Reflection on Job: A Troubled Contemplative

Job took a potsherd with which to scrape himself, and sat among the ashes. Then his wife said to him, “Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die.” But he said to her, “You speak as any foolish woman would speak. Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips. (See Job 2:1-13 NRSV).

The Book of Job belongs to the Poetic Writings of the Bible in much the same way as the Psalms. Job is a legendary folktale for spiritual meditation, and and not a n actual story. Lastly, the Satan that is referred to in the first and second chapters of Job is not the evil one from Genesis or the tempter in the four synoptic Gospels. Satan in Job is an accuser, a prosecutor in the court. It is with this important information that we must begin with this reflection. Otherwise our reflection will become another doctrinal or theological argument, when Lectio Divina is not based on an intellectual understanding.

The experiences that have fallen on Job can be compared to being beaten up, and kicked on the gut all in one week. It happens to many of us. When a tragedy like COVID-19 happens, the grief is excruciating. One loss after another, and the sadness and heartbreak does not end.

Very few things make the experience of grief worse than asking ourselves questions such as “What did we do wrong?” “Were we not faithful or moral enough?” The situation is no better when we blame others for what they should or should not have done.

Job is a troubled contemplative. The worst things have happened to him. Before Job can begin to reflect on what God is doing in his life, he is getting all kinds of advice from the company he keeps. Job is a troubled contemplative, because he knows in his heart, that God is present in the good and bad times. Job is troubled, because he is turning in on himself to try to grasp what has happened.

Job is a great illustration about the importance of humility in contemplative prayer and mysticism. When we look inside ourselves, expecting to find God in our false-sense of self, we will discover an empty space. God is not only where we are most comfortable, untroubled, and whining about how come we are at the end of the happiness line. God is also in our pain, our disbelief and anger. God has given us the desire to search for union with God in whatever situation we are in. In The Rule of St. Benedict, chapter 7: On Humility, he tells us, “The first step of humility is to keep the reverence of God before our eyes, and never forget it”.

“No matter what kinds of ruins you stand in, keep moving, keep doing what you must do, keep showing up every day. Haul yourself before God no matter what.” (Benedict’s Way: An Ancient Monk’s Insights for a Balanced Life, Lonnie Collins Pratt and Fr. Daniel Homan, OSB, p.43).

In the end, why good and bad things happen to us, and God’s participation in all our experiences are a mystery. What we do know through the mystery of the story of our redemption through Jesus Christ, is that God is always walking with us in what we are going through, right here, right now. That knowledge by itself, is why we must turn to and trust God to help us.

Will you let God into your troubled heart, and listen to God today?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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Reflection on God’s Treasure

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it. (Matthew 13:44-45 NRSV).

We are all living through a time with a lot of death around us. The COVID-19 pandemic has killed way too many people. We have been experiencing and grieving the death of the way our lives used to be before this international crisis. It is a painful time we are living through.

In the midst of the sickness and chaos, Jesus talks about His Kingdom being like a treasure hidden in a field, and a pearl that is so precious, that the owner sells everything they have to get the pearl. If you are feeling the grief and anger that so many of us are experiencing; it is perfectly understandable that our response to Jesus would be, “ Oh yeah? Then, when is enough, enough?” Whenever we draw a conclusion on God as to what is happening, we are cutting God and ourselves short.

“Try to enter your inner treasure-house and you will see the treasure-house of heaven. For both the one and the other are the same, and one and the same entrance reveals them both. The ladder leading to the kingdom is concealed within you.” (St. Isaac of Syria, in Kadloubovsky and Palmer, Writings from Philokalia on Prayer of the Heart, p. 30).

God’s greatest treasure is already and always within us. God has blessed us with our eternal truth within our essence. As Christians, we know that God gave Jesus as the Redeemer of our souls. God’s act of salvation on our behalf is because of how much God treasures us. We are the pearl that God sold everything to get for God’s Self. Even with all the muddy ness of a global pandemic, death and losses, there is always love deep in the heart of God that reaches out for us, in the very depths of who we are. In our tears, sadness, hopelessness and broken lives, God calls us to search for union with God who is ever present and hurting within us. God may not make things what we want them to be tomorrow or next week, but, in Jesus, God walks with us through it all.

As contemplatives, we know that the challenging times we are living through are a time in the desert. It is in this desert time, that everything that we really are is inescapable. We are hungry and thirsty. We are freezing from the darkness of isolation. We are overheated from news flashes going by with the rising number of new infections, and we can only do so much. In our desert experience, we cannot ignore our need for God to be our shepherd. So, we must do what St. Romuald wrote in his short rule. “Sit in your cell as in paradise.” We need to spend time with God in our cell (our hearts) with everything we are feeling, no matter how ugly we think it is, and allow God in God’s Grace to meet us there and be our nourishment and thirst quencher by faith and trust alone.

“In God’s goodness, we are already counted as God’s own…”

“The person who prays for the presence of God is, ironically, already in the presence of God.” (Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB. The Rule of Benedict: A Spirituality for the 21st Century, p.5-6).

Do you see yourself and your neighbor as God’s treasure during this time of global pandemic?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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Reflection on Saint Benedict

My child, if you accept my words and treasure up my commandments within you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; if you indeed cry out for insight, and raise your voice for understanding; if you seek it like silver, and search for it as for hidden treasures—then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk blamelessly, guarding the paths of justice and preserving the way of his faithful ones. Then you will understand righteousness and justice and equity, every good path. (Proverbs 2:1-9 NRSV).

Let us think for a moment about the things we urgently search for. Our phones. Our keys. Money. The remote to our television set. Jewelry. A successful career. Popularity. Fortune. Control. We search for the most exciting. We crave what comes the easiest. We want things the way they were before COVID-19.

The writer of Proverbs tells us to want something so life-giving, that it would be better than chocolate in our mouth. The Wisdom of God is longing for us. If we will sit in silence long enough to “incline the ear of the heart” we will gain the a consciousness of God that will reform us to love God, our neighbor and ourselves in ways we would never have imagined.

In the Fall of 1993, I went to my first retreat at a Benedictine Abbey. It was my introduction to who Benedict was. I remember the first time I read some of The Rule of St. Benedict. My initial reaction was “What a weirdo he was.” Lol. Since that time, I have studied The Rule many, many times. For three years, I received spiritual direction from Fr. Anselm who is now the Abbot of Pluscarden Abbey in Scotland. That is in large part why I requested the name as my religious name, Whenever my life has edged out of where I should be, I eventually return to what I have learned from the life and The Rule of St. Benedict. Once I begin again to spend time praying my Offices, reading from The Rule, suddenly, even the roughest of experiences leads me into a deeper awareness of God.

In the RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English at the end of chapter 73 he wrote “Then with Christ’s help, keep this little rule that we have written for beginners.” Benedictine spirituality is not about being an athlete of religion. The contemplative way of St. Benedict is about beginning over and over to search for union with God through a life of continuous prayer. When we commit ourselves to beginning again the search for the wisdom of God in this very moment, we will receive an abundance of life from the storehouse of God’s greatest riches of grace.

During this time of sickness and death that is so overwhelming, we are gaining the opportunity to let go of what keeps us from living into our faith in God alone. As St. Benedict spent those three years in the cave at Subiaco and learned God’s Word; we too are in our own Subiaco time. What we do with our relationship with God during this time is up to us. God promises us the fruits of the resurrection even as we are staring death in the face. If we spend this time with our hunger for the Wisdom of God, and let God speak to our hearts in that desire, the best things are yet to come.

What are you desiring most from God during this time of a worldwide pandemic?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

O Lord my God, Teach my heart this day where and how to see you, where and how to find you. You have made me and remade me, and you have bestowed on me all the good things I possess, and still I do not know you. I have not yet done that for which I was made. Teach me to seek you, for I cannot seek you unless you teach me m or find you unless you show yourself to me. Let me seek you in my desire, let me desire you in my seeking. Let me find you by loving you, let me love you when I find you. Amen. (Prayer of St. Anselm of Canterbury, St. Benedict’s Prayer Book, p.118).

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Reflection on God’s Light and Truth

“Send your light and truth—those will guide me! Let them bring me to your holy mountain, to your dwelling place.” (Psalm 43:3. The Common English Bible).

The times we are living through are so full of uncertainty. It seems like since the coronavirus came to the forefront of our lives, the world is falling apart. We can listen to and engage in all the arguments about who is to blame, or what someone should have done, or what should now be done. The way things are, are what they are.

Like the words of Psalm 43, our lives are in so much despair individually and collectively, that we want God to do something. Our own preference is for God to heal everyone of the virus, end all the suffering and death, and have things as they were before it became the new normal. We want this because somewhere in our psychological minds, we believe that when everything is as we think or want it to be, God must be doing something great. When things are not what we think they should be, we must be doing something wrong, or God is punishing us for something. If we base our faith and experience of God on these things, the enemy is working overtime, because they are succeeding so well.

God is sending God’s light and truth to us and guiding us to God’s holy dwelling through the confusion and uncertainty. Jesus is at the door of our hearts, knocking and wanting to come into our sacred space within The whole of ourselves, to be with us in our suffering, turmoil. Just as Jesus was in the boat with the disciples while the storm raged in Mark 4:35-41 so He is with each of us. Jesus might not get up and end the virus in the way we want Him to, but, He is with us as we face our fears of what is happening in the here and now.

“To be a contemplative it is necessary to spend time every day stilling the raging inner voice that drowns out the voice of God in us. When the heart is free to give volume to the call of God that fills every minute of time, the chains snap and the soul is at home everywhere in the universe. Then the psyche comes to health and life comes to wholeness.

The fact is that God is not beyond us. God is within us and we must go inside ourselves to nourish the Breath that sustains our spirits.” (Illuminated Life: Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light, by Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB, p.63).

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 St. Benedict in English, p.18-19).

Will you spend some quiet time to let God’s light and truth into your life today?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

Please scroll down to the bottom of the right sidebar and click on the Benedictine Coffee Mug if you feel led to by me some coffee. It helps me to keep this blog ministry going. Thank you so very much.

Please visit my website to learn about Br. Anselm Philip’s Ministry of Spiritual and Grief Companionship.

Reflection on Easter in the Desert

“The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation .” (Psalm 118;14. The Book of Common Prayer, p.761).

Alleluia. Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.

It hardly seems like Easter. Minnesota, where I live is getting a snow storm as I write this blog entry. Yet, the snow falling on Easter seems to fit. Many of us are used to being in our churches on Easter. Our churches are usually so crowded that extra chairs must be put out to accommodate the overflow. People go to Easter Sunday services while wearing the best spring clothes. It is always so wonderful when the sun is shining with nice warm weather on Easter.

Easter in the Year 2020 is not at all like what we are used to. The coronavirus is even preventing families from gathering for Easter dinner with relatives they have not seen since Christmas. Some people are rightly worried about those who are sick and suffering. Many are grieving the loss of those they love. How can we contemplate the mystery of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ with everything upside down?

The Desert Monastics lived their lives in such a way, that they were always in a world that was upside down from how many people functioned. The Mothers and Fathers of the Desert gave over everything that was considered “normal” for an unusual way of life through which they searched for a deeper union with God.

Christine Valters Paintner in her book Desert Fathers and Mothers: Early Christian Wisdom Sayings wrote,

“The paradox in the spiritual life is that this journey through destruction is necessary to reach any kind of resurrection or new life beyond it. We are rebuilt and reshaped through this process. We must fully surrender ourselves to the awfulness of it. We must stay present with how we feel compassion to ourselves in the process. We must learn to no longer feel victim to our suffering, but to instead discover a kind of inner fierceness that allows us to look death in the eye without flinching” (p.50).

The Easter experience of Resurrection is not without the pains of Good Friday. The victory of new life is always preceded by letting go of what is familiar, preferred and desired. Unless we spend time in contemplative prayer before the Cross, we will miss the mysticism of the empty tomb on Easter.

The chaos of the coronavirus can be overcome, by recognizing the inevitability of loosing everything as we have known them to be, and giving ourselves over to a new way of living for a whole new beginning.

Jesus and His Resurrection are our strength and our song, and Christ has become our salvation by the wondrous love of God.

“Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ, and may Christ bring us to everlasting life.” (The Rule of Benedict: A Spirituality for the 21st Century, by Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB, p.298).

Alleluia. Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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Reflection on God’s Priceless Love

How priceless is your love, O God, your people take refuge under the shadow of your wings. (See Psalm 36: 5-11, The Book of Common Prayer, p.36).

The words “How priceless is your love,,” sound like the old MasterCard commercial. The love of God is worth a lot more than a trampoline and a new car. God’s love is so priceless, that finding refuge in God is to be protected like an eagle guards her young.

In the Gospel of John 12:1-11, Mary knew just how priceless the love of God in Jesus was. God’s love was so important to Mary, that she used the best oil she had to clean and anoint Jesus’ feet. Mary’s gift of serving Jesus with her cherished treasure, was a small loss compared to God’s priceless love..

This Holy Week journey we are on during this very challenging time, has many of us giving up our yearly routines. Perhaps, we are discovering just how much we have taken those routines for granted. It seems to be that when we lose the opportunities to observe our yearly Holy Week worship practices, that we realize just how much they mean to us. Many of us have been losing our priceless treasures. We are letting them go to help keep ourselves and others healthy and safe. In so doing, we are serving Christ in one another.

The Psalmist is proclaiming God’s priceless love during a time of tremendous turmoil. The Psalmist is choosing to trust in God’s priceless love as their refuge. The Psalmist, like us, is having to make a decision to seek union with God in what is uncertain. The Psalmist remembers what the community has learned over the years. The Psalmist is singing of their trust that God is greater than the circumstances around them.

Contemplative prayer is not a means of escaping from how things are. We spend time in silence, solitude and prayer to help us deepen our relationship with God not from what is happening, but, through what is occurring. We know through our experience of God’s priceless love, just how powerful that love is in the here and now. The refuge we surrender ourselves to, may not make a situation better. It might mean going to the cross to give over everything to discover new life in the resurrection. It might mean letting go of our priceless treasures, to let God’s priceless love be all that we want and need to love God with purity of heart.

“What is not possible for us by nature, let us ask the Lord to supply by the help of his grace.” (RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English).

How are you experiencing God’s priceless love in your life?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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Reflection on the Light of the World

As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. (See John 9:1-41 NRSV).

The current crisis of the coronavirus can make us feel like we have gone blind. We once had a life with our families, careers, gathering of friends and our church communities. The COVID-19 global crisis has brought a screeching halt to everything we once knew and did. It can leave us feeling as if we are walking around life in the darkness. Many of us might feel as if we are putting our hands out in front of us , looking to touched something or someone that is familiar to us so we can relocate our life as it was.

In the Gospel narrative, the one who was without sight from birth only knew how to stretch out his empty hand. He was searching for a friend’s hand to help him know a life he might have never known. A life of hope to be able to know what others knew, and could help him connect in some way with a hope filled with light and hope for better things to come.

When Jesus reached out to him, He proclaimed that as long as he was in the world, He was the light of the world. He made a muddy mess of mud and put them on the man’s eyes. The individual washed his eyes and could finally see the world that he had only dreamed to see. As the story continues, he worships the One who gave him sight, only to see that Jesus was in a different kind of darkness.

The times we are living through are difficult for contemplatives as they are for anyone. There is nothing simple about the virus and what it has done to the world as a whole. The most powerful way contemplatives can benefit the world during this dark time, is to cling to Jesus as the Light who is still in this world by the faith of us who know Him from the inside out. A contemplative never seeks escape from what is in the here and now, but, searches for union with God through what is happening in the here and now. Jesus is shining as the Light in the darkness of the chaos. The contemplatives see the story of their lives in what is occurring, only to find Jesus as the guide through the unfamiliar moment.

“Let us open our eyes to the light that comes from God and our ears to the voice from Heaven that everyday calls out this charge: If you hear his voice today, do not harden your hearts (Ps.95:8).” (The Rule of St. Benedict in English).

How is Jesus the Light in this time of darkness for you?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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Reflection on The Word Spoken

“After Jesus has fasted for forty days and forty nights, he was starving. The tempter came and to him and said, “Since you are God’s Son, command these stones to become bread.” Jesus replied, “It’s written, People won’t live only on bread, but by every word spoken by God.” (Matthew 4:2-4 The Common English Bible).

One of the most difficult things that happens to someone who discovers that they have a disability, a chronic or terminal illness, is that they go through a process of grieving the person they used to be. They had a life in full swing with plans they were making. When the news comes with whatever diagnosis it is, the life they had is never the same. Among the most challenging things they can do, is learn to let go of what was and embrace what is in the present moment. They can do this by being honest about what they are experiencing, grieve it realistically, and enjoy what they can do.

Jesus was in the desert. He was starving. He was probably quite weak. It would have been very simple for him to change the stones into bread. Instead, he decided to embrace his hunger to know God’s words as the substance that would sustain him.

The contemplative seeks the spoken Word through what is silent, yet full of God’s voice. A voice that talks through the daily activities of ordinary life. We find God’s presence and Word in what is before us, with us and in us in the here and now. Contemplation is not an ecstatic experience of “feeling better” as if the pain and suffering of the present moment is devoid of God’s Being. The hunger we live with, the news we receive; good or bad, are opportunities to be drawn closer to God through what is. In the various places in the Gospel of John, when Jesus proclaims things like “I am the bread of life,” He is speaking in the present tense, not the past or future.

In her book, Wisdom Distilled from the Daily: Living the Rule of Benedict Today, Joan Chittister wrote, “ The spiritual life, in other words, is not achieved by denying one part of life for the sake of another. The spiritual life is achieved only by listening to all of life and learning to respond to each of its dimensions wholly and with integrity” (p.16).

How are you listening to God through the experiences of your life in the here and now?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

If you feel led to buy me some coffee, to help support this blog ministry, please scroll down to the bottom of the right sidebar and click on the Benedictine Coffee Mug. Thank you so very much.

Visit my website to learn about my ministry of Spiritual and Grief Companionship.

Reflection on God’s Wondrous Love

“Blessed be the Lord! for he has shown me the wonders of his love in a besieged city.” (Psalm 31:21. The Book of Common Prayer).

Sometimes when our lives seem to have fallen apart, we might compare the experience to being a city that was under siege and left in ruins. Everything that was is no longer. The destruction and debris is everywhere. Nothing that was standing is without need to be rebuilt or repaired.

In Chapter 7 of The Rule of St. Benedict, he challenges us in the sixth and seventh degrees of humility. He writes about acceptance of even the harshest treatment and learning to say with Psalm 22:6 “I am a worm and no man, scorned by all and despised by the people.”

In his book The Rule of Saint Benedict: Initiation into the Monastic Tradition, Thomas Merton stresses that St. Benedict is that to live with a low self-esteem is the opposite of humility because by it, we draw too much attention to ourselves. He goes on to say that Benedict is telling us to let go of our false-sense of self. To learn to trust in God when our lives are shaken to pieces, as opposed to trusting in the little things of life to feel whole.

A contemplative learns over the course of a lifetime that seeking union with God for no other reason than God alone is to have all that we need. Yes, it takes all of our lives through moments of quiet time and living with God in the various moments in life to let go and let God be our everything. In the moments when things that were fall apart, that is where God’s wondrous love becomes best known in the whole of ourselves. When we experience the wonder of God’s love through contemplation and mysticism, the besieged city of our lives is a new beginning, and never a conclusion.

How are you experiencing God’s wondrous love in the besieged cities of your life?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

Reflection for Good Friday

“And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34 ESV).

Today is a good day to think not only about the words of Jesus that I have quoted above, but also those words from the Lord’s Prayer. “Forgive,,,, as we forgive…”

I think that sometimes the hardest person for us to forgive is ourselves. We all have those people in our lives; past or present that we find hard to forgive. As Jesus prays for all of us and our sins that put Him on the Cross; we may be too arrogant by only thinking about God forgiving us for our sins. The concern about our relationship with God is very important, of course. Our relationship with God through our relationships with others is equally important. Our relationship with God includes how we relate to ourselves, and that we forgive ourselves.

Our struggle to forgive ourselves comes by way of false guilt and/or guilt that really is ours. In The Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 4: On the Tools for Good Works, he wrote,

“Place your hope in God alone. If you notice something good in yourself, give credit to God, not to yourself, but be certain the evil you commit is always your own and yours to acknowledge” (RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English, p. 27-28).

St. Benedict is telling us to notice and use the good things we are given to use, and give glory to God in and through them. He is also warning us to be cognizant of who owns the evil we commit. Sometimes, we concentrate on what someone did to us and how much it hurts too much. If we will spend some time in Lectio Divina on the words of Jesus on the Cross, and especially the words “forgive,,,,, as we forgive…” we might discover that the person who needs our forgiveness the most, is ourselves. Whether we were directly responsible for what happened or not.

Contemplative prayer leads us to search for God beyond the surface. God is working God’s wonders through our pain, frustration and lack of self forgiveness. God is at work in our often unconscious decision to beat ourselves up about things that are not our fault. God is calling us through them to spend some time with Jesus at the foot of the Cross to hear Him pray for us in the words, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” The contemplative sees these words, through the power of the Holy Spirit, as the way to a deeper relationship with God by allowing God to help us to experience a profound healing, by forgiving ourselves. Until we spend that time, we often walk around through life in a pain and darkness that we do not notice or acknowledge how much it is destroying our life and relationships. When we trust in the crucified Jesus and these amazing words prayed from the Cross, and those in the Lord’s Prayer, we will know a freedom with God, others and ourselves that brings us to a wonderful Easter experience.

Have you taken time on this Good Friday to ask Jesus to help you forgive yourself?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

If you or someone you know could benefit from Spiritual or Grief Companionship, please visit my website here.

If you feel led to buy me some coffee to help support this ministry, please scroll down to the bottom of the right sidebar and click on the Benedictine Coffee Mug. Thank you so very much.