Advent Reflection: Keeping Watch with Reverence

Tools

Let the tools of the Monastery and its whole property be regarded as if they were the sacred vessels of the altar.  (RB. 31:10)

Allow no one to mistreat the Monastery’s tools and implements in a slovenly or careless way. (RB. 32:4).  (Both quotes taken from Benedict’s Way: An Ancient Monk’s Insights for a Balanced Life, p.91).

A couple of years ago, I made a serious mistake.  It was a busy night, as I was working at a Sunday Night Supper that our local Episcopal Cathedral does every second Sunday of the month.  I was helping to set up a place at a table with a place mat, silverware, napkin and drinking cup before someone sat down to eat.  After the person was finished eating and got up to leave I would clean up the place and reset it for another visitor. After I cleared a table and carried the dirty dishes to the cart, I was scraping the remains of the meal into the garbage when suddenly the fork itself slipped out of my hands and into the trash.  Before I could reach down and get it, several other volunteers came over with their plates and dumped more refuse on top of the fork and before I knew it, it was impossible for me or anyone else for that matter to retrieve it.  It was gone.  If I had been a more mature person than I was at the time, I would have disregarded the mess and gone through all the stuff and gotten the fork out.  But, I didn’t.  Instead, I went to the person who was the leader of the supper and apologized that I had lost the Cathedral’s fork in the trash.  Her look at me was “What’s the big deal?”   The big deal was, The Rule of St. Benedict‘s admonition to regard the things we use as if they are the sacred vessels of the altar.

“Benedictine spirituality is a sacramental spirituality.  It holds all things– the earth and all its goods–as sacred” (Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB The Monastery of the Heart: An Invitation to a Meaningful Life, p.115).

The things we use are to be handled with care and with reverence for the presence of God.  The tools that include the plates we eat from, the tools we use to make things, a pen, the computer I am using to write these words; all have a purpose in God’s plan for the world. It is up to us to seek union with God in prayer and reverence, through each thing we use, each person we interact with and each moment we spend.  When we just use things for the sake of themselves, then they actually own us.  When we take the time to acknowledge with reverence for God in all things, they become opportunities for prayer and contemplation.

Keep watch with reverence.  God has much to say.

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB

A Faint Reflection

Personality–liberty–is a treasure which is given to be increased and developed by union with the Divine Person of the Incarnate Word, Jesus, our Model and Savior.  Our Personality is a faint reflection of the Person of the Word, the natural Image of the Father. (Thomas Merton: The Life of the Vows: Initiation into the Monastic Tradition 6, p.15).

Reflections

These words of St. Thomas Merton (A Saint included in the Episcopal Churches’ calendar) are from a book I am reading as part of my formation.   These words tell us to treasure our personality and our liberty by giving it over to be developed by seeking union with God through Jesus Christ.   What a stark contrast to how we think of our personality and liberty.

We live in a world and age where private ownership of everything including our bodies, personalities and liberties are all up for us to grab onto.   Why contemplate that there is more beyond ourselves, when we make ourselves our own end?

The picture above gives us a very different perspective. The mountains with their snow caps, the grass, trees, sky seem as if they are all to themselves.  The reflection in the waters below shows the contrary.  The reflection is faint, but it reveals that the scene is not unto itself.  It shares all that it is and can be with the very waters that will flow past it; taking all the goodness of God with it.  It will bring light to darkness, hope to despair and life from death.  It will project the reflection of the Creator and Redeemer with all that is still veiled as the result of the faint reflection.  It will still make a notable difference where it may seem that change is impossible.

Today, may we not dwell so much on how imperfect of a reflection we are of Jesus and His Father.  Instead, may we take hold of the reflection God is making through us that may only be passing us by to impact our own lives and those of others for the brief moment of the contemplative vision.

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB

A Piece of Wisdom

RestfulWaters

Indeed, before you the whole universe is a grain from a balance, or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth.  But you have mercy on all, because you can do all things; and you over look the sins of men that they may repent.  For you love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made; for what you hated you would not have fashioned.  And how could a thing remain, unless you willed it; or be preserved had it not been called forth by you?  But you spare all things, because they are yours, O LORD and lover of souls, for your imperishable spirit is in all things!”  (Wisdom 11:22-12:1. New American Bible).

Many years ago, a Priest read these words to me.   They have stayed with me ever since.   These words tell us of the story of how much God loves us, in that all of us are as beautiful and lovely in God’s eyes as if we are no different than the image I have included in this blog post.    It is easy to look at this picture and reread these words from Wisdom and think all is peaceful and calm.   As with anything in the Spiritual Life, it is not what we can see on the surface; but, what is beyond that calls on us to focus.

The river may look calm and peaceful, but, at any moment a storm could come and change the tranquil state.  It could overflow its banks if there is more rain than its capacity can handle.  The trees are often swayed by the winds and/or soaked by the rain and/or snow.  All the beauty and potential change its existence.   Though there may be boats that have sunk in the river, children may have drowned or people fallen through thin ice; the beauty of the river is remains very present.

Our own lives have as much of a potential to be peaceful as they do to be thrown into chaos.  We, like Jesus know what it means to have close friends and friends who betray us.  Yet, both our friends and foes exist in a dissonant harmony.   The song may change the sound of its mode, but it is still beautiful music.  The message of God is still speaking through it.  God still loves us as God uses all things to shape and remold us.

Today, God invites us to celebrate all that exists, and to put our faith and trust in God’s will as we go along our own path of life.  Whether that life is one of endless joys that put us on a cloud nine, or brings us to what seems like a bottomless pit of grief and pain; God still sustains us.  God hates nothing that God has made.  All that exists, lives and mysteriously works to bring us to a deeper union with God through a greater purity of heart.

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB

The Heavens Declare the Glory of God

Psalm191

The heavens appear to be too complicated for a simple reflection.  All of the matter, energy and elements that make up what is millions of light years away can hardly be comprehended by us tiny human beings.  Yet, their complexity is exactly why they are perfect for a simple reflection.

Thomas Merton in writing about The Rule of St. Benedict in his book Initiation into the Monastic Tradition writes extensively about our false sense of self.   Our false sense of self is what causes us to think that our whole essence is about knowing everything, being comfortable with everything and/or being approved of, etc.  While the technological advances of the last decade are nothing short of miraculous; their detriment is in how much they can aid us in being entrenched into our false sense of self.  The remedy that St. Benedict offers us, Thomas Merton tells us, is in Chapter 7 of The Rule, on humility.  Humility is about seeing ourselves as we really are, and living more deeply into a bonded relationship with God and others.  This kind of humility is to help us to learn that even in the midst of conflict and difficulty, our one constant reality worthy of our devotion and reverence is God.

The heavens show us the glory of God that is in our darkest moments, through which the beauty and wonder of God’s will for us shines through in both small and great ways.  We may not be able to name every item in the heavens, but what we are able to see helps us know that we are not the center of the universe.  In fact, we are one very small being.  Yet as the Psalmist writes:

“When I look up at your skies, at what your fingers made–the moon and the stars that you set firmly in place–what are human beings that you think about them; what are human beings that you pay attention to them?  You’ve made them only slightly less than divine, crowning them with glory and grandeur” (Psalm 8:3-4 The Common English Bible).

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB

Let Us Contemplate God

“Let us contemplate God in our thoughts and with our mind’s eye reflect upon the peaceful and restrained unfolding of His plan; let us consider the care with which He provides for the whole of His Creation”  (Pope Clement in a Letter to the Corinthians, The Liturgy of the Hours, Volume IV,. p.439).

MountainImage

There are many things we can contemplate.  The mountains that are so high that our eyes cannot grasp their actual size.  The sky that seems so close is really so far away from us.  The land with its trees so green and grass so graceful.  The rivers and streams with their living and moving waters and all that is alive in them.

All of these things have their beauty and ability to capture our imaginations.  Yet, none of these things come close to the opportunity to contemplate God.   In these brief words by Pope Clement, we are invited to think with the eye of the mind how much God must love us all.  All of this resonates with what St. Benedict wrote in the Prologue of The Rule.  “Listen to the Master’s instructions.  Incline the ear of your heart.”   These words and the reflection by Pope Clement invite us to a renewed view of things from God’s point of view.   Seeing things from the point of how God sees them is the goal of contemplative prayer.  In contemplative prayer, we see through the eyes of faith passed what is created by viewing all things from the perspective of the Creator.   Our view even then will be very limited, because our vision is impaired by the fact that we need God’s perspective to see more completely what is veiled from sight   The great gift in contemplative prayer is that we receive through faith God’s grace for a singular moment in time what is known and understood beyond time and space.  Yet, it pierces the most stubborn of hearts.   It releases all the anger we use to limit ourselves, and liberates us to live into our true selves with simplicity and hope.

Today, may we contemplate God.

Amen.

Br. Anselm King-Lowe, n/OSB