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

See The Community of Solitude

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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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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

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