Reflection on Wounds

Crucifixus

“Packs of dogs close me in, and gangs of evildoers circle around me; they pierce my hands and my feet; I can count all my bones.” (Psalm 22:16 The Book of Common Prayer, p.611).

There are many ways of looking at the Passion and Death of Jesus on the Cross.  They are each unique and have something to contribute to the whole.  Jesus’ death was a terrible event.  It was ugly.  It was bloody.  In Jesus’ betrayal, trial, and crucifixion is the experience of every form of human suffering that can be imagined or experienced.   Christ’s Death on the Cross is the confirmation of our faith that God is with us in whatever is happening to us.  God’s extravagant love is poured out for all  humankind in this amazing act of obedience.

The Contemplative looks upon the wounds of Jesus on this Good Friday and sees in them a way into the depth of God’s loving goodness.  The cry of anguish, helplessness and a willingness to accept where God had Jesus in what was so vicious and cruel.  Yet, love for His Father and all of us was Jesus’ sole objective.  St. Julian of Norwich wrote in A Song of True Motherhood “Even when all was completed and he carried us so for joy, still all of this could not satisfy the power of his wonderful love.” (Canticle R. Enriching Our Worship 1, p. 40).   The very reality that all of humankind has many many problems are mysteriously represented and accepted by God, as Jesus hangs on the Cross between eternity and time with His arms outstretched; is God’s arms of love ever ready to embrace all of us.

When we open ourselves to experience the love of Christ on the Cross within our wounds we discover what Abba Pambo said, “If you have a heart, you can be saved.”  Christine Valters Paintner in her book Desert Fathers and Mothers: Early Christian Wisdom Sayings Annotated and Explained writes, “The desert elders saw the heart as the center of our being  where we encounter God most intimately” (See pages 26-27).   As Contemplatives, we can always meditate on the wounds of Jesus, our wounds and those of humankind from our interior selves.  When we surrender in obedience to the grace of God through Jesus Christ; the transformation of our own lives and those of the world around us becomes possible so long as we get ourselves out of the way.

“Brothers, now that we have asked the Lord who will dwell in his tent, we have heard the instruction for dwelling in it, but only if we fulfill the obligations of those who live there.  We must , then, prepare our hearts and bodies for the battle of holy obedience to his instructions.  What is not possible to us by nature, let us ask the Lord to supply by the help of his grace” (RB 1980: The Rule of Saint Benedict in English, The Prologue, p.18).

How do you see the wounds of your life in the light of the wounds of Christ on the Cross?

Amen.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB-CoS

See: The Community of Solitude

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Reflection on Foot Washing

WashingFeet

“And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.” (John 13:3-5 NRSV).

I have been enjoying reading the book Ashes and the Phoenix: Meditations for the Season of Lent edited and compiled by Len Freeman.  In his meditation written by Jason Leo for Tuesday in Holy Week he writes,

“there is more going on in the story of Holy Week than Jesus’ death, more going on than a horrible story of the execution and death of a good man.  It is the beginning of a journey to new life for Jesus and for us–for all of us’ (See page 99).

In the journeys of our lives we all come from pathways full of circumstances.  Some of those circumstances have happened by the chances of life.  Some are because of choices we made good or bad.  Others are the result new experiences that changed our sense of direction.  Others gave us sense of ourselves that have boxed us up in to who we think God is to each of us (and sometimes everyone else).

Contemplative prayer brings about the greatest of mystical experiences when we let go of who we think God is and what God does.  The contemplative opens herself/himself up to letting God show us who God is in Jesus, and who we are because of who God’s Incarnate Word is.  The desert Mothers and Fathers teach us that our experiences of God bring the greatest of changes to our lives when we let the masks come off, even if we do not like what we see reflected in our interior mirrors.  God accepts us as we are, and wants us to as well.

Our feet often tell us and others  a lot of what our personal walk with God is like.  We have all walked long, dirty, painful and stinky pathways.  We have experienced suffering in ways during which we dragged our feet and got a few callouses.  Our toe nails have gotten too long.  Our feet may have dry skin as we walked through the burning desert of denial.   Jesus wants to wash our feet, because He has been walking those same roads with us.  Jesus washes our feet to tell us that it is okay to let go and begin to walk a new journey with Him.  That journey will take us to the Cross where our false-sense of self will be crucified and die.  On Easter, we will rise with Jesus to begin walking in the way of new life.

“With this conclusion, the Lord waits for us daily to translate into action, as we should, his holy teachings.” (RB 1980: The Rule of Saint Benedict in English, p.18).

“An old man said, ‘Every time a thought of superiority or vanity moves you, examine your conscience to see if you have kept all the commandments, whether you love your enemies, whether you consider yourself to be an unprofitable servant and the greatest sinner of all. Even so, do not pretend to great ideas as though you were perfectly right, for that thought destroys everything.'” (Daily Readings with the Desert Fathers, p 32).

Would you let Jesus wash your feet?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB-CoS

See The Community of Solitude

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Reflection on the Ruined Temple

RuinedTemple

 

“Jesus said, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.'” (John 2:19 NRSV).

“Abba Alonius said, ‘If I had not destroyed myself completely, I should not have been able to rebuild and shape myself again.” (Desert Fathers and Mothers: Early Christian Sayings Annotated & Explained by Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, p.51).

Our journey into Holy Week seems to show life as Jesus knew it falling apart.  Yesterday on Palm Sunday, the crowds welcomed Him with “Hosanna!  Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord.”  Then we moved right to Good Friday.  Today, the Gospel chosen for this day takes us back to John 12:1-11.   So why, you would be right to ask me, am I all the way back to John 2:19?

Yesterday, during the reading of the Passion according to St. Mark, we heard that the witnesses at Jesus’ trial testify falsely to what He said about the destruction of the temple, and raising it up again.  I am back at this story in the earlier part of John’s Gospel, because I think it speaks to us about where we are in Holy Week from a Contemplative point of view.

I am disturbed by the words of Abba Alonius in which he said “If I had not destroyed myself completely.”  But, then he goes on with a striking parallel to what Jesus said in John 2:19 about raising up the temple again.

In her commentary on these words of Abba Alonius, Christine Valters Paintner writes,

“The paradox in the spiritual life is that this journey through destruction is necessary to reach any kind of resurrection or new life beyond it.  We are rebuilt and reshaped through this process.  We must fully surrender ourselves to the awfulness of it.  We must stay present with how we feel and bring compassion to ourselves in the process.  We must learn to no longer feel victim to our suffering, but to instead discover a kind of inner fierceness that allows us to look death in the eye without flinching” (p.50).

It is such a mystical experience to contemplate that God uses our brokenness through the Passion and Death of Jesus; to helps us rebuild our personal interior ruins into a new person, with a new structure and a new life.  We tend to see our troubled humanity in Jesus for what it is on the surface; and it is terrible.  But when we spend some time in solitude and silence with the great mystery of what Jesus does with us during Holy Week, we can experience the power of Christ destroying those temples of our false-sense of self within us that holds on to grudges, anger, resentment, grief and addiction.  Christ comes to demolish these stones that we have held up for so long, by walking with us through them as they are, as we are; so that by God’s grace God can transform us into a newer and more glorious temple where the Resurrection is visible and tangible.  It begins with us praying and being open to God’s work within our deepest cells.

“First of all, every time you begin a good work, you must pray to him most earnestly to bring it to perfection” (RB 1980: The Rule of Saint Benedict in English, p.15).

“8. Empty yourself completely and sit waiting, content with the grace of God, like the chick who tastes nothing and eats nothing but what his mother brings him” (from the Short Rule of St. Romuald).

What temples in your life will you let Jesus help you destroy, so that you can be rebuilt anew?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB-CoS

See: The Community of Solitude

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Reflection on Solitude, Silence and Suffering

 

 

“But as for me, I have trusted in you, O Lord.  I have said, “You are my God.  My times are in your hand; rescue me from the hand of my enemies, and from those who persecute me.  Make your face to sine upon your servant, and in your loving-kindness save me.”  (Psalm 31:14-16 The Book of Common Prayer, p.623).

There is a common misunderstanding about solitude.  Solitude in the common understanding tends to mean alone and to be lonely.  Solitude for the contemplative is not a running from something.  Solitude and silence for the Desert Monastics was how they cleared away all obstacles to be quiet and alone with God within their deepest selves.  Spending time in solitude and silence does not imply being completely peaceful and tranquil.  We do hope for tranquility at some point.  Camaldolese Benedictines spend our time in the cell of our hearts in solitude and silence to let God take us into the depths of ourselves to see what is really there.  In our cells, we find how deep our own suffering has taken us, and let God use it however God wants.  This is the letting go in contemplative prayer that I write about all the time.

The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday shows the fickleness of the human heart.  We want Jesus to be received by us in all His glory, then at His Passion and Death we become content with letting Jesus go it all alone.  The actions of Jesus’ Disciples tell us so at length in the Passion narratives.  Yet, what we see throughout the Passion story, is that Jesus gracefully and lovingly accepts the suffering He experiences.  Even before Pilate and the questions he asks Jesus: in the Passion narrative of St. Mark 15:5 we read “Jesus made no further reply, so Pilate was amazed.”   Jesus completely surrenders Himself to what is happening.  Jesus faces it for what it is, and pays the ultimate price of His life.  And of course, His death is not the final word.

The mystery of Holy Week for contemplatives is that Jesus enters into our suffering in a attitude of solitude and silence, because He knows that God is in the midst of it all with Him; even if He cannot feel Him.  Jesus finds the presence of God in faith alone; even as Jesus cried out the words of Psalm 22:1 “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus trusts in God alone.

Whatever our suffering might be we are never there alone.  When we enter into our suffering in solitude and silence with trust in God, we leave our times in God’s hands as the Psalmist wrote.  Holy Week reminds us that though suffering happens to all of us, including God’s Son, even death is a transitory result.  We are invited by Jesus this week, to follow Him in His suffering and our own to let go of ourselves and find the joy of the Resurrection of new life.

“But as we progress in this way of life and in faith, we shall run on the path of God’s commandments, our hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love.  Never swerving from his teaching in the monastery until death, we shall through patience share in the sufferings of Christ that we may deserve also to share in his kingdom.  Amen.” (RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English.  The Conclusion of the Prologue, p.19).

3. The way is via the Psalms-do not leave it.  If, in your beginners fervor, you fail to do the whole Psalter, do a little here and a little there. (From the Short Rule of St. Romuald).

How are you entering into your relationship with Jesus in the midst of your suffering?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB-CoS

See: The Community of Solitude

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Reflection on The Wheat

Grain of Wheat

 

Jesus said, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.  Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep this world will keep it for eternal life.  Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am , there will my servant be also.  (See John 12:20-33 NRSV).

A few weeks ago, I went to a doctor’s appointment.  There was a lot of snow and ice around.  I had to park on the side of the street.  When I got out of my car and walked with my cane, I was stopped by the sight of a lot of snow and ice pilled up between the street and the sidewalk.  This was a very challenging moment for me, because I am on the Autistic Spectrum.  I found myself stuck in place, because I was afraid of the next step I might take.  Just then, a gentleman came along and offered to help me.  The man held me in a loving embrace, and helped me over the snow mound to the dry sidewalk on the other side.   I embraced him and said a relieving thank you.  God had come to my aid through the generosity of this stranger.  It was a very humbling experience.  It was also a teaching moment for me.  If I had remained there by myself, I would have been stuck there.  If I had tried to walk without help, I could have slipped and gotten hurt.  It was when the man reached out for me, that I had to let go and let him help me.

“Abba John gave this advice, “Watching means to sit in the cell and always be mindful of God.  This is what is meant by, ‘I was on watch and God came to me.” (Matthew 25:36)  (Desert Fathers and Mothers: Early Christian Wisdom Sayings Annotated and Explained by Christiane Valters Paintner, p.11).

In Desert spirituality the cell is a place in our interior self in which we encounter God with the best and worst of ourselves.   It can be as St. Romuald writes “Sit in your cell as in Paradise.”  It can also be an inferno.  When we see the worst of ourselves in our cells, the best thing is let God work through it with us.  If we try to escape, it will only catch up with us later.  If we pretend it isn’t there, it only becomes worse instead of better.  To find that paradise within our cells, we must let go and let God embrace us and carry us through to the other side.  Our gentle and loving Shepherd will help us get to safety.

If we want to find the true path with Jesus, we must like the grain of wheat fall and die to ourselves.  When we empty ourselves there is a “death” that occurs as we bear a lot of fruit in the mystery of God’s love for each of us.  We enter into a deep moment of Contemplative Prayer that takes us in the here and now and transforms us into true followers of Jesus.  When we let ourselves go and follow Jesus the Word, we must commit ourselves to going with Him to the Cross.  It is by Christ’s death and our own, that we have a hope of the Resurrection.

“This message of mine is for you, then, if you are ready to give up your own will, once and for all, and armed with the strong and noble weapons of obedience to do battle for the true King, Christ the Lord.” (RB 1980: The Rule of Saint Benedict in English, The Prologue, p.15).

Are there single grains of wheat in your life that you need to let go of?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB-CoS

See The Community of Solitude

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Reflection on Mouth and Heart

Desert

 

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, Lord, my rock and redeemer” (Psalm 19:14.  The Common English Bible).

One day, while I was doing Lectio Divina on the words of Psalm 19:14 in The Common English Bible, I found myself disturbed by the words “and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, Lord my rock and redeemer.”  As I meditated on these words I found myself needing to reword the quote from this Psalm.   “May the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, my Lord, my rock, my redeemer; so that the words of my mouth may also be pleasing to you.”   If what I am meditating on in my heart is to be pleasing to God, then I must do what scares me the most.  I must relinquish control of what I think I know will be pleasing to God within my heart to begin with.  I must let God teach my heart what is pleasing to God.   How can I please God in the meditations of my heart, if I do not let God teach me what pleases God?

I recently began reading an incredible book entitled Desert Fathers and Mothers: Early Christian Wisdom Sayings, Annotated & Explained.  The annotations and commentary are written by Dr. Christine Valters Paintner.   As I have been thinking of what I was going to write in this blog reflection today, I came across some words that she wrote that express so beautifully, what I am writing about.

“The desert journey isn’t about embarking on a long and arduous struggle to find God at the end of the road. Desert spirituality is about looking for God right in the midst of wrestling with ourselves.  God in the heart of the struggle, and so we are to stay there with the holy presence until the treasure is revealed” (From the Introduction, p. XXIX).

If we are to embark on a mystical journey with God, then we must begin by letting go of thinking that we must have the answers for everything that is going on with us; inside and out.  Searching for union with God in the deepest recesses of our whole self, is an excursion with the God who knows us better than we know ourselves.  When we are in our cells in solitude with God, there is no pretending that our human brokenness is not there.  We must face it, and let God walk through it with us; so that we can by God’s grace, let it go.  Only then, can the meditations of our heart be pleasing to God who is our rock and redeemer; and from our mouths will come what is pleasing to God and beneficial for the world around us.

“The blessed space of quiet discernment and contemplative understanding manifests itself when we are quiet enough to listen to the still, small voice guiding our path forward” (Teresa Pasquale Mateus, Ashes and the Phoenix; Meditations for the Season of Lent, edited by Len Freeman, p56).

“Go sit in your cell, and your cell will teach your everything.” (Abba Moses).

“Listen and incline the ear of your heart” (Prologue, The Rule of Saint Benedict).

When you meditate with God in your heart, what do you hear God saying to you?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB-CoS

See: The Community of Solitude

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Reflection on Perfection

Clay

“The Lord’s instruction is perfect, reviving one’s very being”. (Psalm 19:7.  The Common English Bible).

I read the most thought provoking words in the book Lent with Evelyn Underhill at Matins this morning.

“To the alarming list of innate vices which you have managed to get together I would like to add another: Pride.  All this preoccupation with your own imperfection is not humility. but an insidious form of spiritual pride.” (See page 52 in the Second Edition of this book).

Human perfection and Christian perfection are not one and the same thing.  Making sure all our prayers get said properly, as a matter of perfection is of least importance.  Saying our prayers while seeking a greater love for God and others is what Christian perfection and humility are about.  Humility is not about focusing on ourselves and all that is wrong with us.

“The first step of humility, is that a monastic keeps the reverence of God before oneself, and never forgets it.” (The Rule of Saint Benedict, Chapter 7 On Humility, paraphrased).

Thomas Merton in his book, The Rule of Saint Benedict: Initiation into the Monastic Tradition 4 he wrote,

“If we concentrate directly on humility, our humility will be false.  If we concentrate on our relationships with others, and with God, our humility will be true. (see page 173).

Earlier in the book, Merton wrote,

“The active life of humility leads to the contemplative life of union with Christ by love.” (See page 156).

As contemplatives we are on a constant journey of turning ourselves over to God, so that God can bring us into a deeper relationship with the Holy One.  Humility in The Rule of Saint Benedict reminds us that God is God, and we are not.  Contemplative prayer is not about learning these things in our minds, so to analyze and understand them.   Contemplative prayer is about letting go so God can revive us at the very center of ourselves.  It comes by being open to seeing ourselves from God’s perspective.  In so doing, we read, mark, learn and inwardly digest that in humility God is God, and we are not.

Are you seeking to make yourself perfect before God?

What might you need to do to let go and let God be God in your life?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB-CoS

See: The Community of Solitude

If you feel led to buy me some coffee, please scroll down the right sidebar and click on the Benedictine Coffee mug.  Thank you so much.