Lent Reflection: Light

Lit Candle

 

“We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work.  As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (John 9:4-5 NRSV).

Today’s Scripture basis is taken from the Gospel for the Fourth Sunday in Lent.  This is the story of Jesus healing a blind man by spitting in the dirt and making mud to put over his eyes.  When the man born blind washes away the mud he can see.   Before Jesus begins the work of healing, Jesus tells us what He is doing.  He is doing the works of His Father, who is also our Father (see the Lord’s Prayer), and telling us to do those works while it is day.  Jesus proclaims Himself as the “light of the world” as long as He is in the world.  If I may dare to paraphrase Jesus, “I am here to do the works of my Father who sent me.  So long as I am here, I am the light in the midst of the darkness.  I will make this blind man see.”

Saint Benedict said something similar, only he was borrowing and adapting the words from John 12:35 in the Prologue of The Rule.  “Run [not walk] while you have the light of life, that the darkness of death may not overtake you.”

I wonder how different our jobs, our relationships and other daily ordinary things would be if we spent some time in contemplative prayer with the words “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”  Or, how might we see our daily ordinariness as something so much more “we must do the works of the one who gave them to us, while we are given the opportunity to do them”?

Our defeat in contemplative prayer and what makes the mystical experience almost impossible is we have somehow convinced ourselves it is is all about us.  Contemplative prayer and mysticism is a work of God’s grace.  The works we are given to do as God’s light to the world is also a product of God’s graciousness.   We are not an island unto ourselves.  As contemplatives we are always searching for union with God knowing that it is God who initiated the desire for the search within us, because God has already found us.  God’s grace that gives us the work of being that light for the world; is drawing us closer to God through the Holy Spirit “that has been given to us.”  It is God who begins the work and who brings it to its conclusion.  As this light becomes more visible in us, others see the light of God in and through us.

“We pray. Lord, that everything we do may be prompted by your inspiration, so that every prayer and work of ours may begin from you, and be brought by you to completion.” Amen.  (Prayer based on the Prologue of St. Benedict’s Rule. Saint Benedict’s Prayer Book for Beginners. p.113).

What work are you doing to be God’s light in the world?

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

http://www.cos-osb.org/

Lent Reflection: St. Benedict & Death

Benedict Leaving

 

“Day by day remind yourself that you are going to die” (RB 1980: The Rule of Saint Benedict in Latin and English. Chapter 4:47. p.184).

The above quote from Chapter 4 On the Tools of Good Works in The Rule hits us square in the face with a reality that will happen to all of us.  Just as the ashes we receive at the beginning of Lent; Benedict gives us these words to remind us of our mortality.  Benedict tells us to face this reality and do what God gives us to do in the here and now.   He tells us to remember that we will die everyday as one of the tools for good works, so that we will make good use of everything we have been given to use. Especially the sacrament of time.  We are not going to be on this earth forever.  We are given time and tasks to do. We have been given those tasks because of God’s love for us.  God wants us to do what we are to do in the here and now in response to that great love.

Today, we commemorate the day that Saint Benedict “raised his hands to heaven and yielded his angelic spirit into the hands of his Creator.”

St. Benedict spent his life seeking union with God through a life of continuous prayer in relationship with God and others.  The Rule of St. Benedict which is a combination of The Rule of the Master, with texts borrowed from The Conferences and Institutes by St. John Cassian, and Benedict’s own additions; was his way of passing on the wisdom he learned from his life experience.  It has been used, revised and adapted for the past 1500 plus years as a guide for monastics and non-monastics alike.

At the point in which Benedict handed over his spirit, he was able to surrender his entire self into the hands of God because of his trust and devotion to God.  He made use of the tools God gave him to accomplish God’s will.  As St. Gregory the Great wrote in The Dialogues “Benedict could not have lived in any other way, than what he taught.”

Our contemplative prayer and mystical experience happens when we live with the awareness  of God’s Presence in the ordinary tasks of life.  Washing dishes.  Cleaning our homes.  Doing our job well.  Attending to the relationships God has entrusted us with.  Consoling the sorrowful, clothing the naked and welcoming the stranger.

What are you doing with the tools and time that God has given you in the here and now?

What do the words “Day by day remind yourself that you are going to die” say to you?

Amen.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

See http://www.cos-osb.org

Lent Reflection: Hiding Place

carthusian-monk-praying-4

 

You are my hiding place, O Lord.  (Psalm 32:8. The Book of Common Prayer, p.624).

Thomas Merton in his book Thoughts in Solitude wrote, “There is no greater disaster in the spiritual life than to be immersed in unreality.”  The unreality he wrote about can be an addiction we are not taking care of.  Or, a conversation with a friend or spouse that we have been avoiding.  It can and most often is the unreality of our life with God within ourselves.  How do we know what our relationship with God is really like if we don’t spend time with God as our hiding place?

Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB in her book Illuminated Life: Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light wrote, “Silence frightens us because it is silence that brings us face to face with ourselves.”

In the midst of a noisy world full of radio, television, the internet, iPhones and iPads; our God is missing us.  God is missing being closer to us in moments of solitude and silence so that we may embrace God as our hiding place; where God is waiting to embrace us.  In God who is our hiding place, our imperfections do not matter.  Our health in mind, body or spirit does not matter.  All the questions and frustrations, broken relationships and desires can be found in a nice crowded closet when we spend time away for a little while with God who is our hiding place.

In God our hiding place, we can enjoy the mystical experience of contemplating God’s perfect and holy love.  The Holy One who gave us Jesus our Redeemer (who Himself sought out moments of solitude), enters into the crowded places and spaces of our lives while we are hidden away with God, while God “creates a clean heart” in us.  In God as our hiding place, we surrender all; and seek only union with the God who has already found us.

Are you spending time in silence and solitude with God as your hiding place this Lent?

Amen.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

See http://www.cos-osb.org

Lenten Reflection: A Clean Heart

God and the Heart

 

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. (Psalm 51:11. The Book of Common Prayer, p.657).

The Psalmist in Psalm 51 is pleading with God for mercy and forgiveness.  It is a recognition of our human mortality.  We are sinners who need God’s grace and healing.  Psalm 51 is about emptying the dirt of our personal and spiritual self and depending completely on God to redeem us.  Is it any wonder why in The Rule of St. Benedict he prescribes that Psalm 51 (50 as St. Benedict used the Grail Psalms in which they were all one number behind our current English version) be used every day during Matins (or Lauds)?   Esther de Waal in her book A Life-Giving Way: A Commentary on The Rule of St. Benedict writes, “The act of acknowledging my weakness and failure is not a morbid dwelling on sin but a turning in confidence to the God who sees a humble and contrite heart and is there to rescue me just as he rescued his people in the past” (p.79).

So what about a clean heart?  The contemplative understands that Psalm 51:11 is a deeply prayerful desire in our heart by God’s initiative that lets go of everything we are holding on to in there; and trusting in God’s view point of our hearts; to make them a clean space for God alone.  When we let go of all the stuff that weighs us down and crowds us in and put our trust in the Holy Spirit; God resides in there because the space has been cleaned out and made ready for the one who gives our hearts all that we need.  Our hearts are made clean and ready to be occupied by its Creator and Redeemer.

What do you need let go of for God to come into your clean heart this Lent?

Amen.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

See, http://www.cos-osb.org

Lent Meditation:Bread and The Word

jesus_praying_temptation

 

Jesus replied, “It’s written, people won’t live only by bread, but by every word spoken by God” (Matthew 4:4. Common English Bible).

Jesus’ journey in the desert is a perfect model for contemplative prayer. The Desert Mothers and Fathers made the journey of Jesus their own.  They left behind everything else and searched for union with God out of their poverty.  This is why Lent gets its theme of wandering in the desert fasting, praying and acts of self-denial.

In the desert we loose all illusions of power, ownership, fame, fortune and that sense of knowing where we are going.  There is no corner store.  No internet network connection.  No Facebook.  No case with bottled water.  The only thing about wandering in the desert is that we are alone.  We will face ourselves as we are.  We will experience the best of ourselves and see the worst of ourselves.  In the desert, we will learn Who it is that we ultimately depend on for the necessities of life.

Lectio Divina (the prayerful reading of Scripture) is about letting Jesus the Bread of Life, the Word of God speak in the depths of our heart and change our lives.  I think this is at the heart of the temptation in which Jesus is tempted to turn the stones into bread.  It isn’t about being hungry, nor is it an excuse for ignoring those who are hungry.  Living the life of a Christian is about seeing God present and working in every aspect of life.  A life lived as a contemplative (or the interior life), recognizes that everything we are, everything we use, everything around us and in us is God interacting with us in Jesus, the Word.  The Word is speaking. Calling.  Loving.  Inviting.  Forgiving.  Molding and shaping us to live into the mystery of what Jesus said in John 15:5, “without me you can do nothing.”

How are you listening more closely to every word spoken by God this Lent?

Amen.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

“What is not possible for us by nature, let us ask the Lord to supply by the help of his grace” (RB 1980: The Rule of Saint Benedict in Latin and English.  Prologue, vs. 41, p.165).

http://www.cos-osb.org

 

 

Lent Reflection: Take Up Your Cross

Cross

 

Then Jesus said to them all, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves? (Luke 9:23-25 NRSV).

All of us like to receive a nicely wrapped gift.  There is just something about the time, money and effort someone went through to think of us and give us something so beautifully wrapped up.  The color of the wrapping paper, the bow and the wonder we have of what we have been given; and of course the surprise.  When we open the gift, what we find is something that the gift giver thought long and hard about.  What delights our heart with joy and gratitude, is that of all the people on earth, the gift giver thought about us without counting the cost.

Our Christian Faith with its many mysteries is beautiful.  The gift of God’s salvation for humankind is beautiful and wonderful in and of itself.  What makes it so wonderful, is that God gave us everything in God’s Son Jesus Christ to be our Savior and Redeemer; without counting the cost.  God’s love for humankind is so great, so awesome that Jesus taking up the Cross on our behalf is in and of itself a gift beyond comprehension.

On the other hand, the greatness of our faith comes with a cost for us to ponder.  The Christian life of living in faith and trust; requires of us a life lived with gratitude to God, the Gift-Giver.  The contemplative lives with all of creation, with our individual challenges in mind, body and/or spirit acknowledging that God walks with us, within us and around us.  For the contemplative, taking up our cross is an openness to living in relationship with God in the ordinary, the sickness, the impairment, the addiction and the hopelessness; knowing that we are never alone, nor are we without the opportunity to live our faith to the fullest in the amazing love of God.  We can choose to live our faith with tunnel vision; focusing only on our own lives through which we are losing through selfishness and greed.  Or, we can live into our relationships with our hearts open to the Holy who always lives in relationship with us; never counting the cost.

“Let us get up then, at long last, for the Scriptures rouse us when they say: It is high time for us to rise from sleep (Rom 13:11).  Let us open our eyes to the light that comes from God, and our hearts to the voice from heaven that everyday calls out this charge: If you hear his voice today, do not harden your hearts (Ps. 94 [95]:8). And again; You that have ears to hear, listen to what the Spirit says to the churches (Rev 2:7). (RB 1980: The Rule of Saint Benedict in Latin and English. The Prologue, p.158).

What cross is Jesus calling you to pick up and follow Him today?

Amen.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

See http://www.cos-osb.org

Ash Wednesday Reflection

Beginning Lent

 

The life of a monk ought to be a continuous Lent.  Since few, however, have the strength for this, we urge the entire community during these days of Lent to keep its manner of life most pure and to wash away in this holy season the negligences of other times.  This we can do in a fitting manner by refusing to indulge in evil habits and by devoting ourselves to prayer with tears, to reading, to compunction of heart and self-denial.  During these days, therefore, we will add to the usual measure of our service something by way of private prayer and abstinence from food or drink, so that each of us will have something above the assigned measure to offer God of his own will with the joy of the Holy Spirit (1. Thess. 1:5).  In other words, let each one deny  himself some food, drink, sleep, needless talking and idle jesting, and look forward to holy Easter with joy and spiritual longing. (RB. 1980: The Rule of Saint Benedict in Latin and English, Chapter 49, p.253).

The only season that St. Benedict writes a whole chapter about in The Rule is Lent.

Benedict tells us that Lent is the time to make new efforts to be what we say we want to be.  We applaud the concept in most things. We know, for instance, that even people who were married years ago have to keep working at that marriage consciously and intently every year thereafter, or the marriage will fail no matter how established it seems.  We know that people who own businesses take inventories and evaluations every year or the business fails.  We too often fail to realize, however, that people who say they want to find God in life have to work every day too to bring that Presence into focus, or the Presence will elude them no matter how present it is in theory. (The Rule of Benedict: A Spirituality for the 21st Century. Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB, p.220).

On this Ash Wednesday, we are invited by Jesus to begin to take a new look at our spiritual and personal lives.  It is time to “take inventory” of what we have been doing vs. what we have been putting off far too long.  During these forty days of fasting and abstinence we are encouraged to grow into our relationship with God, others and ourselves.  Through living a contemplative life during Lent, we are urged to meditate on how we are all  inter-connected with nature, people, places and God.

St. Benedict is helping us see that when we give some things up for a while, we need to add on to the usual measure.   He encourages us to do that, because when we give up something there is a void in our lives.  St. Benedict and Jesus invite us to spend time in silence and prayer so that we may begin to see our true selves lost in those voids as “my soul is athirst for the living God” (Psalm 42:2).

What is Jesus calling you to take inventory of in your life this Lent?

Amen.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

See http://www.cos-osb.org