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

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Reflection on Humility and Anxiety

St.BenedictStainedGlass

 

“Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6-7 NRSV).

I am drawn to these words today because I am a Benedictine who loves Chapter 7 in The Rule of Saint Benedict; and because I live with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).

Before I continue on, I want to give a very strong word of advice to Priests, Ministers, Preachers, Spiritual Directors, etc.  Never tell a person with any kind of anxiety disorder to just hand it over, do not be anxious and all will be fine.  It never works that way.  In fact, the more things like that are said, the more anxious a person with an anxiety disorder gets; because she/he just can’t measure up to the high expectations.  There is a false sense of guilt for things the individual is not responsible for.  People with anxiety disorders upon hearing “do not be anxious” will shy away from the advice and the advisor.

I am drawn to these words from 1 Peter because I do have an anxiety disorder.  Just giving over anxiety in prayer helps relieve it, but it is never completely gone.   When I read the words, ” Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.,” I hear the Spirit drawing me in with everything that I am and experiencing, accepting me with God’s extravagant love; with a home in Christ that is safe, and offers me consolation.

We are now in the time in our Liturgical Year between the Ascension and Pentecost.  The Apostles who lost Jesus once in His Crucifixion, were so happy after He was raised from the dead; now find themselves with Jesus gone again.  Can we just imagine for a moment the anxiety they must have experienced?  They were in a no win situation, until after Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came upon them.

The contemplative is drawn through these words to relinquish everything that is shaking us up, and trust in God with humility.  It is time to stop trying to handle it all ourselves.  It is time for us to stop thinking that all this stuff defines who we are.  It is time to sit in silence, with all the noise within and let the Holy Spirit bring a peace into our hearts, because we are in the Presence of the God who cares about what shakes us to pieces, and is somewhere in the middle of it all.  In humility we are not being asked to measure up.  On the contrary, the Holy One is lovingly and tenderly moving us to let it go.  God is telling us “It is okay.  You are not alone. Let us work through this together.”

“Let a [person] consider that God is always looking at him from heaven” (St. Benedict’s Rule for Monasteries, p.22).

How are you managing the anxieties of your life as you sit in the presence of God?

Amen.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

See: http://www.cos-osb.org

Reflection on The Ascension

Ascension

 

So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’(Acts 1:6-11 NRSV).

There are two sentences n this reading from Acts that is catching me. The first is “When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up,,,,”

What I meditate on in those words is Jesus showing us what Contemplative prayer is.  Contemplative prayer and the mystical experience of God happen as our hearts and souls are “lifted up” beyond our limits in the wonder and holiness of God.  We can sit in silence before a cross, an icon or just in a beautiful grassy field with a stream flowing.  The Holy One can lift us up to the vision of Christ as He speaks to our hearts to give us a view of ourselves from God’s perspective.  Where there are no labels, no situation, place or thing to hold us down or blur what we see.  Only the Light of Jesus gazing His eyes at us, while we see His face.  No words are adequate to explain or describe the experience.  We just know that God is present to us in a marvelous and mysterious way.

The second set of words that speak to me are “why do you stand looking up towards heaven?”  As contemplatives, we seek union with God in the here and now.  We can stare into heaven all we want.  We may catch a mysterious glimpse of God, however, the longer we stay there, the more likely we will miss God’s presence in our spouses, children, and our local communities.  The same Ascended Jesus who is in heaven is closest to God with our humanity with all our wounds interceding on our behalf.  Yet, God is so madly in love with us, wounds including, that “nothing can separate us from the love of God, in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:39).

“Without doubt, this descent and ascent can signify only hat we descend by exaltation and ascend by humility” (RB 1980: The Rule of Saint Benedict in Latin and English, Chapter 7;7, p.193).

How does meditating on the Ascension of Jesus impact your life today?

Amen.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

See: http://www.cos-osb.org

Reflection on If You Love Me

St.BenedictwRule

 

 ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”  (John 14:15-17 NRSV).

Dean Paul J. Lebens-Englund at St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Minneapolis, asked the gathered congregation two very important questions one Sunday.   Do you remember the very first time you fell in love?  What was that one moment like for you?

I invite you to spend some time in contemplative silence on those words, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will send you another Advocate, to be with you forever.”   As we bring Dean Paul’s question about the first time you fell in love, how might the words from this Gospel of John apply to what you are remembering?

I would like to suggest that to love Jesus, keep His commandments and be ready to receive the Holy Spirit, God’s very Essence; requires us to be open to learning to love Jesus in ways today that are even greater than that first time we fell in love.

The contemplative knows and lives into  the first step of humility St. Benedict wrote about in The Rule. Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB in her book, Illuminated Life: Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light wrote,

“The first step of humility is to ‘keep the reverence of God always before our eyes’ and never forget it,” the Rule of Benedict says.  See everything in life as sacred.  The neighborhood calls something out in us.  This tree stirs feeling in us.  This work touches hope in us.  Every thing in life, in fact, is speaking to us of something.  It is only when we learn to ask what the world around us is saying to us at this moment, in this particular situation, that we tend to the seedbed of our soul.”  She goes on to say in another paragraph, “What is God demanding of my heart as a result of each event, each situation, each person in my life?”

Loving Jesus and keeping His commandments, so we can be open to the Spirit of God is about how we live in awareness of, and respond to the loving Presence of Jesus in this moment, this place and this opportunity.

Are you open to falling in love again and again with Jesus, by living His commandments, to receive the Advocate Who wants to live in us?

Amen.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

See: http://www.cos-osb.org

Reflection on Way, Truth and Life

a-long-path

Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  (John 14:5-6 NRSV).

There is a spiritual danger to read these words of Jesus and presume we know exactly what Jesus is saying about Himself.  I would suggest that Jesus is talking about what He is going to do when He ascends into Heaven and later sends the Holy Spirit.  The mood of the party is about to change as to what is going to happen, and what it will mean.  It will through us into confusion.  Things as we have known them will not be the same.  What we  do next is not so much about the Who or the ending.  It is about what we do with the here and now so that we may go from here to where Jesus wants to lead us.  Previous plans will become obsolete.  What should have been, no longer applies.  What we wanted will no longer matter.

Thomas asked Jesus “How can we know the way?”  A man is finally stopping to ask for directions.  lol.   Jesus tells Thomas that He is the way, the truth and the life.   We need to be very careful about assuming that because Jesus said that He is these things, means we have the answer.  Jesus’ way, truth and life are mysterious at best.  We can presume to know that Jesus is talking about Himself, and all we have to do is follow Him from an ideology.  If we stop at what we know and understand, we will cut ourselves off from the continuing work of the Holy Spirit in our lives and relationships.

What we need to bring to our time of contemplative prayer, is that God, the Holy Spirit is calling us to turn ourselves over to the way of Jesus, so that we may know the eternal truth of God in our hearts, and search for the life that God wants us to find.  God guides us into that way, truth and life in Jesus in the here and now, to guide us onward to a renewed relationship with our true-sense of self.   A self that is not caught up in labels, positions, what we own, or have, or do.  It is our true selves, our essence in which all we know is that we are God’s beloved, and with us, God is well-pleased.

“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 on the path of God’s commandments, our hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love.”  (RB: 1980: The Rule of Saint Benedict in Latin and English.  The Prologue, p.165).

When you read that Jesus is the way, truth and life, what does that mean for you?

Amen.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

See: http://www.cos-osb.org

 

Reflection on I Am the Gate

GoodShepherd

 

“I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly”  (John 10:9-10 NRSV).

As we are focusing on Jesus as the Good Shepherd today, I found myself stuck at the words, “I am the gate.”  John’s Gospel is full of Jesus proclaiming “I am” about many things.  “I am the bread of life.”  “I am the light of the world.”  “I am the way, the truth and the life.”  “I am the resurrection and the life.”   When Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd”  that is pretty easy to think of.  The words, “I am the gate,”  these words are going deep for me today.

A gate can be higher or lower than a door.  A gate can give us a look at what is on the other side, or it can block our view. A gate is often attached to a fence of some kind that is protecting something within.  Regardless of a gates size, color, shape, with or without windows; one thing remains true.  In order to take in what is beyond the gate, one must pass through it.    Once that gate is opened and we pass through to the other side, we are introduced to what or who we went through the gate to see.  When we are inside the gate our eyes are opened to new things.  What was outside is beyond our view now.  When we step inside a gate, we are now in the hands of who owns what is on that side.  We are entrusted with the individual’s property, their way of life, the people they have welcomed or the animals they are caring for.  Passing through a gate is risky.  There is a tremendous amount of turning ourselves over the the owner of the gate and fence.

Jesus says, “I am the gate.”  We often do not know or see what Jesus is the gate to.  Sometimes we would rather stay outside of Jesus the gate, so that we can remain in our comfort zones.  We want our freedom to roam from one place or thing to the other.  We want no stability with what God has in Jesus who is The Gate.

When we put our trust in Jesus, The Gate and enter through Him, we will find that “Sheep may safely graze on pastures, where their shepherd guards them well.” (Cantata No. 208, by J.S.Bach).

The Contemplative sees Jesus, The Gate as always inviting us to pass through Him.  There is no part of life where Jesus isn’t The Gate inviting us to experience new life with a new purpose in the ordinary and boring parts of life.   Jesus is the Gate that invites us to enter into the other side of life; where we confront our fears and trust in God to change us into that “new creation” Paul wrote about in 2 Corinthians 5:17-18.  The new creation where we know healing and reconciliation within ourselves; and are entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation to a world that is swimming in the pool of wounds that many refuse to see.   Inside The Gate who is Jesus, is the opportunity for that abundant life promised to us for the taking.

“In (the Abbot’s) commands let him be prudent and considerate and whether the work which he enjoins concerns God or the world, let him be discrete and moderate, bearing in mind the discretion of holy Jacob, who said, “If I cause my flocks to be overdriven, they will all die in one day” (St. Benedict’s Rule for Monasteries, Chapter 64. p. 91-92).

What side of Jesus The Gate are you on in your present state of life?

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

See, http://www.cos-osb.org

 

Reflection on Emmaus

Emmaus

 

As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread. (Luke 24:28-35 NRSV).

The Gospel we heard last Sunday about the encounter with the Risen Jesus and Thomas is one of my favorite Easter stories.   This Sunday’s reading of the Road to Emmaus and the breaking of the bread is also one of my favorites.  Among the reasons I love it, is that it is the chosen Gospel reading used at Vespers on Easter Day.  It is such a moving Gospel to read at that moment.

Imagine what this experience was like for those first Disciples.  The range of human emotions from the beginning to the end; coupled with the words and actions of the Risen Christ in the breaking of the bread are mysterious and wondrous.

The mystical moment in this story that is a source of deep contemplation is that Jesus listened intently to what was in their hearts, responded with truth and good counsel and fed their bodies and souls.  It is its own Lectio Divina moment.  The Word comes to us where we are, listens, responds and then grants us through God’s grace a vision of God’s Self that can be viewed only through the eyes of faith.  It is another example in which contemplative prayer is something we experience by God’s random act of grace, and leads us to God’s vision of how God sees us.  God the Holy Spirit comes to feed our hungry souls with Jesus, the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation.  It is up to us as to how we respond to this experience, and how much we trust God in the here and now to lead us forward.

“What can be sweeter to us, dear brethren, than this voice of the Lord inviting us?  Behold, in His loving kindness the Lord shows us the way of life” (St. Benedict’s Rule for Monasteries, p 2).

Is your heart burning as the Risen Christ speaks to you?

Amen.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe,OSB

See: http://www.cos-osb.org