Reflection on Contemplating Forgiveness

Lord's Prayer

Peter came and said to Jesus, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. (Taken from Matthew 18:21-35, NRSV).

I have to begin with saying that I often dislike sermons based on this Gospel parable.  Jesus does sound a little like he is being mean.  What makes me feel that way?  Answer.  My false sense of self.

Admittedly, I have my father’s stubborn streak within me.  I struggle a lot to admit that I have made a mistake, offended someone or had a hard time forgiving someone else who may have hurt me.  What makes me feel this way?  Answer.  My false sense of self.

My false sense of self lies to me.  It tells me that unless I am correct about everything; I am not loved.  It tells me that unless I settle the score; I am useless.  It tells me that unless I get everything my way; I am without hope.

To contemplate God’s forgiveness means that I have to let go of it all.  If i am going to experience the mystical presence of God, I have to give it all up and trust in God, and not get everything right on my own terms.  Yet, I am still faced with a false sense of self here.  Who am I to believe  that if I don’t do all the letting go and giving up, that God’s enlightening presence cannot do wonderful things in and through me?  What if I am still hanging on to having to be right about letting go and giving up, is me holding on to a false sense of self?  The answer.  I need God to help me let go and to give it up.  Jesus said in John 15:5b “apart from me, you can do nothing.”

Here those words from the Prologue of Saint Benedict’s Rule apply. “Listen!  Incline the ear of your heart.”  Contemplation of God’s work of grace in forgiveness begins when we listen to God within ourselves even with everything in us that needs redemption.  God reveals God’s Self to us in what is messy and imperfect.  The Nativity and the Cross are our claim to God’s work in our stinky and brutal messes.  They reveal that God is closest to us, giving us God’s light and love even when we have emotions about memories that we cannot overcome.  When we have pieces that do not fit together, God is still seeing us from God’s perspective as God’s Beloved with whom God is well-pleased.

I have to wonder if our biggest barrier to forgiving others, is because we need God’s help to forgive ourselves.  Even seventy-seven times.

What is your contemplative experience with God in those places where it is difficult to forgive?

Amen.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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

 

 

Lenten Reflection: A Clean Heart

God and the Heart

 

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. (Psalm 51:11. The Book of Common Prayer, p.657).

The Psalmist in Psalm 51 is pleading with God for mercy and forgiveness.  It is a recognition of our human mortality.  We are sinners who need God’s grace and healing.  Psalm 51 is about emptying the dirt of our personal and spiritual self and depending completely on God to redeem us.  Is it any wonder why in The Rule of St. Benedict he prescribes that Psalm 51 (50 as St. Benedict used the Grail Psalms in which they were all one number behind our current English version) be used every day during Matins (or Lauds)?   Esther de Waal in her book A Life-Giving Way: A Commentary on The Rule of St. Benedict writes, “The act of acknowledging my weakness and failure is not a morbid dwelling on sin but a turning in confidence to the God who sees a humble and contrite heart and is there to rescue me just as he rescued his people in the past” (p.79).

So what about a clean heart?  The contemplative understands that Psalm 51:11 is a deeply prayerful desire in our heart by God’s initiative that lets go of everything we are holding on to in there; and trusting in God’s view point of our hearts; to make them a clean space for God alone.  When we let go of all the stuff that weighs us down and crowds us in and put our trust in the Holy Spirit; God resides in there because the space has been cleaned out and made ready for the one who gives our hearts all that we need.  Our hearts are made clean and ready to be occupied by its Creator and Redeemer.

What do you need let go of for God to come into your clean heart this Lent?

Amen.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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

Advent Reflection: Forgive as We Forgive

Lord's Prayer

 

“Assuredly, the celebration of Lauds and Vespers must never pass by without the superior’s reciting the entire Lord’s Prayer at the end for all to hear, because thorns of contention are likely to spring up.  Thus warned by the pledge they make to one another in the very words of this prayer: Forgive us as we forgive (Matt 6:12)”.  (RB 1980: The Rule of Saint Benedict in English and Latin, Chapter 13: The Celebration of Lauds on Ordinary Days. p.209).

One of the more difficult things about beginning to live with a new spouse/partner is getting used to each others habits and routines.  Everything from how one wipes their feet before they walk in the door to where they leave their dirty laundry just drives us crazy.

In a Monastery, the number of different personalities is multiplied by more than six.  In some of the larger Monasteries there can be over 100 Monastics in one community.  The members live on top of each other 24/7.  Old, young, new and the long timers are all in one place.

St. Benedict included the chapter about Lauds and more specifically the words in The Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive as we forgive” because of human nature and the unavoidable consequence of conflict within the community.  Such conflict has the ability to bring division and harm to the wider community.  So, St. Benedict wants to take care of the initial “cut” if you will, before the poison from the wound infects the entire house.

So many things happen in our lives.  Things that are not our fault.  Other times we may have been a little short with someone. If you are like me, there are times in which I think about no one else but myself.

Among the most important persons we need to forgive is ourselves.  Forgiving ourselves is a very important piece of the Contemplative life of prayer and mysticism.  Failing to forgive others and ourselves is very toxic to our relationship with God and those around us.  If we can’t even forgive ourselves; we become our own worst enemy.

A few years ago when I was contemplating what I wanted to do in terms of a church vocation, I was led into a deep experience of the Holy  with the words, “Forgive as we forgive.”  As I walked through my mind with God down the list of people I needed to forgive, God began speaking to my heart concerning all the things I was still holding myself guilty of.  The Holy Spirit and I went through many instances where I blamed myself for things I was not responsible for; yet, I was still punishing myself with a guilt that was not even mine.  It was an experience that set me free from prisons I did not even realize I was keeping myself locked up in.

As we prepare to welcome the Christ Child at the celebration of the Nativity, we recall that Jesus came among us in the midst of our human messes.  Through Jesus, God came to tell us, “It is okay. I am here as one like you, to walk with you.”  Jesus journeys with us to help us forgive ourselves and others.

What do the words, “Forgive as we forgive” mean for you this Advent and Christmas Seasons?

Amen.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

Visit us at: http://www.cos-osb.org

Lenten Reflection: Forgive as We Forgive

Lord's Prayer

 

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matthew 6:14,15 NRSV).

In The Rule of St. Benedict Chapter 13: On the Celebration of Lauds on Ordinary Days in verses 13-14, he wrote,

Thus warned by the pledge they make to one another in the very words of this prayer: Forgive us as we forgive (Matt 6:12), they may cleanse themselves of this kind of vice.  At other celebrations, only the final part of the Lord’s Prayer is said aloud, that all my reply: But deliver us from evil (Matt 16:13).

Why was this so important to St. Benedict?

In a residential Benedictine Monastic community, the Monastics live in close quarters with each other 24/7.  They are literally on top of one another at all hours of the day or night.  Praying.  Eating.  Sleeping.  Working.  Reading.  In chapter meetings.  Writing, etc. Those of us even in a dispersed community struggle in our relationships with each other too.  St. Benedict did not want his Monastics to allow themselves to let quarrels regardless of how small to brew into a grudge by which the members would not forgive each other.  Such a grudge has the ability to rip the community apart and make life unbearable for everyone.  Such disruption also creates a real problem for silence and contemplation.  Therefore, St. Benedict had the Lord’s Prayer recited in the silence up to “But deliver us from evil,” so that members of the community could let go and allow God to help them keep the community together in harmony.

Those of us who are married know that the same kind of thing can happen between spouses.  They can also happen between parents and children.  How many holiday dinners are very tense (or destroyed beyond repair) because one member of the family just has never forgiven another?  It happens to the best of us.

I would very much like to encourage my readers to consider spending some Lectio Divina time on the words “forgive, as we forgive.” While in this time, allow the Holy Spirit to bring to mind someone(s), anyone(s) that you have not forgiven.  Let Jesus into those moments of pain, fear, anger and give you the grace to let it all go and forgive.   I have had to do this any number of times in the past, and I will be doing it that many more times in the future.  As we contemplation those words, “forgive, as we forgive” it is amazing how gentle and merciful God is in such moments.  You just might be amazed to discover that the one person you have had the hardest time forgiving is yourself.   Even there, God will bring so much grace into your life that you will come out of it a healthier and happier person.

Who do you need God’s help to forgive as you have been forgiven?

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB

Good Friday Reflection: The Contradiction of The Cross

Crucifixus

This Christ is a man who himself lived with tension and contradiction and inner conflict.

He is a man surrounded by friends who yet withdraws to be apart in the desert.

He is a son and yet he separates himself from his family and asks “who is my mother and who are my brothers?”

He stays alone with himself through long nights of prayer but still journeys on on a road that he knows will bring him to suffering and to death.

He is the redeemer who on the Cross holds together the vertical, pointing towards God, and the horizontal, arms outstretched to the world.

In Christ all things will be brought together.

In Christ all things will be well.  (Living with Contradiction: An Introduction to Benedictine Spirituality, Esther de Waal p.39,40).

Finding something to use for a meditation on Good Friday is like looking for a needle in a hay stack. One can use any Scripture reference or of the thousands of references to the Cross in hymnals, Office books, books, etc.  On this Good Friday, I chose this quotation from Esther de Waal’s book because there is no paradox or contradiction quite like the Cross.

The Cross is about torture, violence, death, shame and all the ugly words that can describe it.  Yet, because of the death of Christ upon it, it is the greatest symbol of God’s unconditional love.  All of humanity’s cruelty and malice meets its match in the self-sacrificing love of Christ who is God’s perfect revelation.  It cannot be fully grasped or understood.  Yet, it is as clear as looking through a plate glass window to what is on the other side.

To contemplate the Cross, is to sit in the presence of God who sees all of us as forgiven and redeemed.  The contradiction to that, there is nothing in all of humankind that God cannot see, understand and use to change us and the world around us.  In the naked, broken and bleeding body of Christ on the Cross, all of humanities’ ways, sins, foolishness, pride and stupidity is made visible.  On the other hand, none of that means that God loves any one of us any more or less.

If there is one thing that we can contemplate about the Cross today, what will that look like?

I see God with arms forever outstretched to embrace us all.  I hear God say, “Forgive them, they do not know what they are doing.”

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB

Advent Reflection: Keeping Watch, Forgive as We Forgive

Lord's Prayer

“Assuredly, the celebration of Lauds and Vespers must never pass by without the superior’s reciting the Lord’s Prayer at the end for all to hear, because thorns of contention are likely to spring up.  Thus warned by the pledge they make to one another in the very words of this prayer: Forgive as we forgive (Matt 6:12), they may cleanse themselves of this kind of vice” (RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English, pages 42-43).

St. Benedict was a very wise and practical man.  He knew that there would need to be some strictness in establishing the monastery as the “school for the Lord’s service” (RB 1980, Prologue vs.48).  At the same time, Benedict made provisions for human weakness to avoid the occasion of murmuring as much as possible.  However much he wanted to avoid it, he also knew that a monastery with more than two Monks in it, would most likely have some kind of contention going on.  It usually takes two (or more) to tango.  To be sure that the members of the community kept in mind who it was that they were there to serve, he asked that the Lord’s Prayer be said during at least two of the Offices.  As Episcopalians and/or Anglicans, we recite it at all four of our Offices.

I think I can speak for most people when I write that all of us know how to assert ourselves to get what we want. If you are like me, you know when to assert yourself, you just are not always good at backing off when enough is enough.

It is easy to pray the Lord’s Prayer at an Office or Mass and feel like we have done our duty. If doing our duty stops at saying the prayer itself, then, we miss the point of saying it at all.  We pray the words: “Forgive as we forgive” to invoke God’s help with both in equal measure.  We acknowledge our poverty of spirit in that we need the mercy of God for ourselves.  Having said that, we also need to admit our poverty in spirit by asking God’s help to forgive those who hurt us.  The words from The Lord’s Prayer afford us the opportunity to pray for our own healing and for the healing of others.

As Advent is drawing to its close in only five days, it is a good time to spend some time in silent prayer going through our memories of those we have injured, and asking God for the strength to forgive those who have hurt us.  Do not be surprised if the “other” you need to forgive is most often, yourself.  God is more than able to help you do that.

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB