Reflection on Psalm 23

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The Lord is my shepherd.  I lack nothing.  He lets me rest in grassy meadows; he leads me to restful waters; he keeps me alive.  He guides me in proper paths for the sake of his good name.  Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no danger because you are with me.  Your rod and your staff–they protect me.  You set a table for me right in front of my enemies.  You bathe my head in oil; my cup is so full it spill over!  Yes, goodness and faithful love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the Lord’s house as long as I live.  (Psalm 23 Common English Bible).

Psalm 23 is probably the single most well known and loved of all the Psalms.  And for good reason.  This is a Psalm of comfort and consolation at funerals time and time again.  It is used often enough that most of us can say it by memory from the original King James Version.

I invite you to join me for a contemplative look at this Psalm. The words on the surface may appear to take us from a moment of chaos to those peaceful meadows and calm waters.  If we think on these words from our minds alone and with our false-sense of self, we will miss the opportunity to meditate on them in our hearts.  Jesus the shepherd comes when we feel that we are lost, weary, restless, in darkness and feasting before our conflicts and makes them into opportunities for God to do wondrous things in us.  In the words of this Psalm, God offers us the truth of what the Resurrection is for the contemplative.  Our lives in their current state are not an end in and of themselves.  The Contemplative searches for union with the Risen Christ where the world sees hopelessness and despair.  The contemplative seeks the mystery of God’s unfolding grace as God takes all that is difficult, painful and confusing and uses them to draw us closer to God’s boundless love and tender mercy.

Yesterday, was the commemoration of St. Anselm who’s name I am so honored to have as my Religious Name.  I read the following words in The Liturgy of the Hours, Volume II on page 1775 written from the Proslogion by St. Anselm, and I believe they speak very eloquently of what Psalm 23 may say to us from a contemplative perspective.

“O God, let me know you and love you so that I may find my joy in you; and if I cannot do so fully in this life, let me at least make some progress every day, until at last that knowledge, love and joy come to me in all their plenitude.  While I am here on earth let me learn to know you better, so that in heaven I may know you fully; let my love for you grow deeper here, so that there I may love you fully.  On earth then I shall have great joy in hope, and in heaven complete joy in fulfillment of my hope.”

“When we have used [the tools of good works] without ceasing day and night and have returned them on judgment day, our wages will be the reward the Lord has promised; What the eye has not seen nor the ear heard, God has prepared for those who love him (1 Cor 2:9).” (RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English, p.29).

“The path you must follow is the Psalms” (From the Short Rule of St. Romuald).

What is your experience of Christ as your good shepherd?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB-CoS

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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-CoS

See: The Community of Solitude

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Reflection on the Ruined Temple

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“Jesus said, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.'” (John 2:19 NRSV).

“Abba Alonius said, ‘If I had not destroyed myself completely, I should not have been able to rebuild and shape myself again.” (Desert Fathers and Mothers: Early Christian Sayings Annotated & Explained by Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, p.51).

Our journey into Holy Week seems to show life as Jesus knew it falling apart.  Yesterday on Palm Sunday, the crowds welcomed Him with “Hosanna!  Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord.”  Then we moved right to Good Friday.  Today, the Gospel chosen for this day takes us back to John 12:1-11.   So why, you would be right to ask me, am I all the way back to John 2:19?

Yesterday, during the reading of the Passion according to St. Mark, we heard that the witnesses at Jesus’ trial testify falsely to what He said about the destruction of the temple, and raising it up again.  I am back at this story in the earlier part of John’s Gospel, because I think it speaks to us about where we are in Holy Week from a Contemplative point of view.

I am disturbed by the words of Abba Alonius in which he said “If I had not destroyed myself completely.”  But, then he goes on with a striking parallel to what Jesus said in John 2:19 about raising up the temple again.

In her commentary on these words of Abba Alonius, Christine Valters Paintner writes,

“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 and bring 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).

It is such a mystical experience to contemplate that God uses our brokenness through the Passion and Death of Jesus; to helps us rebuild our personal interior ruins into a new person, with a new structure and a new life.  We tend to see our troubled humanity in Jesus for what it is on the surface; and it is terrible.  But when we spend some time in solitude and silence with the great mystery of what Jesus does with us during Holy Week, we can experience the power of Christ destroying those temples of our false-sense of self within us that holds on to grudges, anger, resentment, grief and addiction.  Christ comes to demolish these stones that we have held up for so long, by walking with us through them as they are, as we are; so that by God’s grace God can transform us into a newer and more glorious temple where the Resurrection is visible and tangible.  It begins with us praying and being open to God’s work within our deepest cells.

“First of all, every time you begin a good work, you must pray to him most earnestly to bring it to perfection” (RB 1980: The Rule of Saint Benedict in English, p.15).

“8. 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).

What temples in your life will you let Jesus help you destroy, so that you can be rebuilt anew?

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 Solitude, Silence and Suffering

 

 

“But as for me, I have trusted in you, O Lord.  I have said, “You are my God.  My times are in your hand; rescue me from the hand of my enemies, and from those who persecute me.  Make your face to sine upon your servant, and in your loving-kindness save me.”  (Psalm 31:14-16 The Book of Common Prayer, p.623).

There is a common misunderstanding about solitude.  Solitude in the common understanding tends to mean alone and to be lonely.  Solitude for the contemplative is not a running from something.  Solitude and silence for the Desert Monastics was how they cleared away all obstacles to be quiet and alone with God within their deepest selves.  Spending time in solitude and silence does not imply being completely peaceful and tranquil.  We do hope for tranquility at some point.  Camaldolese Benedictines spend our time in the cell of our hearts in solitude and silence to let God take us into the depths of ourselves to see what is really there.  In our cells, we find how deep our own suffering has taken us, and let God use it however God wants.  This is the letting go in contemplative prayer that I write about all the time.

The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday shows the fickleness of the human heart.  We want Jesus to be received by us in all His glory, then at His Passion and Death we become content with letting Jesus go it all alone.  The actions of Jesus’ Disciples tell us so at length in the Passion narratives.  Yet, what we see throughout the Passion story, is that Jesus gracefully and lovingly accepts the suffering He experiences.  Even before Pilate and the questions he asks Jesus: in the Passion narrative of St. Mark 15:5 we read “Jesus made no further reply, so Pilate was amazed.”   Jesus completely surrenders Himself to what is happening.  Jesus faces it for what it is, and pays the ultimate price of His life.  And of course, His death is not the final word.

The mystery of Holy Week for contemplatives is that Jesus enters into our suffering in a attitude of solitude and silence, because He knows that God is in the midst of it all with Him; even if He cannot feel Him.  Jesus finds the presence of God in faith alone; even as Jesus cried out the words of Psalm 22:1 “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus trusts in God alone.

Whatever our suffering might be we are never there alone.  When we enter into our suffering in solitude and silence with trust in God, we leave our times in God’s hands as the Psalmist wrote.  Holy Week reminds us that though suffering happens to all of us, including God’s Son, even death is a transitory result.  We are invited by Jesus this week, to follow Him in His suffering and our own to let go of ourselves and find the joy of the Resurrection of new life.

“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.  Never swerving from his teaching in the monastery until death, we shall through patience share in the sufferings of Christ that we may deserve also to share in his kingdom.  Amen.” (RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English.  The Conclusion of the Prologue, p.19).

3. The way is via the Psalms-do not leave it.  If, in your beginners fervor, you fail to do the whole Psalter, do a little here and a little there. (From the Short Rule of St. Romuald).

How are you entering into your relationship with Jesus in the midst of your suffering?

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 The Wilderness

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“And the Spirit immediately drove Jesus out into the wilderness .  He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.”  (Mark 1:12-13 NRSV).

Thomas Keating in his book The Mystery of Christ: The Liturgy as Spiritual Experience wrote the following words.

“The Biblical desert is not so much a geographical location–a place of sand, stones or sagebrush– as a process of interior purification leading to the complete liberation from the false-self system with its programs for happiness that cannot possibly work.” (p.40).

The wilderness can be a place of solitude and silence; as well as a state of prayer and contemplation.  As we spend time in our wilderness of silence and solitude, we see the best and the worst of ourselves.   Everything about us that is visible and invisible is inescapable. Thomas Merton once wrote, “For although God is right with us and in us and out of us and all through us, we have to go on journeys to find him.”  Searching for union with God includes meeting Jesus where He meets us in our temptations with God’s grace to redeem and transform us.  Amma Sarah said, “The greatest thing we can do is to throw our faults before the Lord and expect temptation to our last breath” (Daily Readings with the Desert Fathers, p.72).

When we spend some time alone with Jesus in our wildernesses of silence and solitude and pray Lectio Divina (the prayerful reading of Scripture), Contemplative and Centering Prayer,  God will always come and graciously help us along.   When we stop for a while and in silence, let God in and let go of our false-self system, Jesus will show us how to search for union with God, even when we are at our worst.

The Psalmist wrote, “Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; in you have I trusted all the day long” (Psalm 25:4 The Book of Common Prayer, p.614).  The best way to learn the truth from the God of our salvation is to spend some time with Jesus in the solitude of our wilderness and to learn from what He did as well as what He said.

“Therefore our life span has been lengthened by way of a truce, that we may amend our misdeeds.  As the Apostle says: Do you not know that the patience of God is leading you to repent (Rom 2:4)?” (RB 1980: The Rule of Saint Benedict in English, p.18).

Have you journeyed with Jesus into your wilderness lately?

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 God’s Fullness

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“From [God’s] fullness we have all received grace upon grace.” (John 1:16 NRSV).

We live in a world where we never have enough of anything.  Consumerism tells us that we always need more, the new improved, the larger, the faster, etc.  Advances in technology have given us what is faster, more convenient, more efficient. If you still feel like you do not have enough, give it only a few years and you will get even more.  Will we be satisfied then?  No.  Everything breaks down and slows down.

In the mystery of God’s Word made Flesh in Jesus the Christ; in the in Child born of Mary, the fullness of God has given to us; God’s grace upon grace.  That grace is not only a historical event, it is something that takes place in the here and now.  God’s grace comes to meet us in our present moment to draw us into a deeper awareness of the Presence of God in the Holy Spirit.  The fullness of God comes to fill us to overflowing, as God enters into our human nature in an infant who is so vulnerable, so beautiful.  It gives us so much potential at this moment to encounter God in the heart of our true selves.  We don’t have to have everything figured out, or be sure everything is working just right.  God comes to us as we are, where we are and invites us to receive the fullness of God, which God has given us; grace upon grace.

Contemplative prayer brings us face to face with the grace of God as something to be experienced.  God sees us from God’s point of view and asks that we allow God to lead us on a greater search for union with God, by letting go of our false-sense of self to be embraced as God’s Beloved.  There is no greater mystical experience than that.

“What is not possible for us by nature, let us ask the Lord to supply by the help of his grace.” (The Rule of Saint Benedict, the Prologue).

Are you ready to respond to the fullness of God that you have received as grace upon grace?

Amen.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

See; http://www.cos-osb.net

 

Reflection on Our Identity

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And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:40. NRSV).

All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say, I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Matthew 25:35). (RB 1980: The Rule of Saint Benedict in English. Chapter 53:1, p.73).

What is it about these words that disturb us?

These are the words used for the commemoration of St. Martin of Tours every November 11.  St. Martin had a mystical vision of Jesus.  He saw Jesus wearing the half of the cloak he gave a needy person.  St. Martin of Tours served Jesus, because he knew Jesus intimately within himself.  He had reached the summit of contemplative prayer.  St. Martin saw the vision of Jesus in mystery, that he looked at in the flesh.  He knew who he was in himself, and who Jesus was in the other.

The Contemplative perspective of God’s glorious presence seeks us out, to respond by seeking union with God within ourselves; and from ourselves in to others.  How?  Not entirely sure.  However, unless we see Christ within ourselves who is hungry, thirsty, naked, in prison, the stranger, etc, we will not see Christ within others who experience the same things; figuratively, literally or spiritually.  This wonder is as mystical experience that we may contemplate how much God thinks of us, sees us and wants for us and from us.

On this Christ the King Sunday, we are called to see Christ in one another and “*listen, incline the ear of the heart” so that we may hear what Christ has to say to us in the other; that others in turn might hear Christ in and through us.  While some may interpret this as evangelism, I suggest that it is much deeper.  It is beyond mission.  It is a relationship with Christ that is so deep, so important and yet so tender and giving; that the Holy Spirit is the communicator looking for who takes God’s love seriously enough to let go of the labels and our false-sense of self; to see Jesus in us as we are, so that we may know Christ beyond ourselves.

Do you know your identity in Jesus Christ, the King?

Amen.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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

*The Rule of Saint Benedict, the Prologue.