace right here where God has you, you will not know God’s grace in what is yet to happen.”

The figure of St. John the Baptist is mind boggling.  Yet, for contemplatives he is just the kind of example we can look to.  When the Desert Mothers and Fathers began to create their communities in Egypt, they took the model of St. John the Baptist and made much of it a very important part of their monastic way of life.

St. John the Baptist recognized his role as the one to prepare the way by calling the people of his time to repentance.  We too are prophets who are called to prepare the way for Jesus to come into our lives in the here and now, so that we may respond to God’s grace with joy and obedience.   We are not told to prepare the way for tomorrow, or even at the celebration of the Nativity.  We are told to prepare the way now with what is before us at this moment.

As contemplatives, our time in silent prayer is about opening ourselves up to what God is doing in our ordinary lives.  As we listen, we are preparing the way for Christ to speak to our hearts so that we may cultivate the life of Jesus and make His way our way of life.  We are invited to read and meditate on the Word, and to pray that we may grow closer in relationship with God so as to be drawn into God’s presence in the here and now.  It is God in us that prepares the way so that we can also prepare the way of the Lord in our relationships, our work, our families and communities.

How are you preparing the way of the Lord this Advent?

Amen.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

Advent Reflection: Rest for A While

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Insignificant man, escape from your everyday business for a short while, hide for a moment from your restless thoughts.  Break off from your cares and troubles and be less concerned about your tasks and labors.  Make a little time for God and rest a while in him. (Proslogion by St. Anselm of Canterbury. The Liturgy of the Hours, Volume 1 Advent and Christmas Season, p.192).

I could not be happier that today’s Office of Readings includes a piece of writing from St. Anselm of Canterbury.  I just love it when my name’s sake shows up.  lol

One of my yearly traditions is that I do not decorate my apartment with a Christmas tree or other holiday favorites until after the 17th of December.  I avoid listening to Christmas Carols until Christmas Eve.  I avoid the stores and long lines as much as I possibly can.  I like to celebrate Advent as I believe it should be.  Advent is a wonderful Season that gets robbed of it’s significance because of the holiday rush. That is why I believe that this reading from St. Anselm about taking some time out for God is so timely.

Advent is a wonderful time for contemplative prayer.  It is a great opportunity to withdraw from our busy lives and “make a little time for God and rest a while in him.”  We look for God in the dazzles our minds with all that is magnificent; and of course God is there.  It is important that we offer our prayer to God wherever we are; as I wrote about in yesterdays blog post.  It is equally essential to take some time with the Holy One and breathe in God’s holiness and breathe out all that stuff that crowds up our interior space that keeps God and us at a distance that is not there.  In contemplative prayer and the mystical experience, God becomes the center of our being looking to live in a holy union in the wholeness of who we are.  After all, God is the One who loves us beyond our imagination.

Are you making time for God to rest in God for a while?

Amen.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

Advent Reflection: Pray Where You Are

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Those brethren who are working at a great distance and cannot get to the oratory at the proper time–the Abbot judging that such is the case–shall perform the Work of God in the place where they are working, bending their knees in reverence before God.

Likewise those who have been sent on a journey shall not let the appointed Hours pass by, but shall say the Office by themselves as well as they can, and not neglect to render the task of their service.  (St. Benedict’s Rule for Monasteries, Chapter 50, p.72).

As far as St. Benedict was concerned, nothing was so important for the Monk than to be present for the Daily Offices (also called The Liturgy of the Hours).  The sanctification of each of the hours of the day by praying the Psalms and listening to the Scriptures is the Opus Dei (The Work of God).  In today’s reading from The Rule, St. Benedict tells his Monks to pray the Offices wherever they are if they are unable to join the community in the oratory.  In other words, pray where you are.

On December 1st, The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion commemorate Nicholas Ferrar.  Nicholas Ferrar lived between 1592-1617.  It was a time in which monasteries and many Catholic practices were being rejected in The Church of England.  Among those practices was the daily prayer of the Psalms.  Nicholas Ferrar was a Deacon who provided a place in his own home for the communal praying of the Daily Offices for any who wanted to attend.  Many others followed his example and began prayerful communities in their own homes  Another example of Benedict’s admonition to pray the Psalms wherever you happen to be.

Thomas Merton in his book entitled Bread in the Wilderness wrote about that when we pray the Psalms we pray with Christ, through Christ and in Christ along with the Church in ages past, the Church present and the Church to come.  The Psalms draw us into recognizing God’s saving work in our praises, our lamentations, our emotion by praying with and listening to the Word.

In Contemplative Prayer we are listening for God wherever we happen to be.  In this Season of Advent we are watching and waiting for the coming of Christ in the moment in which we find ourselves.  It is a perfect moment to acknowledge God’s presence in prayer and worship with the Mystical Body of Christ. We have in this place, in this minute the opportunity to participate in the Opus Dei.  To see God at work and to be a co-creator with God at whatever task we are called to.

Are you ready to kneel where you are out of reverence for God and offer yourself to and with Christ for whom you are waiting?

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

Advent Reflection: Contemplate the Ordinary

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Contemplation is not the stuff of charlatans, telepathists, and magicians.  Contemplation is about very basic, very real things.  It is about seeing God in everyone, finding God everywhere, and responding to all of life as a message from God.  Contemplation is not a road show of visions.  It is not spiritual snake oil. It is not an exalted state of being.  It is simply consciousness of the Ultimate in the immediate. (Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB.  Illuminated Life: Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light).

I am really not able to write more or better than Sr. Joan Chittister wrote so eloquently in the quote above.  Instead, I want us to reflect for a while on what does the quote have to do with Advent?

In many ways, our most sacred text known as the Holy Bible is misleading due to the many stories of miracles and extraordinary events.  Before my readers get too worked up about what I just wrote concerning Sacred Scripture; I want us to continue to ponder what Sr. Joan wrote above.  She is attempting to help us understand that contemplative prayer is about our relationship with God in the ordinary here and now.  We want God to send us some magical bolt of lightening that takes all of our problems away.  We want to use contemplative prayer and often centering prayer as a way to escape the reality of what is around us.  However, God is seeking union with us, so that we may seek union with God in what is happening in front of us, or around us at this very moment.

In this Season of Advent, we are focusing on awaiting the arrival of our Savior to rescue us. We long for Christ to come in glory and take us away from the violence and misery we are witnessing in our world.  There is another piece of Advent that is just as important.  The God we are waiting for and seeking, has already come to us in Jesus Christ, the Word made Flesh.  God who is one with us in Christ is still among us in The Holy Spirit.

In the same book of Sr. Joan’s that I quoted above, I now conclude this reflection with the following quote.

Genuine Spirituality is not spent escaping from life to live in a mental state of unconcern or other worldliness.  Contemplatives do not seek “visions.” They simply seek to know God, the God present in them and around them, in others and in everything, in Goodness and Truth, in universal love and universal peace.  To contemplatives God is not a magic trick.  God is the very breath they breathe.

How are you contemplating the presence of God in the here and now this Advent?

Amen.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

Advent Reflection: No Need to Speak

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For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place where your faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it.  (1 Thessalonians 1:8).

Saint Benedict regarded silence as one of the most important aspects of Monastic life.  In Chapter 6 in The Rule Benedict he wrote:

I was silent and was humbled, and I refrained even from good words (Ps. 38 [39]:2-3).  Here the Prophet indicates that there are times when good words are to be left unsaid out of esteem for silence.

The words from Paul to the Thessalonians and The Rule of St. Benedict are telling us that our faith is most often best known when we maintain silence.  The Word of God sounds forth from us as we spend time silently in the presence of God; allowing God to speak to our hearts in Contemplative and Centering Prayer.  When we live in silence from the essence of who we really are and seek union with God in all we do there is no need for us or others to speak of it.  Our faith in the Holy One who has made us not one, but not two brings us to the holy union that we desire with God in faith, trust and love.

In this Season of Advent as we await to celebrate God coming among us in Christ, our silence with the Word of God is imperative to be the faithful People of God we were created and redeemed to be.

How is your silence with the Word known so that there is no need to speak of it?

Amen.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB