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 Storms and Faith

Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (Matthew 14:22-33 NRSV).

Among the many lessons we are learning this year is how unpredictable life is. Our lives can be going fairly well. Just like a storm out of nowhere, the coronavirus swept us all under our feet. Whatever the cause, or reason; this virus has brought international hardship and an entirely different life to our world.

Today’s Gospel reading from Matthew could not be more suited for what we are living through. The disciples are in the middle of a storm. The lives of everyone of those people is in danger. I don’t blame Peter for being so scared, even when Jesus calls him to step out and walk on the water. Everything around Peter is not predictable, including and especially seeing Jesus walking on water.

The contemplative message of this Gospel narrative is that Jesus comes to be with us during the storms of life. God may not stop the wind from blowing, or the water overflowing. We might take a step to walk on the stormy waters, and lose our faith during the journey. The storm is happening right now and right where we are. It is in through those tumultuous times of our lives (and oh are we all in them), that Jesus comes to us.

As Benedictines, we take a vow of Stability. The vow of Stability is a promise to place ourselves in the hands of God, with everything about us, as it is. The masks to cover our fears and wounded souls come off, in the vow of Stability. Stability means that even in the face of the storms of fear and change; we do not run away. Stability is our tool for facing God as we are, where we are in the here and now. It is through our vow of Stability, that we contemplate what God is doing in our lives through what we are living through in this moment; right here, right now.

The storms are raging on. Life is in chaos for all of us. Jesus is coming to us as we live through the storms of the coronavirus. It is time to let Jesus in to our hearts, to let Him receive us as we are. “The Lord shall watch over your going out and your coming in, from this time forth for evermore” (Psalm 121:8. The Book of Common Prayer, p.779).

“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 faith, we shall run 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. 19).

What is Jesus saying to you as you brave the storms of this difficult year?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB.

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Reflection on the Transfiguration

Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen. (Luke 9:28-36 NRSV).

All of us could use a good transfiguration moment these days. The continuing sickness and death by COVID-19 is suffocating in so many ways. We hear of the rising number of new cases. Day after day we read about people who have died from the coronavirus. Will it never end?

The celebration of the Transfiguration of Christ is so very timely. Jesus took with Him Peter, James and John, and all of us up the mountain as we read and hear the Gospel account. When the voice from Heaven says “This is my Son, my Beloved, listen to Him,” Jesus is proclaimed by the agape (love) of God as also the eros (love) of God. The vertical and the horizontal love of God is one with us in Jesus the Christ. The Cross on which Jesus died, is the symbol of the vertical and horizontal love of God, with Jesus’ arms forever outstretched. Is it any wonder why Peter said, “It is good to be here” ?

I am doing a personal at home retreat for a few days. During this retreat, I am reclaiming and renewing my Benedictine identity and spirituality. I am reading through the book entitled Benedict’s Way: An Ancient Monk’s Insights for a Balanced Life by Lonni Collins Pratt and the Late Fr. Daniel Homan, OSB. Yesterday I read something that spoke to me so clearly of what we are living through.

No matter what kind of ruins you stand in, keep moving, keep doing what you do, keep showing up every day. Haul yourself before God. (p.34).

We are all living through a time with what seems like endless ruins. The debris from how our lives used to be are everywhere. No one is untouched. It is in the middle of the ruins that Jesus takes us up the mountain, where God shows us God’s love and power that brings life out of death. All God asks of us is to haul ourselves before God and to listen to Jesus.

As contemplatives, prayer is our pathway to our relationship with God. Contemplative prayer is a way of life, through which what is mundane and normal becomes a way to grow closer to God and one another. Contemplative prayer is being in the presence of God and desiring nothing more than God. The Transfiguration is a contemplative mystery. When life is a mess, as it is for many of us, Jesus takes us into the wondrous mystical relationship with God by His single devoted love of God for all of us. Jesus, will take us into that relationship if we will just listen to Him.

“Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ, and may he bring us all together to everlasting life.” (RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English, p.95).

Are you hauling yourself before God during these difficult times?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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Reflection on God is Near

Seek the Lord while he wills to be found; call on him when he draws near (Isaiah 55:6, Canticle 10, The Book of Common Prayer, p.86).

It has happened to me many times. I have lost something. I search everywhere for what I lost. I dig under the mail piled up on my desk. I open drawer after drawer. Then, I discover that the very thing I have been looking for is right in front of me. I spend so much time and energy looking for something that is before my nose.

God is closer to us than we think. Who God is and where God is are mysterious; that much is very true. Equally mysterious is that God is as close to us as every cell in our body. God, the Holy Spirit is present in every breath we take. The mercy of Jesus releases us of our sins with each breath of air we blow out. The grace of God is willing to be found, if we will only search for union with God for no other reason than to live into our relationship with the holiness and awesomeness of God.

The contemplative lives into the God-Life that is nearby, ready for us to call the God that found us in the depths of God’s loving Being. God is so wanting us to to love God, that God gave us the desire to look for God to love because of who God is. We already know that God gives us what we need the most. Jesus told us as much in the Gospel of Matthew 6:25-34). In verse 33 Jesus said “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” So God is the One we must search for. God is always very nearby.

God then directs these words to you: If you desire true and eternal life, keep your tongue free from vicious talk and your lips from all deceit; turn from evil and do good; let peace be your quest and aim (Ps 34:14:15). Once you have done this, my eyes will be upon you and my ears will listen for your prayers; and even before you ask me, I will say to you: Here I am (Isa 58:9). (RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English, p.16).

Will you spend some in silence today to be with God who is always near you?

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 me 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 Br. Anselm Philip’s Ministry of Spiritual and Grief Companionship.

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).

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

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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

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

Reflection on God is My Portion

“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” (Lamentations 3:24. NRSV).

Everything we seem to want must be the biggest, fastest, the most up to date thing. When we eat at a restaurant, we look for the biggest meal that will give us the most pleasure. In and of themselves, these are not terrible. On the contrary, the hunger and desire for something more means that we have more room for God than we think we do.

Jeremiah was writing about a terrible time. Everything he has known to be what it was, was gone. He and the people of Judah were at their wits end. They were at their rock bottom moment. Jeremiah was writing from his grieving heart. All was lost. What more could anyone do?

As Benedictines, we live a life of continuous prayer. Liturgical prayer, Lectio Divina, personal and intercessory prayer, and of course, contemplative prayer. It is through a life of prayer that we seek union with God praying for a purity of heart. A heart that wants God and nothing more. We are hungry for God. We come with St. Benedict and The Rule with “My soul [that] has a desire and longing for the courts of the Lord…” (Psalm 84:1).

We are living through some very difficult times. Everything around us has been up heaved and turned upside down. Our hearts and souls have are longing for something that will bring us good news, and a return to what we remember. We do not have things the way they used to be. God, our portion who is all we really need is present in that hunger and desire. God is reaching out to love us and be close to us; to transform and renew us. This is the moment of contemplative prayer and living into the mysticism of God’s life-giving opportunities.

“And first of all, whatever good work you begin to do, beg of Him with most earnest prayer to perfect it, that He who has deigned to count us among His own may not at anytime be grieved by our evil deeds. For we must always serve Him with the good things He has given us,,,,” (Benedict’s Rule for Monasteries, p.1).

Are you listening for that desire and longing in your heart for God to be your portion?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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Reflection on Darkness and Light

If I say, “Surely the darkness will cover me, and the light around me turn to night,” Darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day; darkness and light to you are both alike. (Psalm 139:10-11. The Book of Common Prayer, p.794).

I once heard the story of a man who served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. His ship was destroyed and sank in the Pacific in a battle with Japanese forces. He found himself in the ocean with debris from the ship, and many of his shipmates. Some were dead. Others were wounded. Others were trying to stay alive. As he and many of the men struggled to grab on to anything that would help them stay a float, they discovered a shark fin swimming their way. The individual who told the story was one of the very fortunate survivors. Later in his life, he told us that while he was in the midst of the life and death struggle, he was praying the words of Psalm 139:10-11.

My readers have read the many times I have written about the importance of searching for union with God in the here and now. Whatever is happening to us at this moment, whether we are enjoying the warm clear air, holding a new born baby, cleaning the garage, sitting in a room, or at the point of death; God is there with us. Jesus told us in Matthew 28:20 “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

God may or may not bring us exactly what we think we need at this moment. But, God is with us in God’s Grace and Love without exception.

The contemplative person, lives in an awareness of God in our times of silence and solitude; as well as our times of working, suffering, loving, enjoying or crying. We can acknowledge God while we butter bread while praying in thanksgiving for the sun, the rain, the wheat, the flour, the cows, the milk, the baker, the grocer, and the means of how we obtained the bread and butter. As we do such things, we are living the presence of God in that very moment. In moments of darkness, in our struggle and questioning, God is interacting with us in our uncertainty.

As we continue to live through these difficult times, let us remember to look for and respond to God’s loving embrace with arms that are forever outstretched on the hard wood of the Cross.

“Let us open our eyes to the light that can change us to the likeness of God. Let our ears be alert to the stirring of his voice crying to us every day: if today, you should hear his voice, do not harden your heart.” (The Benedictine Handbook, p.11).

Where do you see God shining God’s light in your darkness?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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Reflection on A Prayerful Heart

Give ear, O Lord to my prayer, and attend to the voice of my supplications. In the time of my trouble I will call upon you, for you will answer me. (Psalm 86:6-7. The Book of Common Prayer, p.710).

The great Desert Father Antony once wrote, “Just as fish die of they stay too long out of water, so the monks who loiter outside their cell or pass their time with men of the world lose the intimacy of inner peace. So like a fish going to the sea, we must hurry to reach our cell, for fear that if we delay outside we shall lose our interior watchfulness.”

Christine Valters Paintner in her book Desert Fathers and Mother’s: Early Christian Wisdom Sayings wrote, “The Greek word nepsis means “watchfulness.” It refers to a kind of calm vigilance in daily life, staying attentive and aware to the inner movements of the heart, watching one’s thoughts, and noticing patterns that arise. This inner attention, conducted with compassion, is the grace of the desert way.” (Pages 8-9).

The cell that Antony is writing about is our hearts. The heart in Christian spirituality is “the whole of ourselves.” The Psalmist is writing to ask God for help in times of trouble. The Psalmist knows the troubles that have been, and those ahead require God’s help to work through them.

We are living through some very difficult times. The coronavirus along with the excessive violence has everyone including me experiencing what seems like endless pain and confusion. We are inundated by the fast paced media that is bombarding our sensory awareness to overload.

The Psalmist and the Desert Monastics tell us to return to our cells (our hearts) and spend time in the presence of God in silence and solitude to reclaim our true sense of self. Contemplative prayer and mysticism calls us to embrace the peace of God that leads us to an awareness of what is really happening with in the heart of who we are. Let us remember that Jesus is walking with us through the events of the present time; and the Holy Spirit is teaching us from deep within our hearts. We do not have to understand anything. What we must do is let go of trying to determine a conclusion to the ongoing experience of God’s extravagant love that is transforming us “from glory into glory” in the here and now.

“How much more important, then, to lay our petitions before the God of all with the utmost humility and devotion.”

“The function of times of prayer, then, is not to have us say prayers; it is to enable our lives to become a prayer outside of prayer, to become ‘pure of heart,’ one with God,,,,” (The Rule of Benedict: A Spirituality for the 21st Century, Joan Chittister, p.132).

Are you setting time aside in your life to listen to God within the whole of yourself?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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Reflection on the Still Waters

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me besides still waters. (Psalm 23. The Book of Common Prayer, p.612).

The times we are all living through with the coronavirus hardly feels like we are besides still waters. Maybe we are wondering if Jesus, the Good Shepherd will ever get around to our side of the field. All we see are the wolves that carry disease. violence and despair waiting to make us their next victims. Our anxieties are grabbing us because of not being able to escape what we are living through.

The most challenging concepts of contemplative prayer is to keep ourselves grounded to search for union with God with what is happening here and now. The grace of God is active in leading us through this time of sickness and death. Take another look at Psalm 23:5.

Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and staff, they comfort me. (The Book of Common Prayer, p.613).

The Psalmist is acknowledging that we do not get delivered from the valley of death. The goodness of God is reaching out for us as we walk through this time. God is interacting with us and guiding us. God is here.

“The search for God is a very intimate enterprise. It is at the core of every longing heart. It is the search for ultimate love; for total belonging, for the meaning of life. It is our attempt to live life and find it worthwhile, to come to see the presence of God under all the phantoms and shadows- beyond the illusions of life-and find it enough”(The Monastery of the Heart: An Invitation to a Meaningful Life, Sr. Joan Chittister, p.13).

The still waters on the surface do not always tell us what is happening beneath them. There is chaos with the fish that are looking for a meal, while others are trying to escape becoming a meal. Underneath the still waters there is something happening that is constantly changing. Yet, Jesus the Risen Shepherd leads us besides those still waters. The contemplative is never satisfied by what is visible on the surface. When we spend time in silence and solitude, we are letting God into those troubled waters within us. If we will let God into what is happening in the here and now; God “will supply with the help of His grace, what we cannot do by nature.” (The Rule of St. Benedict in English, the Prologue).

How is Jesus the Good Shepherd guiding you during these challenging days?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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