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.

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Reflection on The Loving Fragrance of God

“Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” (See John 12: 1-11 NRSV).

In Psalm 36:5 the Psalmist proclaims “Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, and your faithfulness to the clouds.” I think Mary knew and experienced that love in a most profound way. Her action of washing the feet of Jesus, drying them and anointing them was her way of celebrating that love. Her service to Jesus was symbolic of what she knew intimately within the whole of herself.

Contemplative prayer is an action of love by God, inviting us to experience that love. It is a love that is so profound that all we can do is be in the presence of God, and surrender everything we are and have to that presence. It is a fragrance that touches our senses with experiences we cannot explain or describe. We can only know that presence and live into it.

Over this Lent God has been speaking to my heart through a song entitled “You Know Better Than I”. It is from the animated movie Joseph: King of Dreams. The lyrics to the refrain are, “You know better than I, You know the way. I’ve let go the need to know why. For you know better than I.”

I do not know what God is doing with my life with this chronic back pain. I only know that I have had to open myself to God through what is uncertain and “let go of the reason to know why.” If God can fill the fragrance of a room by a broken jar of ointment as Jesus prepares for His imminent death on Good Friday; then my back pain and my wheelchair are certainly not obstacles for God’s Grace to transform me and others around me. The real conversion has only just begun. After all, St. Benedict’s Spirituality can be best surmised in the words, “Always we begin again.”

Where in your life are you experiencing the fragrance of God’s love this Holy Week?

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 go to 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.

Reflection on Holy Week and the Desert

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 my enemies, and from those who persecute me. Make your face to shine on your servant, and in your loving-kindness save me.” (Psalm 31:14-16. The Book of Common Prayer, p.623).

As we enter into this Holy Week, we are traveling in a different desert. This is no longer the desert of confronting our temptations and sins to just do penance. Holy Week is the desert of meeting with Jesus in the very worst of circumstances and to trust in God alone.

Our false-sense of self will not be comforted. Our comfort zones will be met with an uncomfortable transformation of our interior life that will meet the living God. We will die with Jesus on the Cross, and contemplate the love of God through a radical experience that can be grasped by faith only. Our hope comes from trusting in God.

“Our job is to accept life, this and every moment in life, even as life breaks our hearts in deep and difficult ways. We push away radical acceptance, deny it, get angry at, bargain with, feel depressed about, and grieve over–but acceptance opens us up to compassion.” (Cynthia Cannon, Ashes and the Phoenix: Meditations for the Season of Lent, compiled by Len Freeman, p 93).

The desert of Holy Week leads us to the mystical experiences of what once happened so long ago, is still present and working in our lives today. The redemption of Jesus embraces us with the compassion of God. Like the Psalmist, we too will rediscover that God’s loving-kindness will save us when we focus on our relationship with God as the only thing that matters for us to live into our essence.

“The first step of humility, then, is that we keep “the reverence of God before our eyes” (Ps. 36:2) and never forget it.” (The Rule of Benedict: A Spirituality for the 21st Century by Sr? Joan Chittister, OSB, p. 78).

What is your experience of the desert of Holy Week going for you?

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, visit my website here.

If you would like 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.

Reflection on the Ruined Temple

RuinedTemple

“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

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

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

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

Good Friday Reflection

Crucifixus

Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate asked him, “What is truth?” (John 18:37-38 NRSV).

Before I begin, I am not going to try to answer Pilate’s last question, “What is truth?”   My reason is that each person who contemplates the words of the Scripture verses I have chosen on this Good Friday will answer it differently.  It is very important that everyone’s experience of Pilate’s question is respected whether we agree or disagree.

What might a contemplative do with these words from John’s account of Jesus’ passion?

“The contemplative simply stands in place and in the standing answers the question “Who am I” with the answer “I am the one who waits for the God within.”  In other words, the one who pursues the center of life. I am the one who is in search of the Light that is distant from my darkened soul and alien to my restless mind and extraneous to may scattered heart.  I am the one who realizes that the distance between God and me is me.

To lead a contemplative life requires that we watch what we’re seeking–and why we are seeking it.  Even good can become noise in the heart when we do it, not because it’s right, but because it will in turn do something for us: Bring us status. Make us feel good.  Give us security. Require little of our own lives.

God is more consuming, more fulfilling than all those things.  The grail we seek is God alone.  But talking about God is not the same as searching for God, all the simple saints, all the fallen hierarchs to the point.  To be a contemplative we must seek God in the right places: within the sanctuary of the centered self” (Illuminated Life: Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light, Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB).

When Jesus gave Himself over to suffering and death on the Cross, He taught us among many things, to ask ourselves the question “Who am I?”   I believe that when Jesus said “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice, ” He was telling Pilate an us to search for union with God by asking ourselves the question “Who am I?”   Not who we wish to be.  Not who we were in the past.  The question is, “Who am I?”  Right here.  Right now.  That truth that Jesus was speaking of is our true sense of ourselves.  Are we centering ourselves on being liked, preferred, approved of, what we own, what we do, our status, our title, our pride?  These things are part of our false-sense of self.  Our true sense of ourselves is letting go of all of that and living from the essence of who we are with total self sacrificial love for Christ who gave Himself up for us all.  I suggest that in the Death and Resurrection God tells us through Jesus that “Yes this is possible even for you, because I love you.”

“Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ, and may he bring us all to everlasting life” (The Rule of Saint Benedict in Latin and English. Chapter 72:11, 12. p.295).

What is your response to the question “Who am I?”

Amen.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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

Maundy Thursday Reflection

WashingFeet

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. (John 13:3-5 NRSV).

Up until eight years ago, I never participated in the washing of feet during the Maundy Thursday Liturgy.  Since that first time I had my feet washed and washed the feet of another person, I take part in this yearly ritual.  It is a very special moment in which all of my pride takes a back seat.  There is a tremendous amount of humility and vulnerability in having my feet washed and washing the feet of another person.  When having my feet washed the person doing the washing gets to listen a little to my own personal story of where I have walked, what I have done and where I might be going.  When I wash the feet of another person, I open myself up to listen to where the other individual has been, what they have been doing and where they might be going.   Feet get dirty.  Feet smell.  Feet may be smooth or calloused.  Yet, in that moment of washing feet there is an openness and an acceptance of God’s love for me and the opportunity to share that love with another person.

Among the many things that draws me to The Rule of Saint Benedict is in Chapter 53 On the Reception of Guests, he instructs the Abbot and the entire community to wash the feet of the guests.  After washing their feet they will all say together “God, we have received your mercy in the midst of your temple” (Ps. 48:10). Actually look up Psalm 48:8 in The Book of Common Prayer on page 651.  St. Benedict is allowing the guests to inconvenience the Brothers.  When Guests come it is their (and our) opportunity to put aside our own agendas and preferences and serve Christ crucified in the other.

What a great mystery to lead us into contemplative prayer.  Our loving God sees in us the goodness of Christ to give ourselves over in sacrificial love with Jesus to serve others in His stead.  As we enter into this wondrous moment, God’s love penetrates the deepest part of ourselves and calls us to union with God in purity of heart.

What are you willing to do today to serve the presence of Christ in another person?

Amen.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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