Reflection on the Vine and Branches

branches

“I am the vine, you are the branches.  Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing” (See John 15:1-8 NRSV).

What measurements do we use to determine our growth?  The world around us appears to to weigh our growth on how successful we are, or how much money we have, or how much stuff we own.  Our society around us bases our maturity and fulfillment from a false-sense of self.

In our Gospel verse, Jesus is telling us that our growth is a matter of  God and our relationship with Him.  Jesus who is the Incarnate Word is the vine that is rooted in God.  Jesus knows each of us so completely and intimately.  Everything we are and can become is based on our decision to abide (or remain) in Jesus the vine.  The potential of our true-selves is because how we live into our relationship with Jesus the Christ.  Jesus, the Risen One has taught us the fullness of God’s love through the Paschal Mystery.  God finds each of us redeemed and given new life through Jesus, the vine.  In Jesus is our present moment full of life and purpose.  It is a contemplative vision to know God’s perspective of us.  God sees each of us with so potential in the here and now.

Over these past few months, I have been learning that my many challenges because I am on the Autistic Spectrum, are opportunities for me to let go and allow God to use those challenges to draw me closer in relationship with God.  As difficult as my many social interactions can be, my ASD becomes the intimate connection with Jesus, my vine.  Through a life of solitude, silence and prayer, my disabilities become an important part of God’s work in and through my life.  I only have to put my faith and trust in God with everything I can do and anything I cannot; and let God take care of the rest.  It is a learning process.  Jesus is more than happy to keep being my greatest teacher using The Rules of St. Benedict, St. Romuald and the Camaldolese-Benedictine tradition as important parts of my learning process.

“Agree you hastening toward your heavenly home?  Then with Christ’s help, keep this little rule we have written for beginners” (RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 73, p.95-96).

“If you have come to the monastery, and in spite of your good will you cannot accomplish what you want, take every opportunity to sing the Psalms in your heart and understand them with your mind” (From the Rule of St. Romuald).

“It was said of Abba John the Dwarf that he withdrew and lived in the desert at Scetis with an old man of Thebes.  His abba, taking a piece of dry wood, planted it, and said to him, ‘Water it every day with a bottle of water, until it bears fruit.’  Now the water was so far away that he had to leave in the evening and return the following morning.   At the end of three years the wood came to life and bore fruit.  Then the old man took some of the fruit and carried it to the church saying to the brethren, ‘Take and eat the fruit of obedience.'”  (Desert Fathers and Mothers: Early Christian Wisdom Sayings Annotated & Explained by Christine Valters Paintner, PhD,. p.103).

How are you growing in your relationship with God?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB-CoS

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Reflection on Psalm 23

Slide1MountainImage

 

The Lord is my shepherd.  I lack nothing.  He lets me rest in grassy meadows; he leads me to restful waters; he keeps me alive.  He guides me in proper paths for the sake of his good name.  Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no danger because you are with me.  Your rod and your staff–they protect me.  You set a table for me right in front of my enemies.  You bathe my head in oil; my cup is so full it spill over!  Yes, goodness and faithful love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the Lord’s house as long as I live.  (Psalm 23 Common English Bible).

Psalm 23 is probably the single most well known and loved of all the Psalms.  And for good reason.  This is a Psalm of comfort and consolation at funerals time and time again.  It is used often enough that most of us can say it by memory from the original King James Version.

I invite you to join me for a contemplative look at this Psalm. The words on the surface may appear to take us from a moment of chaos to those peaceful meadows and calm waters.  If we think on these words from our minds alone and with our false-sense of self, we will miss the opportunity to meditate on them in our hearts.  Jesus the shepherd comes when we feel that we are lost, weary, restless, in darkness and feasting before our conflicts and makes them into opportunities for God to do wondrous things in us.  In the words of this Psalm, God offers us the truth of what the Resurrection is for the contemplative.  Our lives in their current state are not an end in and of themselves.  The Contemplative searches for union with the Risen Christ where the world sees hopelessness and despair.  The contemplative seeks the mystery of God’s unfolding grace as God takes all that is difficult, painful and confusing and uses them to draw us closer to God’s boundless love and tender mercy.

Yesterday, was the commemoration of St. Anselm who’s name I am so honored to have as my Religious Name.  I read the following words in The Liturgy of the Hours, Volume II on page 1775 written from the Proslogion by St. Anselm, and I believe they speak very eloquently of what Psalm 23 may say to us from a contemplative perspective.

“O God, let me know you and love you so that I may find my joy in you; and if I cannot do so fully in this life, let me at least make some progress every day, until at last that knowledge, love and joy come to me in all their plenitude.  While I am here on earth let me learn to know you better, so that in heaven I may know you fully; let my love for you grow deeper here, so that there I may love you fully.  On earth then I shall have great joy in hope, and in heaven complete joy in fulfillment of my hope.”

“When we have used [the tools of good works] without ceasing day and night and have returned them on judgment day, our wages will be the reward the Lord has promised; What the eye has not seen nor the ear heard, God has prepared for those who love him (1 Cor 2:9).” (RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English, p.29).

“The path you must follow is the Psalms” (From the Short Rule of St. Romuald).

What is your experience of Christ as your good shepherd?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB-CoS

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Reflection on God our Fortress

Fortress

 

“The Lord is a fortress protecting my life.  Should I be frightened by anything?” (Psalm 27:1b Common English Bible).

The past few days have been very stressful for me.  My autistic spectrum disorder along with my generalized anxiety disorder have really been doing a number on me.  I had a lot going on.  It was difficult for me to think clearly and calmly.

My daily Lectio Divina yesterday and today took me to these words from Psalm 27.  As I meditated on these words, I experienced the Holy Spirit speaking to me through my anxiety and the words of the Psalmist.  The Psalmist is proclaiming faith in God who is their light, salvation, fortress and protector of life.  As I spent my time in silence and solitude yesterday, my experience of contemplative prayer was that God was my fortress protecting me through my anxiety.

When I read these words today, I got the sense that God had demonstrated once again that God is faithful to God’s words.  Today, I can take joy in what God did to protect my life and bring me a sense of peace.

As contemplatives, it is important that we see our moments of discouragement and disorder as moments to search for union with God.  God’s grace is more powerful than our circumstances.  Even when the circumstances do not produce what we had hoped for.  God is our strongest and most powerful deliverer as God is always present in whatever is happening.

“Silence, so understood, is an introduction to contemplative dialogue of prayer, in which the word and deep silence alternate with each other” (The Eremitic Life: Encountering God in Silence and Solitude, by Fr. Cronelius Wencel, Er.Cam. p.110).

“A certain philosopher question the holy Antony, ‘How can you be content, father, without the comfort of books?’ He replied, ‘My things and whenever I wish to read the words of God, it is in my hand.'” (Daily Readings with the Desert Fathers, p.77).

“That is why the Lord said in the Gospel: ‘Whoever hears these words of mine and does them is like a wise man who build his house upon rock; the floods cam and the winds blew and beat against the house, but it did not fall: it was founded on rock’ (Matt 7:24-25). (RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict, Prologue, p.17,18).

How is God being your fortress and protecting your life?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB-CoS

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Reflection on Burning Hearts

Emmaus

 

They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread. (Luke 24:32-35 NRSV).

It is amazing that so many little things will grab our attention. Our attention is drawn to things that cause our interior hearts and eyes to pay attention to things that are passing away and cannot satisfy our desire.  When such things are idolized for the sake of themselves, they draw our attention from the One who loves us beyond what our deepest comforts can sooth.

In the Gospel narrative, Jesus suddenly walks along side these Disciples who are grieved by what happened.  In the course of the conversation, He tells them about Himself from the Prophets and the Psalms.  But, they did not recognize Him until He broke bread with them.  The Disciples’ question, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” is an important question.  Are we, like them so drawn into our false-sense of self that we cannot hear Jesus, the Word speaking within the whole of ourselves?  What is the problem?

“It was said of Abba Agathon that for three years he lived with a stone in his mouth, until he had learnt to keep silence” (Desert Fathers and Mothers: Early Christian Wisdom Sayings Annotated & Explained by Christine Valters Paintner, PhD. p.119).

God wants to speak to us so we can clearly hear God.  We can hear God very clearly when we are silent within ourselves.  A silence that lets go of external and internal noise.  A silence that draws us into our burning hearts that long to listen to God speaking to us through the Scriptures while we are fed by the breaking of the bread, who is Christ Jesus Risen from the dead.

“Listen, and incline the ear of your heart.  This is advice from a father who loves you.” (Prologue to the Rule of Saint Benedict).

“Sit in your cell as in Paradise.  Put the whole world behind you and forget it” (From the Short Rule of St. Romuald).

Is your heart burning within you to listen to God in silence?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB-CoS

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Reflection on Learning

Pathways

 

“The Lord is good and does the right thing…” (Psalm 25:8a. Common English Bible).

In a world full of events and stories among the many challenges for Christians is to avoid seeking definitive conclusions.  We have been taught that all stories must have an ending.  What is more, we want to be able to decide or control how that ending will happen.

These words from Psalm 25 are our prayer to ask God to continue teaching us what God’s paths are.  We need to let go of insisting that we have learned everything.  There is a letting go of us feeling that we must always have control over what God has to teach us based on what we have always known or understood.

Contemplative prayer that leads us into the Mystical experience of God never looks for a conclusion beyond God’s Self.  Seeking union with God requires us to let go little by little so that by the purification of hearts we can let God be enough.  The contemplative is open to letting God help us to gut what foundations we have laid by our own standards.  The contemplative turns ourselves over to let God help us to build from the new foundation of God’s transforming grace.   In Christian Contemplation and Mysticism we are always in the process of learning God’s goodness and the “right things” God does.  In humility, we are ready to learn from God and never settle with what we have learned.

“Abba Moses asked Abba Silvanus, ‘Can a man lay a new foundation everyday?’  The old man said, ‘If he works hard he can lay a new foundation at every moment..'”  (Desert Fathers and Mothers: Early Christian Wisdom Sayings Annotated & Explained by Christine Valters Paintner, PhD. p.57).

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

“And if your mind wanders as you read, do not give up; hurry back and apply your mind to the words [of the Psalms] once more” (From the Short Rule of St. Romuald).

Are you willing to keep learning God’s ways?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB-CoS

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Reflection on Locked Doors

St. Thomas

 

“When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you.” (See John 20:19-31 NRSV).

This morning the Rev. Anna V. Ostenso Moore at St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral preached an excellent sermon on the words in John’s Gospel quoted above.   She spent time talking about the doors of the house where the Disciples were locked because of their fear.  Though the doors were locked and they were afraid, the Risen Christ appeared among them and brought them His peace.

When fear grips us we tend to lock the doors of hearts.  We want to hide and keep everyone including Jesus out.  Whatever happened and from wherever the fear comes from, when we allow ourselves to be consumed to the point that we lock ourselves up, it becomes very difficult to hear the Risen Christ speak to our hearts.  Whether the fear is created by the same doubt that Thomas had, or because of things within ourselves that we run from; they are no match  for the power and love of the Risen Christ and God’s love for us.

As we read further into the Gospel story for today, we see that the fear and the locked doors did not keep the Risen Christ out.  He still came among His followers and wished them peace.  The gigantic leap of faith in Thomas’ doubt enabled him to see beyond his own apprehension, the Risen Christ before him, with His wounded hands, feet and side within arms reach.

Fr. Cornelius Wencel, Er.Cam. in his book The Eremitic Life: Encountering God in Silence and Solitude wrote,

“The search for God and the result of renewal of heart leads us to the encounter of a mystery, where we attempt to perceive it with our whole self.  This is a continuous effort to encounter a reality that infinitely eludes every endeavor to define or grasp it” (See page 53).

The contemplative sees their fear and even locked doors as an opportunity to encounter the Living God.  Fear in the heart of those who truly seek God within their whole self is never an end in and of itself.  The Sacred Scriptures and our faith tell us that Jesus who is Risen is our beginning and end.  There is no fear, no event, no doubt that we may harbor that has the power to keep the Risen Christ from coming to bring us His peace and lead us into the mysticism of a deeper experience of God’s loving presence.

[Abba Nilus] said, “Do not be always wanting everything to turn out as you think it should, but rather as God pleases, then you will be undisturbed and thankful in your prayer.” (Desert Fathers and Mothers: Early Christian Wisdom Sayings Annotated & Explained by Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, p.61).

“What dear brothers, is more delightful than this voice of the Lord calling to us?” (RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English, p.16).

Can you identify a place with a locked door in your life?  Will you let the Risen Christ come and bring you His peace?

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 Contemplating Resurrection

EmptyTomb

 

“When Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and the were alarmed.  But he said to hem, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.  He has been raised; he is not here.  Look, there is the place they laid him.”  (See Mark 16:1-18 NRSV).

Each of us knows the experience of going in search of someone who said they would be in a specific place where we would meet them; and lo and behold, they are not there.  There is a sudden moment of sadness, anger perhaps, anxiety.  We might take out our cell phones and call the person and find out where they are.

Imagine the reaction of Mary Magdalene and the other women who went to Jesus’ tomb where He had been laid.  They were already filled with sadness.  I am sure their eyes opened wide and their jaws dropped at the sight of the stone being rolled aside.  To make matters more suspicious, they discover a man who tells them that Jesus rose and is not there.  In John’s account of the Resurrection, Jesus and Mary Magdalene spoke with each other.  Mary was drawn to a contemplative vision of Jesus who called her by name.

A contemplative is always searching for the Risen Christ who is hidden from our sight.  It is through the eyes of faith that we search for and find union with the Risen Jesus.  We do not experience mysticism by looking for Jesus with our knowledge and expectations of how the Risen Christ will look.  We spend time in silence and solitude, letting go of what we think and know about God.  The Risen Christ reveals Himself in the silence of our interior self.  When we see what is in our cell for what it is, the Crucified Christ leads us on to experience the Resurrection of new life with Him.  When we meet Jesus in contemplative prayer we are never the same.  We are always being remade into a new person though the love of the life-giving Jesus who meets us, calls us by name and finds us in the here and now.  Let us always be ready to sing with the Psalmist who wrote, “On this day the Lord as acted; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24 The Book of Common Prayer, p.762).

“Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ, and may he lead us all together to everlasting life” (RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 72, p.95).

Alleluia! Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed.  Alleluia!

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB-CoS

See: The Community of Solitude

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