Lenten Reflection: Purity of Heart

St.JohnCassian

 

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. (Matthew 5:8 NRSV).

Every leap year on February 29th, The Episcopal Church commemorates my favorite Monastic Saint after St. Benedict.  St. John Cassian.  The Spirituality of St. Benedict and The Rule, and much of the Spirituality of the Western Church came from St. John Cassian.

St. John Cassian spent a great deal of his time with the Desert Mothers and Fathers learning about how they searched for holiness by withdrawing from worldly distractions.  St. John Cassian integrated their wisdom as to be lived out in community.  Benedictine Spirituality borrows from Cassian.   The Benedictine model of community is best understood as “Growing into who we  are through our relationships with others” (Benedictine Values at St. John’s University in Collegeville, MN).

We are now deep into Lent.  We are turning the corner between Ash Wednesday towards Holy Week and Easter Day.  We are continuing to fast and in acts of self-denial as we approach the Easter Triduum.  It is so easy for all of us to forget why we are doing what Christians do during Lent.

In the first of The Conferences, Chapter VII, How Peace Ought to Be Sought, Abbot Moses tells us that if we are fasting, praying vigils, prayerfully reading Scripture and praying without purity of heart being our goal; then we will not find peace we.  If we are doing all of those things and not caring about our neighbor, then all the things we do will bring us no fulfillment.  Purity of heart is nothing more than seeking the other for the sake of the other and not wanting anything else in return.

Thomas Merton wrote “The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves and not to twist them to fit our own image.”

How is God calling you to purity of heart?

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB

Lenten Reflection: Holy Ground

Hill

 

Then [God] said, ‘Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.’ (Exodus 3:5 NRSV).

Imagine the look on the face of Moses seeing a burning bush that was not consumed and being told to remove his sandals because he was on holy ground.  Would it be a sense of wonder?  Would Moses have an expression of mortal fear?  Perhaps it may have been a glow that could not be explained.

When Moses had this experience of God, his life was changed forever.  He literally had a whole new landscape view if you will, of how God saw him and what he was to do on God’s behalf.  Moses was not too sure of his qualifications to go to Pharaoh to tell him to set God’s People free.  God knew Moses with all his abilities and weaknesses.  God still chose Moses to be the prophetic witness of what God would do for God’s People.  The ground Moses stood on, was the place where God’s holiness confirmed Moses and the work God would send him to do.

Contemplative prayer in particular during these days of Lent is a conversation with God the Holy Spirit not unlike the talk God had with Moses.  It is a conversation between God and us during which God calls us to see ourselves and others as people with whom God has great faith in; even if our own faith is lacking.  God’s call changes us and even the ground we walk on.  It is on the ground we stand on here and now that God enters our lives to transform them by grace to do things that seem to be unimaginable and impossible.  God knows otherwise.

How do you see where God has you here and now as God’s holy ground?

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB

Lenten Reflection: Ashes, Dust and Humility

Ashes and Dust

 

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.  (Ash Wednesday Liturgy.  The Book of Common Prayer, p.265).

Lent begins on Ash Wednesday with these chilling words.  Ashes and dust are a reminder of our immortality.  They also remind us that our like our origin; our destiny is not in our control alone.  The idea that we are dust and that we will return there seems harsh and depressing.

This past Sunday, The Rev. Barbara Mraz preached at St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church in St. Paul.  Her sermon was entitled, “Remember What the Creator Can Do With Dust.” Deacon Mraz spoke about how the Creator uses what we consider as useless to connect us to one another and contribute to their common good.  Lent is not so much about drudgery and misery.  It is about bringing ourselves back to the basic reality, that we were all created out of God’s extravagant love and redeemed by a love no less than extravagant.  We return to that place and remember that “thou art the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy.” (Prayer of Humble Access, The Book of Common Prayer, p. 337).

When I read St. Benedict’s Chapter 7 On Humility in The Rule, there are three steps that really do shake me at the core of my false-sense of self.  Step 4 says that we are to be obedient to our Superior even “difficult, unfavorable, and even unjust conditions” with a “quiet heart”.   In Step 6, he says that the Monk is content with the lowest and most menial treatment.”  Benedict writes regarding Step 7 that I am to regard myself as “inferior” to all.   My false-sense of self tells me that I am to be liked, preferred, approved of, to have everything I want and only then will I be truly happy.  The false-sense of self is fueled if you will, by the many wounds within our souls.  Benedict wrote about these steps so that we would know our place.  We are neither completely above or below anyone.

When we accept our place as “ashes and dust” it dose not mean to loathe ourselves in low self-esteem.  Such would further empower our false-sense of self.  It means that when we are at our lowest; there is no limit to what God can do with us.  When we open our hearts to God in contemplative prayer as “ashes and dust” the foot print made by others on us means that we have helped someone along their way.  We have the opportunity to help God plant a new seed in someone’s journey of faith.  The rain moistens us to prepare the way for new growth and hope for those in despair.  We are not useless dust and ashes.  We are in our Essence; in our true-selves seeking union with the Holy Essence of God.

What does God want to do in your life as you know yourself as ashes and dust?

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB

Lenten Reflection: Light and Seeking

Lighthouse

 

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear?   Hearken to my voice, O Lord, when I call; have mercy on me and answer me.    You speak in my heart and say, “Seek my face.”  Your face, Lord, will I seek.  (Psalm 27: 1a, 10-11.  The Book of Common Prayer, p.617-618).

How many ways can we think of God being our light and salvation?  As I pondered these words, I was drawn to an image of a lighthouse with its light shining far away on the sea.  In a stormy sea the light shining in the darkness gives the seeker a great sense of relief.  The torrent may be raging and the wind fierce.  The waves crash against us.  We look with a sense of weariness knowing that we still a long way to go.  So we put forward our best effort despite our fatigue.  Eventually we get to where we are going.

Seeking the face of God means that we make ourselves very vulnerable to God.  Whatever may be going on around us has the potential to cloud what we are looking for.  God knows what is in our hearts. Why do we try so hard to hide what is in our hearts from God?  The Psalmist knows that God is speaking in the heart and calling us to seek the face of God.

Contemplative prayer and centering prayer is about seeking union with God in the depths of ourselves; so that God will give us a sense of direction towards God’s guiding light.  In those moments of deep spiritual prayer with God’s grace as our energy; we see God’s light shining in the darkness of our doubt, fear and our false sense of self.  God’s light shows us the clearer way to find unconditional love and faith so that we can seek the face of the God who has already found us.

Where do you seek the face of God in the light way off in the distance?

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB

Lenten Reflection: Forgive as We Forgive

Lord's Prayer

 

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matthew 6:14,15 NRSV).

In The Rule of St. Benedict Chapter 13: On the Celebration of Lauds on Ordinary Days in verses 13-14, he wrote,

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), they may cleanse themselves of this kind of vice.  At other celebrations, only the final part of the Lord’s Prayer is said aloud, that all my reply: But deliver us from evil (Matt 16:13).

Why was this so important to St. Benedict?

In a residential Benedictine Monastic community, the Monastics live in close quarters with each other 24/7.  They are literally on top of one another at all hours of the day or night.  Praying.  Eating.  Sleeping.  Working.  Reading.  In chapter meetings.  Writing, etc. Those of us even in a dispersed community struggle in our relationships with each other too.  St. Benedict did not want his Monastics to allow themselves to let quarrels regardless of how small to brew into a grudge by which the members would not forgive each other.  Such a grudge has the ability to rip the community apart and make life unbearable for everyone.  Such disruption also creates a real problem for silence and contemplation.  Therefore, St. Benedict had the Lord’s Prayer recited in the silence up to “But deliver us from evil,” so that members of the community could let go and allow God to help them keep the community together in harmony.

Those of us who are married know that the same kind of thing can happen between spouses.  They can also happen between parents and children.  How many holiday dinners are very tense (or destroyed beyond repair) because one member of the family just has never forgiven another?  It happens to the best of us.

I would very much like to encourage my readers to consider spending some Lectio Divina time on the words “forgive, as we forgive.” While in this time, allow the Holy Spirit to bring to mind someone(s), anyone(s) that you have not forgiven.  Let Jesus into those moments of pain, fear, anger and give you the grace to let it all go and forgive.   I have had to do this any number of times in the past, and I will be doing it that many more times in the future.  As we contemplation those words, “forgive, as we forgive” it is amazing how gentle and merciful God is in such moments.  You just might be amazed to discover that the one person you have had the hardest time forgiving is yourself.   Even there, God will bring so much grace into your life that you will come out of it a healthier and happier person.

Who do you need God’s help to forgive as you have been forgiven?

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB

Reflection on Temptation and Contemplation

jesus_praying_temptation

 

After his baptism, Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. (Luke 4:1-2 NRSV).

The idea of temptation and contemplation sounds like two individuals dating who are totally incompatible.  There is another statement about dating, “Opposites do attract.”  Temptation is an opportunity for us to face some realities about ourselves; however unpleasant or difficult; and allow God in Jesus Christ to love us and save us.

In his commentary on the Psalms, St. Augustine wrote;

If in Christ we have been tempted, in him we overcome the devil.  Do you think only of Christ’s temptation and fail to think of his victory?  See yourself as tempted in him, and see yourself as victorious in him.  He could have kept the devil from himself; but if he were not tempted he could not teach you how to triumph over temptation.  (The Liturgy of the Hours, Volume II, Lent Season and Easter Season, p.88).

In Christ we have the opportunity to see ourselves from God’s point of view.  We are not helpless, nor are we alone.  We are cherished by God by the point where we can experience the transforming grace of God in Christ, and grow closer to the person God created and redeemed us to be; even in the face to temptations worst work.  We are all deeply loved and desired by the heart of God; to seek union with God.  That desire within us is there by God’s initiative.  It is there so that we can respond to the grace of God and desire God alone for God’s sake with pureness of heart.

Are you willing to allow God to show you how to turn your temptations into an opportunity for contemplation?

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB

Lenten Reflection: Jesus Eating with Sinners

HolyTrinity

 

And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax-collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax-collectors and sinners?’ But when he heard this, he said, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.’ (Matthew 9:10-17 NRSV).

There is a lot to contemplate from this Gospel Reading.

I cannot deny it, I love to eat.  It is my #1 worst weakness.  I am part Italian, which means my relatives never cooked and served a meal without plenty of left overs.  I have not done too well in not following their inspiration.

While those who were judging Jesus for eating with the tax collectors and sinners, Jesus’ concern is those He is eating with.  Jesus showed up to eat with them, so that they could see themselves from God’s point of view.  God’s perspective is unconditional love, mercy and grace that are never too far away those whom God loves.  That means all of us.

If we could only spend some time in contemplation of how God is so madly in love with us, that God wants to live in a deep loving relationship with us.   Then we would know in our hearts and lives the infinite love of the Holy Trinity; God’s relationship with all of us in a community of condescending love.

Can Jesus spend some time eating with you today?

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB