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-CoS

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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-CoS

See: The Community of Solitude

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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-CoS

See: The Community of Solitude

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Reflection on Contemplative Listening

Transfiguration

 

Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” (Mark 9:7 NRSV).

My blog readers know from the title of this reflection what I am going to use from The Rule of Saint Benedict.  So, here it is.

“Listen, my son, to your master’s precepts, and incline the ear of your heart.” (St. Benedict’s Rule for Monasteries, p.1).

Listening is essential to contemplative living.  To listen as a contemplative requires the seeker to be silent.  Silence in solitude opens us up to letting go of all that we cling to, so that we can “incline the ear of the heart” to hear God more clearly.

The Transfiguration is more than what is described in the Gospel texts.  It is about Jesus showing us what happens when our humanity infused with God the Incarnate Word becomes One with the God who always was and ever shall be.  The disciples’ fear in the presence of such splendor is more than understandable.  The cloud and the voice that follows what happens is for the disciples so that they may let go of their fear and hear God more clearly in Who Jesus is.

“Their exterior and interior senses were quieted by the awesomeness of the Mystery manifested by the voice out of the cloud.  Once their senses had been calmed and integrated into the spiritual experience which their intuitive faculties had perceived, peace was established throughout their whole being, and they were prepared to respond to the guidance of the Spirit.” (The Mystery of Christ: The Liturgy as Spiritual Experience by Thomas Keating, p.44).

Contemplative listening in solitude and silence makes us docile to the Holy Spirit.  It involves a surrendering of our egos and fears of what was and may be, to the God who knows us more intimately than we know ourselves.  The Transfiguration is a symbol of the magnificence of what God wants to do in us through Contemplative and Centering Prayer.  When we leave ourselves totally available to the Presence and Power of God through the vulnerability of contemplative listening, we can and will listen to God’s Beloved who tells us that in Jesus, we too are God’s beloved.

“Abba Nilas said, ‘The arrows of the enemy cannot touch one who loves quietness; but he who moves about in a crowd will often be wounded.” (Daily Readings with the Desert Fathers, p.38).

Have you spent some time in silent listening recently?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB-CoS

See: The Community of Solitude

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Reflection on Dry Ground

dry-land

 

“O God, you are my God; eagerly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you, as in a barren land where there is no water.” (Psalm 63:1. The Book of Common Prayer, p.670).

The image above is a field of cracked dry land.  It seems endless.  It seems hopeless.  Very little if any can grow on it.  There is no water to nurture or sustain life on this fractured land.

Our lives are often like broken, dry land.  The heat of life’s many experiences bares down on us and seems to dry up the moisture needed to sustain us.  We grow tired and feel helpless and useless.  Our lives and even our faith cracks and our souls cry out for some kind of relief.

The Psalmist feels the same way.  The Psalmist knows that the only hope one has of recovering is to seek God as one’s God, eagerly as one is.  Thirsty, fainting, barren, cracked open.  The point of the Vow of Stability in Monastic Spirituality is to seek stability in our relationship with God as we are; not as we wish we were, or others might like us to be.  We seek stability in Christ by taking the masks off and letting go of every sense of hopelessness that tells us that there is no way that God can make use of us in our present circumstances.  Benedictine-Camaldolese spirituality of solitude and silence, tells us that it is in this very moment with our lives as they are, is where God has us, and works God’s will through us.

As I spent time meditating on these words in contemplative prayer today, I experienced a mystical moment in which I saw what appeared to be God’s water of new life gushing out to fix the cracks in the dry land.  While the water was flowing over the cracks, the cracks were not being filled, and the land was not refreshed.  I asked the Holy Spirit what was happening.  I got the feeling that God’s waters do not always fill all the cracks and completely mends us together, because God still has plans for us through our cracked and wounded lives.  If God washes over all the cracks and dry spaces, God may not be able to heal other wounds that we have yet to trust in God to mend.  Sometimes what remains broken, is another opportunity for God to bring healing to us at another point in God’s timing.  What I found myself needing to let go of, is my desire to control what I think God should do about every crack in the dry lands of my life.   Though I may think of them as wounds that can do no further good for me or others,; God still has work to do in and through my brokenness to bring me to a greater life of holiness and wholeness.  In the end it is not up to me what God does with my cracked and dry land.  I have to surrender that into God’s hands.

In God’s care and Providence, our brokenness is something God can do many wonderful things yet to be experienced.

“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, verse 41, p.18).

“1. Sit in your cell as in Paradise…  7. Sit like a baby chick, content with the grace of God, who, unless its mother gives it something, knows nothing and has nothing to eat.” (From The Short Rule of St. Romuald).

What are you letting God do with the cracks and wounds in your life?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB-CoS

See: The Community of Solitude

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Reflection on Come and See

Serenity

 

When Jesus turned and saw (John’s Disciple) following, he said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which translated means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and see.’ They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. (John 1:38-39. NRSV).

A certain brother came to Abba Moses in Scetis, seeking at word from him, and the old man said to him, “Go and sit in your cell and your cell will teach you everything.” (Daily Readings with the Desert Fathers, p. 64).

Our problem is that we spend too much time seeking God in all the wrong places.  We, like the disciples come looking for Jesus and ask where He is staying.  Jesus’ reply to them and us is “come and see.”  God is indeed everywhere around us.  The things we do, the people we see and the things we use all have an element of God’s work.  But, these are not ends in and of themselves.  They are not beginnings and stopping points.  They are merely tools for the trade.

Jesus wants us to search for union with God, with purity of heart.  To seek God for the sake of God alone, because of who God is; not what God can do.  To begin the search, we must first go into the heart of ourselves in solitude and silence and allow God to transform us from our sacred space on outward.

The point of Contemplative Prayer, of Centering Prayer is to live in the Presence of God in the here and now, by finding where Jesus is staying within us.  We must first take the important step of letting go of all that keeps us from asking Jesus “where are you staying?”  When we hear Jesus call us from within, we are drawn into the mystical experience of the joy of God having found us to united us to an intimate and new life-giving love.

“The first step of humility is to keep the consciousness of God before us at all times, and never forget it.” (The Rule of Saint Benedict, Chapter 7, On Humility, paraphrased).

Have you asked Jesus “where are you staying” from your heart, so He can say to you “come and see?”

Amen.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

Reflection on Replanted Trees

tree-word-river-22

“The truly happy person(s),,,,, are like a tree replanted by streams of water which bears fruit as just the right time and whose leaves don’t fade.  Whatever they do succeeds.” (Psalm 1:1a, 3.  The Common English Bible).

The Benedictine Vow of Conversion of Manners (also called Conversion of Life) is directly related to the other two which are Stability and Obedience.   Stability is a grounding of oneself into God and those with whom one shares their life.  All the masks come off.  We are made stable by letting go of our defenses and trusting in God to guide us forward.  The Vow of Conversion is about allowing the God to whom we have vowed stability to change us by the manners of others around us.   Obedience is about our response to God out of love, not fear. (See 1 John 4:18)

A tree that can no longer bear fruit dries up in the parched soil in which it is rooted.  It’s branches and trunk can become very hallow.  At that point there are two options.  Tear down the tree and burn it, or, uproot it and replant it by streams of water.  When option two is used, the tree can be nourished and made healthy again.  The branches and trunk fill in with new life, nurtured by the moisture.  The leaves can grow on the tree once again, and delicious fruit that can feed people and/or animals.  There is new life in the tree, and it is happy once again.

God really does want us to be happy people.  God knows that life can really stink because of a job we no longer enjoy, the death of a loved one and the grief we experience, the loss of becoming disabled.  God knows all of these things.  Often when we are grieving or unhappy, God is there helping us to heal things that we did not even know were wounded.  However, we cannot grow in a deeper relationship with God through our suffering and sadness if we don’t allow God to uproot us from where we are, and replant us by streams of living water; flowing from the grace of God.

Contemplative prayer becomes more powerful when we let go of ourselves as best as we can, to let God uproot us from our dryness.  God wants to draw us into the wondrous mystery of God’s loving mercy that is so amazing, that the only thing that matters is God.  When we spend time in solitude and silence, we can accept where we are and turn ourselves over so that the Holy Spirit can move us to a life-giving state of being; where God can draw us into our true-selves, and find God’s truth waiting for us there.

“See how the Lord in his love shows us the way of life.” (RB 1980: The Rule of Saint Benedict in English. The Prologue. p.16 vs. 20).

Will you allow God to replant you by God’s living stream, so you can be a truly happy person today?

Amen.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB