St. Benedict: The Contemplative Prophetic Witness

“If today you hear God’s Voice, harden not your hearts” (Psalm 95:7,8).

As many of my faithful readers know, I live with an autistic spectrum disorder. There is no part of my life that is untouched by the effects of autism. It effects every interpersonal relationship in one way or another. It is part of my being, and always will be. It means that there are many things I am not able to do in ways that people without autism can. Things that trouble most neuro-typical (without autism) people, are more intense for me. One way my autism effects me, is that I am the exact opposite of the general population. I experience less depression during the cold winter months. I experience more depression during the hot and humid summer time.

Yesterday, someone who works with me regarding my autism asked me a question. “Don’t you think it is very prophetic that with your depression being worse during the summer time, and St. Benedict’s Feast Day is right smack in the middle of summer?” Honestly, I never thought about it that way.

In her book, The Breath of the Soul: Reflections on Prayer, Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB wrote,

“[Prayerfulness] trusts that no matter how malevolent the situation may be, I can walk through it unharmed because God is with me “(p.46).

Contemplative prayer guides us to hear God’s voice in every moment and everywhere. God’s voice may or may not speak in words we can understand or receive without some kind of interior disruption. Ironically, the very experience of being disrupted is a good indicator that we heard God better than we think. The Contemplative experience of prayer that characterized St. Benedict is that God is a “father who loves you” and wants us closer in relationship with God that we can imagine. My autism is a big obstacle in many ways, but, it is what helps me to let go of a lot of other things that can consume me, and embrace God’s grace in silence and solitude. God uses my most painful and difficult seasons to draw me deeper into God’s heart and know I am never alone. With God, I am always loved and cherished. So are you.

How, where and when are you hearing God’s voice today?

Amen

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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Reflection on Touching Jesus

“[The woman] said, “If I but Touch his clothes, I will be made well.” [Jesus] said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well…” (See Mark 5:21-43. NRSV).

The Gospel narrative of the sick woman reaching out for Jesus’ clothes is provides an excellent meditation on Contemplative prayer. The circumstances of her illness, puts her in a moment of vulnerability. She is at the edge of life with no where else to go. She had only hope to find faith. She also knew something about Jesus that prompted her to take a risk. Once she touches Jesus’ cloak and she is healed, all she does is walk away, planning to just keep quiet in thanksgiving. Jesus knew something amazing happened. Jesus confirmed the faith of His daughter.

“There is certainly nothing flashy about contemplation:there is nothing in it that can be translated into marketable commodities and subsequently traded for some temporal advantage. Contemplation is entirely gratuitous, pure grace. On God’s part total gift, on ours total receptivity” (Toward God: The Ancient Wisdom of Western Prayer by Michael Casey, p.171).

God’s grace gives the gift of Contemplative prayer and Mysticism because God knows us as God’s Beloved ones. Whether we are at our moment of vulnerability in a good way or not; God takes the initiative to move our hearts toward a deeper relationship with the Holy Spirit. A relationship of silence and solitude through which we seek union with God with an openness to the presence of God. A presence that is everywhere, allowing us the mystical of seeing ourselves from God’s perspective ctive of an unconditional love that cannot be explained or described. We just know that love is there, and God’s love is all that matters.

Abba Antony said, “I no longer fear God, I love him; for love casts out fear.” (Daily Readings with the Desert Fathers. By Benedict Ward., p.50).

“Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ, and may he bring is all together to everlasting life ” (RB 1989: The Rule of St. Benedict in English, Chapter 72, p. 95).

How are you reaching out in faith to God in your life?

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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Reflection on St. John the Baptist

“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel.before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel”(See Luke 1:57-80 NRSV).

The Church celebrates today the birth of one of the most influential people of Desert spirituality. St. John the Baptist personified the vocation of solitude. It is more than fair to say, that the Monastic tradition of living in the silence and solitude of the desert has St. John the Baptist as our pioneer.

The desert life of St. John the Baptist was to “prepare the way of the Lord.” He accepted the unfavorable way of life. He abandoned the lure of wealth and power. His desert life was how he unlocked the mystery of the God that he and all of humankind was awaiting. John the Baptist knew that he was chosen by God for something so amazing, that he let go of everything that could tie him down. St. John the Baptist chose the freedom of solitude, to know the God that was to become the very essence of God’s presence in every human person.

“Like the Forerunner, you were intended for Christ,,,,,,, because the on,y reason for your existence on earth is to love and glorify Jesus” (The Hermitage Within: Spirituality of the Desert. Translated by Alan Neame., p.19).

Contemplation is the gift of God’s grace to grow in purity of heart. Contemplation is about letting go of all our pretenses so that we are liberated to experience the wonder of God. Contemplation is the grace of self awareness; that God is at work in ourselves and the world us in the mystical experience of which our human senses can neither comprehend or describe.

“As long as I am content to know that [Christ] is infinitely greater than I, and that I cannot know Him unless He shows Himself to me, I will have peace, and He will be near me and in me, and I will rest in Him” (Thomas Merton. Thoughts in Solitude, p.109).

“This message of mine is for you, then, if you are ready to give up,your own will, once and for all, and armed with the noble weapons of obedience to do battle for the true King, Christ the Lord” (RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English, The Prologue, p.15).

“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).

How are you called to be a forerunner for God in your daily life?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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Reflection on God our Fortress

Fortress

“The Lord is a fortress protecting my life.  Should I be frightened by anything?” (Psalm 27:1b Common English Bible).

The past few days have been very stressful for me.  My autistic spectrum disorder along with my generalized anxiety disorder have really been doing a number on me.  I had a lot going on.  It was difficult for me to think clearly and calmly.

My daily Lectio Divina yesterday and today took me to these words from Psalm 27.  As I meditated on these words, I experienced the Holy Spirit speaking to me through my anxiety and the words of the Psalmist.  The Psalmist is proclaiming faith in God who is their light, salvation, fortress and protector of life.  As I spent my time in silence and solitude yesterday, my experience of contemplative prayer was that God was my fortress protecting me through my anxiety.

When I read these words today, I got the sense that God had demonstrated once again that God is faithful to God’s words.  Today, I can take joy in what God did to protect my life and bring me a sense of peace.

As contemplatives, it is important that we see our moments of discouragement and disorder as moments to search for union with God.  God’s grace is more powerful than our circumstances.  Even when the circumstances do not produce what we had hoped for.  God is our strongest and most powerful deliverer as God is always present in whatever is happening.

“Silence, so understood, is an introduction to contemplative dialogue of prayer, in which the word and deep silence alternate with each other” (The Eremitic Life: Encountering God in Silence and Solitude, by Fr. Cronelius Wencel, Er.Cam. p.110).

“A certain philosopher question the holy Antony, ‘How can you be content, father, without the comfort of books?’ He replied, ‘My things and whenever I wish to read the words of God, it is in my hand.'” (Daily Readings with the Desert Fathers, p.77).

“That is why the Lord said in the Gospel: ‘Whoever hears these words of mine and does them is like a wise man who build his house upon rock; the floods cam and the winds blew and beat against the house, but it did not fall: it was founded on rock’ (Matt 7:24-25). (RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict, Prologue, p.17,18).

How is God being your fortress and protecting your life?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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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

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Reflection on Mouth and Heart

Desert

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, Lord, my rock and redeemer” (Psalm 19:14.  The Common English Bible).

One day, while I was doing Lectio Divina on the words of Psalm 19:14 in The Common English Bible, I found myself disturbed by the words “and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, Lord my rock and redeemer.”  As I meditated on these words I found myself needing to reword the quote from this Psalm.   “May the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, my Lord, my rock, my redeemer; so that the words of my mouth may also be pleasing to you.”   If what I am meditating on in my heart is to be pleasing to God, then I must do what scares me the most.  I must relinquish control of what I think I know will be pleasing to God within my heart to begin with.  I must let God teach my heart what is pleasing to God.   How can I please God in the meditations of my heart, if I do not let God teach me what pleases God?

I recently began reading an incredible book entitled Desert Fathers and Mothers: Early Christian Wisdom Sayings, Annotated & Explained.  The annotations and commentary are written by Dr. Christine Valters Paintner.   As I have been thinking of what I was going to write in this blog reflection today, I came across some words that she wrote that express so beautifully, what I am writing about.

“The desert journey isn’t about embarking on a long and arduous struggle to find God at the end of the road. Desert spirituality is about looking for God right in the midst of wrestling with ourselves.  God in the heart of the struggle, and so we are to stay there with the holy presence until the treasure is revealed” (From the Introduction, p. XXIX).

If we are to embark on a mystical journey with God, then we must begin by letting go of thinking that we must have the answers for everything that is going on with us; inside and out.  Searching for union with God in the deepest recesses of our whole self, is an excursion with the God who knows us better than we know ourselves.  When we are in our cells in solitude with God, there is no pretending that our human brokenness is not there.  We must face it, and let God walk through it with us; so that we can by God’s grace, let it go.  Only then, can the meditations of our heart be pleasing to God who is our rock and redeemer; and from our mouths will come what is pleasing to God and beneficial for the world around us.

“The blessed space of quiet discernment and contemplative understanding manifests itself when we are quiet enough to listen to the still, small voice guiding our path forward” (Teresa Pasquale Mateus, Ashes and the Phoenix; Meditations for the Season of Lent, edited by Len Freeman, p56).

“Go sit in your cell, and your cell will teach your everything.” (Abba Moses).

“Listen and incline the ear of your heart” (Prologue, The Rule of Saint Benedict).

When you meditate with God in your heart, what do you hear God saying to you?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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