St. Benedict: The Contemplative Prophetic Witness

“If today you hear God’s Voice, harden not your hearts” (Psalm 95:7,8).

As many of my faithful readers know, I live with an autistic spectrum disorder. There is no part of my life that is untouched by the effects of autism. It effects every interpersonal relationship in one way or another. It is part of my being, and always will be. It means that there are many things I am not able to do in ways that people without autism can. Things that trouble most neuro-typical (without autism) people, are more intense for me. One way my autism effects me, is that I am the exact opposite of the general population. I experience less depression during the cold winter months. I experience more depression during the hot and humid summer time.

Yesterday, someone who works with me regarding my autism asked me a question. “Don’t you think it is very prophetic that with your depression being worse during the summer time, and St. Benedict’s Feast Day is right smack in the middle of summer?” Honestly, I never thought about it that way.

In her book, The Breath of the Soul: Reflections on Prayer, Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB wrote,

“[Prayerfulness] trusts that no matter how malevolent the situation may be, I can walk through it unharmed because God is with me “(p.46).

Contemplative prayer guides us to hear God’s voice in every moment and everywhere. God’s voice may or may not speak in words we can understand or receive without some kind of interior disruption. Ironically, the very experience of being disrupted is a good indicator that we heard God better than we think. The Contemplative experience of prayer that characterized St. Benedict is that God is a “father who loves you” and wants us closer in relationship with God that we can imagine. My autism is a big obstacle in many ways, but, it is what helps me to let go of a lot of other things that can consume me, and embrace God’s grace in silence and solitude. God uses my most painful and difficult seasons to draw me deeper into God’s heart and know I am never alone. With God, I am always loved and cherished. So are you.

How, where and when are you hearing God’s voice today?

Amen

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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Reflection on Touching Jesus

“[The woman] said, “If I but Touch his clothes, I will be made well.” [Jesus] said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well…” (See Mark 5:21-43. NRSV).

The Gospel narrative of the sick woman reaching out for Jesus’ clothes is provides an excellent meditation on Contemplative prayer. The circumstances of her illness, puts her in a moment of vulnerability. She is at the edge of life with no where else to go. She had only hope to find faith. She also knew something about Jesus that prompted her to take a risk. Once she touches Jesus’ cloak and she is healed, all she does is walk away, planning to just keep quiet in thanksgiving. Jesus knew something amazing happened. Jesus confirmed the faith of His daughter.

“There is certainly nothing flashy about contemplation:there is nothing in it that can be translated into marketable commodities and subsequently traded for some temporal advantage. Contemplation is entirely gratuitous, pure grace. On God’s part total gift, on ours total receptivity” (Toward God: The Ancient Wisdom of Western Prayer by Michael Casey, p.171).

God’s grace gives the gift of Contemplative prayer and Mysticism because God knows us as God’s Beloved ones. Whether we are at our moment of vulnerability in a good way or not; God takes the initiative to move our hearts toward a deeper relationship with the Holy Spirit. A relationship of silence and solitude through which we seek union with God with an openness to the presence of God. A presence that is everywhere, allowing us the mystical of seeing ourselves from God’s perspective ctive of an unconditional love that cannot be explained or described. We just know that love is there, and God’s love is all that matters.

Abba Antony said, “I no longer fear God, I love him; for love casts out fear.” (Daily Readings with the Desert Fathers. By Benedict Ward., p.50).

“Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ, and may he bring is all together to everlasting life ” (RB 1989: The Rule of St. Benedict in English, Chapter 72, p. 95).

How are you reaching out in faith to God in your life?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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Reflection on St. John the Baptist

“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel.before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel”(See Luke 1:57-80 NRSV).

The Church celebrates today the birth of one of the most influential people of Desert spirituality. St. John the Baptist personified the vocation of solitude. It is more than fair to say, that the Monastic tradition of living in the silence and solitude of the desert has St. John the Baptist as our pioneer.

The desert life of St. John the Baptist was to “prepare the way of the Lord.” He accepted the unfavorable way of life. He abandoned the lure of wealth and power. His desert life was how he unlocked the mystery of the God that he and all of humankind was awaiting. John the Baptist knew that he was chosen by God for something so amazing, that he let go of everything that could tie him down. St. John the Baptist chose the freedom of solitude, to know the God that was to become the very essence of God’s presence in every human person.

“Like the Forerunner, you were intended for Christ,,,,,,, because the on,y reason for your existence on earth is to love and glorify Jesus” (The Hermitage Within: Spirituality of the Desert. Translated by Alan Neame., p.19).

Contemplation is the gift of God’s grace to grow in purity of heart. Contemplation is about letting go of all our pretenses so that we are liberated to experience the wonder of God. Contemplation is the grace of self awareness; that God is at work in ourselves and the world us in the mystical experience of which our human senses can neither comprehend or describe.

“As long as I am content to know that [Christ] is infinitely greater than I, and that I cannot know Him unless He shows Himself to me, I will have peace, and He will be near me and in me, and I will rest in Him” (Thomas Merton. Thoughts in Solitude, p.109).

“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 noble weapons of obedience to do battle for the true King, Christ the Lord” (RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English, The Prologue, p.15).

“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).

How are you called to be a forerunner for God in your daily life?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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Reflection on the Whole Heart

“I will give thanks to you , O Lord, with my whole heart; before the gods I will sing your praise.” (Psalm 138:1 The Book of Common Prayer, p.793).

There are twelve chapters in The Rule of St. Benedict in which Benedict lists what Psalms are to be prayed at the various Offices.   He quotes from the Psalms in any number of chapters including the Prologue.  In the short Rule of St. Romuald, he writes about the importance of the Psalms for those who observe an Eremitic version of Benedictine Monasticism as Camaldolese.  The Desert Mothers and Fathers prayed all 150 Psalms twice a day.  The importance of the Psalms in the life of Christians cannot be over emphasized.

When we pray the Psalms, we pray with the entire Church in the past, present and future.  Praying the Psalms allows us to open ourselves to the Presence of God.  God knows all of our emotions and allows us to offer them and everything about ourselves to God by praying the Psalms while surrendering ourselves to God.

What might it mean to give thanks to God with our whole heart?

When we use the word “heart” in Christian Spirituality, we are talking about the whole of ourselves.  To give thanks to God with our whole heart implies holding nothing back.  Whatever is good and wonderful we offer in thanksgiving to God with our whole selves.  Whatever is in pain, suffering or sadness, we offer in thanksgiving to God with our whole selves.   Praying the Psalms is our assurance that whatever is happening within our whole selves, we can turn ourselves over to God who loves us where we are.  When we do God draw us closer to God’s Self who walks with us in mystic journey of redemption.

When we pray Lectio Divina (the prayerful reading of Scripture) we spend time meditating on a word or sentence that moves us.   In his book Thoughts in Solitude Thomas Merton wrote the following words with regards to meditative prayer.

“In meditative prayer, one thinks and speaks not only with his mind and lips, but in a certain sense with his whole being.  Prayer is not just a formula of words, or a series of desires springing up in the heart–it is the orientation of our whole body, mind and spirit to God in silence, attention and adoration.  All good meditative prayer is a conversion of our entire self to God.” (Shambhala Pocket Classics version 1993, p.44).

Offering our whole selves to God in thanksgiving leads us to contemplation.   God who entered into our human nature in Jesus the Word, became one with all our human experiences.  Jesus offered every aspect of humanity from joy to excruciating suffering to the very heart of the love of God.  When we pray the Psalms and offer our whole hearts to God with all the masks off, our prayer, becomes the prayer of Jesus as God receives with unconditional love all that we have to offer God.

What does giving thanks to God with your whole heart mean for you?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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Reflection on Listening and Serving

St.BenedictStainedGlass

Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ And Samuel said, ‘Speak, for your servant is listening.’ (1 Samuel 3:10 NRSV).

Yes!  Another blog post from me about listening.  When it comes to the contemplative relationship with the Holy Spirit the matter of listening cannot be over emphasized.  Our present culture has us listening to the internet, television and radio at length.  We hear the messages of consumerism over and over again, telling us to buy what is bigger, better and my favorite the “new and improved.”  We give ourselves to these things without discerning their long-lasting impact on our spiritual life.

The Camaldolese-Benedictine tradition makes use of three important tools to grow closer to God.  Solitude, silence and Hesychia.  Hesychia is best explained as what Jesus taught in Matthew 6:6.  “But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Abba Antony once said, “Just as fish die if they stay too long out of water, so the monks who loiter outside their cell or pass their time with men of the world lose the intensity of inner peace.  So like a fish going toward the sea, we must hurry to reach our cell, for fear that if we delay outside we shall lose our interior watchfulness.” (Desert Fathers and Mothers: Early Christian Wisdom Sayings Annotated & Explained by Christine Valters Paintner, p.9).

The reading from 1 Samuel  to listen for God with the attitude of a servant.   A servant who is ready to rise and follow where God leads us.  The listening being referred to here is what St. Benedict wrote about in the Prologue of The Rule.  “Listen.  Incline the ear of your heart.”   St. Benedict later reminds us of the words we pray everyday at Matins from Psalm 95. “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”

“It was said of Abba Agathon that for three years he lived with a stone in his mouth, until he learned to keep silence” (Paintner, p.119).

As contemplatives, we spend time in silence and solitude letting go of exterior and interior noise, so that we may listen to God more attentively.  God desires more than we can imagine to draw us deeper into God’s divine love.   God knows us better than we know ourselves.  When we take time to listen to God within us, we can experience a true conversion of heart and life.  We can then pray the words in Psalm 32:8 in The Common English Bible with a greater confidence in God’s grace.  “I will instruct you and teach you about the direction you should go.  I’ll advise you and keep my eye on you.”

Are you setting time aside in your daily life to listen with the ear of your heart to God?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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Reflection on Visitation

Luca della Robbia-visitation

Image Above Made by Luca della Robbia.  See Artway.ea

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’ (Luke 1:39-45 NRSV).

The Visitation is an excellent narrative to lead us into contemplation of what is written in Chapter 53:1 in The Rule of Saint Benedict.  “Let all guests be received as Christ..”   Following Mary’s experience of the Angel Gabriel announcing that she would be the Mother of the Incarnate Word, she leaves to visit with Elizabeth.  When Mary greets Elizabeth the child in her womb who is John the Baptist leaps for joy.  Elizabeth and her child knew the experience of Christ coming to them through Mary.  Jesus though He had barely been conceived in the womb of Mary was so real to Elizabeth and John the Baptist that their lives were changed with a joy that needed no words.

The Visitation story is also a great way to meditate on what Abba James said.  “It is better to receive hospitality than to give it.”  When Mary arrived to visit Elizabeth, the experience Elizabeth had within her, came from receiving Mary in hospitality and being received in hospitality by Jesus present in Mary.

In her book Illuminated Life: Monastic Wisdom for Seeker’s of Light, Sr. Joan Chittister on the topic of Lectio Divina wrote,

“Contemplation is not a private devotion; it is a way of life.  It changes the way we think.  It shapes the way we live.  It challenges the way we talk and where we go and what we do.  We do not “contemplate” or “not contemplate.” We live the contemplative life.”

The experience of Jesus receiving us, invites us to receive Him in a profound moment of conversion.  It is a way of life that leads us to seeking a deeper union with the God-life who has entered into our human condition and reclaimed us as holy unto God.  Jesus invites us into the mystery of this holy way of life to accept Him and respond with the joy that leaps within our true selves that gives us new life and in turn “renews the face of the earth” in the Holy Spirit.

“Realize above all that you are in God’s presence, and stand there with the attitude of one who stands before the emperor.  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 change are you experiencing within yourself as Christ is coming to you today?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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Reflection on the Spirit of Truth

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“I have much more to say to you, but you can’t handle it now.  However, when the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you in all truth” (John 16:12,13 The Common English Bible).

The moment we tell ourselves that we know the truth of God with nothing more to learn; what we are in effect saying is that we are satisfied with being lost in ourselves.  Just the notion that we think that our knowledge and experience of God is an end in and of itself, suggests that we have lost hope and disregarded faith.  When we limit our knowledge of the truth about God to ourselves, we are giving in to our false-sense of self.

The Holy Spirit leads us into our true self by guiding us again and again into a new experience of God.  Every fresh encounter with God’s Spirit of truth is a moment of rebirth.  Contemplative prayer helps us to open our hearts to a fresh breath of the Holy Spirit that unlocks our eternal truth in the Light of God’s Incarnate Word who is Jesus the Christ.

Abba Poeman once said, “So when people hear the word of God frequently, their hearts are opened to the fear of God.”  St. Benedict picks up on this same idea in the Prologue of The Rule when he wrote, “Let us open our eyes to the light that comes from God, and our ears to the voice from heaven that every day calls out this charge: If you hear his voice today, do not harden your hearts (Psalm 95)” (See RB:1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English, p.16).

An encounter with the Holy Spirit of God’s truth begins with silence and listening.   When we take some time in solitude with the God who is “I AM” the Holy One leads us to “incline the ear of our heart.”  As we listen in silence and solitude Holy Spirit does the work that Jesus promised us, which is to lead us to a deep and profound truth through which we experience the Resurrection of new life with God.

“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 Rule of St. Romauld).

Are you letting the Holy Spirit continue guiding you into all truth?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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