Reflection on St. John

We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us—we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. (See 1 John 1:1-9 NRSV).

St. John the Evangelist is my very favorite of the Apostles and New Testament contributors. The beginning of John’s Gospel with the words “In the beginning was the Word….” is beyond profound. The three letters attributed to St. John and Revelation are so beautiful.

On this text from 1 John, St. Augustine of Hippo wrote,

“Life itself was therefore revealed in the flesh. In this way what was visible to the heart alone could become visible to the eye, and so heal men’s hearts.” (The Liturgy of the Hours, Volume I Advent and Christmas Season, p.1267).

The Johannine communities that gave us these words from the Apostle tell us about what they have personally witnessed. The love of Jesus, the Word made visible and tangible. It was more exciting than yesterday’s news story that had come and gone. The love of God in Christ was transforming them from the inside out. The love they experienced was so powerful, that they had to write about it.

This reading from First John leads us into contemplation. When John and his community experience the love of the Word, they move into what Thomas Keating wrote about in his book The Mystery of Christ: The Liturgy as Spiritual Experience,

“The revelation of being loved by God characterizes the first stage of contemplative prayer. It enables us to see God in all things” (p.73).

St. John reminds us that we experience the transformative power of Christ when we let God into our hearts. St. Benedict tells us in the beginning of The Rule. “Listen carefully to the master’s instructions, and incline the ear of your heart.” Once we let go of our false-sense of self, and let God’s desire for us, feed our desire for God; it is then that we will find God by loving God; that we will be led by the Holy Spirit to love God when we find God. Contemplative prayer and the mystical experience help us to begin again, as we open our hearts to the experience of Jesus the Word made flesh by the faithful witness of those who have come before us.

Where are you looking to find Jesus today?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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Reflection on God’s Will

I want to do your will, my God. Your instruction is deep within me. (Psalm 40:8 The Common English Bible).

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

How do we actually know what God’s will is? It is easy to read a particular passage of Scripture, interpret it and from there decide what God’s will is. Does that mean we really know what God’s will is?

God’s will is as much a mystery as any other aspect of God’s movement in our lives. The vastness of space, the depths of the oceans of the world, the strength of the mountains all sing to our God. Yet, nothing is so big, so indestructible that prevents God from being so madly in love with each of us, so as to want us to love God back.

To want to do God’s will means letting go of the assumption that we understand what God wants of us from our own perspective. Contemplative Prayer is the work of the Holy Spirit that allows us to just be with God, and to want nothing more than God for the sake of God alone. God has already planted God’s will and instruction deep within us, in our desire for the God who desires us. God sees with us the person that God loves and has redeemed in Jesus the Christ.

During this season of Advent, we are watching and waiting to celebrate the mystery beyond all human logic. God saw God’s goodness in all of humankind, and came to us as one of us in the Incarnate Word. God’s will has been given to us, to “listen and incline the ear of the heart.” God’s will is not found in beating ourselves up for what we have not done, or should have done. God’s will is in the truth of God in and through the life of Jesus, that brings us to the eternal truth about who we are in God’s heart.

“Do not be daunted immediately by fear and run away from the road that leads to salvation. It is bound to be narrow at the outset. But, as we progress in this life and faith, we shall run the way of God’s commandments, our hearts overflowing with 5e inexpressible delight of love” (RB 1989: The Rule of St. Benedict in English, p.19).

What does wanting to do God’s will mean for you?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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Reflection on A Contemplative Advent

Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; in you have I trusted all the day long. Remember, O Lord, your compassion and love, for they are from everlasting. (Psalm 25:4-5, The Book of Common Prayer, p.614).

Among my many social challenges I experience because of autism is knowing when, who and how to ask for help. It happens because of being overwhelmed by too many options in my brain at one time. Over the past seven years since I was first diagnosed, I have had to learn that the sooner I tell those closest to me that I am overwhelmed by my options and need help, the less overwhelmed I will be. I will get the help I need, when I accept my vulnerability and entrust what I need from the right people.

Advent is a season of waiting and watching for God in the Person of Jesus. We look forward to the return of Christ in glory. We want Jesus to come and change this world of violence and chaos to how we think things should be. The season of Advent leads us to remembering that God did something so profound in the Incarnation. In the book Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas, one of the contributors Karl Rahner in The Divine Dawning wrote,

“No, you took upon yourself our kind of life, just as it is. You let it slip away from you, just as ours vanishes from us. You held on to it carefully, so that not a single drop of its torments would be spilled. You hoarded its very fleeting moment, so you could suffer through it all, right to the bitter end” (p.71,72).

If we want a contemplative experience of Advent, we must “begin again.” We begin by praying with the Psalmist that by ourselves, we do not know how to find God’s truth and know God’s compassion. The contemplative looks for the mystery of God in our humility and vulnerability as life is in the here and now. In our suffering and messy lives the Advent of Christ is already happening. When we let go, and allow God to teach us the way of truth, salvation and compassion; the Holy One comes and makes a home within us. It is a very limited experience, and so we continue to cry; Come, Lord Jesus, Come.

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

What are you waiting for Jesus to do for you this Advent?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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Reflection on Farming Faithfulness

“Trust in the Lord and do good; live in the land, and farm faithfulness” (Psalm 37:3 Common English Bible).

Christine Valters Paintner, in her book Desert Fathers and Mothers: Early Christian Wisdom Sayings, writes the following story by an anonymous Desert Monastic.

A brother fell when he was tempted, and in his distress he stopped practicing his Monastic Rule. He really longed to take it up again, but his own misery prevented him. He would say to himself, “When shall I be able to be holy in the way I used to be before?”

He went to one of the old men, and told him all about himself. And when the old man learned of his distress, he said, “There was a man who had a plot of land; but, it got neglected and turned into waste ground full of weeds and brambles. So he said to his son, ‘Go and weed the ground.’ The son went off to weed it, saw all the brambles and despaired. He said to himself, ‘How long will it take before I have uprooted and reclaimed all that?’ So he lay down and went to sleep for several days. His father came to see how he was getting on and found that he had done nothing at all. ‘Why have you done nothing?’ He said. The son replied, ‘Father, when I started to look at this and saw how many weeds and brambles there were, I was so depressed that I could do nothing but lie down on the ground.’ His father said, “Child, just go over the surface of the plot every day and you will make progress.’ So he did, and before long the whole plot was weeded. The same is true for you, brother: work a little bit without getting discouraged, and God by his grace will re-establish you” (p.109).

The contemplative looks for the opportunity to farm faith. A relationship with the Holy Spirit begins with God planting the seed of faith within us. Just like the farmer must tend to watering, and grounding the soil so the seed can grow into ears of corn; so we have to spend some time in silence and solitude to nurture our faith in God. Just as the crops require the sun for light, rain for water, the skilled hand of the farmer to pick the weeds and brambles; so we must with all humility, accept our own poverty of spirit that daily needs the grace of God. Contemplative prayer invites us into the mystical experience of God’s skills to feed and till our hungry souls.

“And finally, never lose hope in God’s mercy ” (RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English, Chapter 4 On the Tools for Good Works, p.29).

How are you farming faithfulness in your relationship with the Holy Spirit today?

Amen.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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The Presentation as Renewal

PresentationTemple

Be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new nature created after the likeness of God in righteousness and true holiness.  (Ephesians 4:23-24.  The New Zealand Prayer Book. p.662)

The date of February 2nd, the Presentation of Christ in the Temple has several meanings in the Liturgical Year.  Today marks 40 days since we celebrated the Nativity of Christ on December 25th.  Eight days from today is already Ash Wednesday; the beginning of Lent.  The Presentation can be thought of as our “bridge” between Christmas and Lent.  Today, we make the turn towards recalling the events of the Death and Resurrection of Christ.

When I read the short verse for the Presentation from The New Zealand Prayer Book, the idea of it being a day for renewal struck me.  The Christmas event and the events of the Easter Triduum are about renewal.  So, I was surprised to learn to think of the Presentation as also being about renewal.

In The Rule of St. Benedict, his many texts throughout its many chapters point us to multiple opportunities to start over.  We begin by “listening with the ears of our hearts.”  We begin each day, each of the various hours of the day with the Divine Office.  Each Office is a new beginning at the specified time of the day.  Humility is the opportunity to ascend by our acts of humility, or descend by our attitudes of arrogance.   Yet, at the end of the twelve steps of humility, we are challenged to start over from step one.

The Presentation invites us to contemplate beginning again from the point of pureness of heart, obedience out of love and the sacrifice of our hearts as we search for union with God.   We all walk away from these yearly feasts and tread out a bit further away from what the Gospel of Christ calls us to.  In the Presentation, we are invited back to our sacred temples of prayer and repentance and receive the blessing of God to start over again.  We are “renewed in spirit” and “put on the new nature” so that we move forward with the love of Christ as our guide and goal.

How is God calling you to contemplate how you are being renewed today?

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB

Ash Wednesday: The Beginning of the Road

Beginning Lent

“Do not be daunted immediately by fear and run away from the road that leads to salvation.  It is bound to be narrow at the outset.  But as we progress in this way of life and in faith, we shall run the path of Gods commandments, our hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love.” (RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English.  The Prologue, vs.48,49. p.19).

The saying is more true than we like to admit; the first step is the hardest one.  We live in an era of procrastination due to all of the things we put in the way of the important things in life.  There is an email to read, a Facebook wall to look over, a job task, a place to go; that takes up our time and energy.  So, we put off that difficult conversation we really need to have with a member of the family or a dear friend.  “There’s always tomorrow.”

As we celebrate the beginning of Lent on this Ash Wednesday, we read in 2 Corinthians 6:2b, “See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!”  Today and at this moment we can take that first step towards a deeper relationship with God.  The beginning is always the most difficult.  St. Benedict wrote The Rule for beginners.  He knows that when we begin something we see all the obstacles in our way, including but not limited to ourselves.  St. Benedict and St. Paul tell us to not be afraid and run away.  We are beginning again on a new day, a new season in which we can contemplate and walk on a new path towards real personal freedom in God’s unfathomable mercy.

What I love about what St. Benedict wrote in this quote from the Prologue is his assurance that the road itself is a means of progress.  It is a progress that will deepen our awareness of God that “our hearts [will be] overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love”.  It means that no matter how difficult taking that first step is, once we do take it; the love of God and our neighbor will pour out of us and give the new life of a holy Easter with a joy that we will not be able to contain.

May God bless you as we begin Lent today.

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB

Expanding the Heart

Rule of St. Benedict

“For as we advance in the religious life and in faith, our hearts expand and we run the way of God’s commandments with unspeakable sweetness of love”  (St. Benedict’s Rule for Monasteries, p.5).

Once again, St. Benedict gives us some words that should set off a spark within our souls.  “Advance.”  “Our hearts expand.”  “We run the way of God’s commandments.”  “Unspeakable sweetness of love.”   Either St. Benedict did not know how to avoid being redundant, or he knew that he could not repeat it enough.  I tend to think the latter is more accurate.

It is much too easy to become too comfortable or satisfied with where we are in our spiritual life.  We go to Mass.  We pray our Offices.  We spend time in Lectio Divina.  We can do all of these things and still miss the most important part.

“Clearly, great pursuers of the spiritual life know that the secret of the spiritual life is to live it until it becomes real” (Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB.  The Rule of Benedict: A Spirituality for the 21st Century., p.22).

All that we do in the spiritual life can become an abstraction, unless we allow the Holy Spirit to ignite in us the fire of living the Gospel.  We will know that “unspeakable sweetness of love” as we “run the way of God’s commandments” in so far as, we allow the Spirit to transform us.  When we ponder the Word of God as Mary did, and say yes as Mary did; Christ will again become visible to the world through us.

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB