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

Run While You Have the Light

RunnerLight

Run while you have the light of life, that the darkness of death may not overtake you. (John 12:35, RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English, p.16).

St. Benedict made a word change to this verse from John 12:35.  The original wording was “walk while you have the light.”  St. Benedict wants us to have a sense of urgency.  He knows that when we walk, we can be slow and sluggish.  He wants us to not waste time.  We only have so much time.  Think of a day when you were walking on your way to do something, and your parent or spouse who wanted it done immediately said, “run.”

The context of these words are taken from the Prologue in which St. Benedict is calling us to rise from our sleep and listen to God’s voice teaching us how to love God.  St. Benedict is telling us to wake up and run to do what the Lord gives us to do in the here and now, before it is too late.  The light of life is given to us only so long.  Hurry up!  Get going!  God has so many graces and blessings for us today.  God cannot wait to share them with us and others around us.  God will talk with us in our moments of solitude and silence.  God will work through us in our difficulties and successes.  God will speak to us through the events of life.  The Holy Spirit will empower us.  Jesus, the Incarnate Word will show us “the way.”

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB

Listen As We Begin Again

Listen

A New Year has begun today.  We have been granted a great grace to begin again.  As we start over, we are prompted by The Rule to listen, incline the ear of the heart, receive willingly the Loving Father’s advice.  Why does St. Benedict stress listening over and over?  Because as he wrote, “by the labor of obedience you may return to him from whom you had departed..”  St. Benedict knew that we all have the ability to shut out God’s voice in our hearts and as God speaks to us through life itself.

As Benedictines we read through The Rule three times a year by reading one section each day.  We start from the first part of the Prologue every January 1, May 1 and September 1.  The purpose is to hone our listening to God through “the framework of The Rule (1).”  Though we are Monks, Nuns, Sisters or Oblates, we have just as much a capacity to allow God’s word to become dull and let the ears of our hearts recline from the Holy Spirit as anyone else.  So, three times a year we get a regular wake up call.

Rather than see this as a reflection on ourselves, we should see it as the work of our loving God.  God who knows the depths of our hearts more than we do, is more than willing to give us a fresh opportunity to respond to the Spirit’s movement.  As long as we are willing to incline the ears of our hearts and keep being attentive; God will speak with us and invite us to contemplation and conversion.  Because of God’s gracious goodness, we have another opportunity to start over.  We can take hold of such an opportunity to grow closer to God and experience the wonder of the Incarnate Word as God speaks to us through Jesus.

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB

(1). “The Rule as a framework” is mentioned in Thomas Merton, The Rule of St. Benedict: Initiation Into the Monastic Tradition 4, p.6.  Edited by Patrick F. O’Connell, Cistercian Publications. Copyrighted 2009 by Order of St. Benedict, Collegeville, Minnesota.  All rights reserved.