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

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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

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 .

Holy Wednesday Reflection

Judas

At supper with his friends, Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.” (John 13:21 NRSV).

Jesus was not the only one who had a problem with Judas.  I have some problems with Judas, the role he played and his reputation.  It is true that Judas betrayed Jesus in the most horrendous way.  On the other hand, if it was God’s will for Jesus to be crucified as He was, didn’t Judas fulfill the role God intended him to play?  As I think of who Judas was and what he did, to me the most powerful thing was that in spite of what Judas did, Jesus still loved Judas.  In so doing, Jesus did Himself what He taught about “love your enemies” in Matthew 5:43-48.

Whatever it is that we are suppose to contemplate today; this part of the Holy Week story is mysterious at best.

Perhaps Judas reminds us of being at a holiday dinner table with the one relative that is the most challenging for us to get along with.  If you are like me, the hardest thing to do with someone like that is to keep my mouth shut and avoid letting that person get under my skin.

If Jesus’ encounter with Judas teaches us nothing else; it shows His humility in accepting what was to happen to Him.

Indeed, the hardest part of St. Benedict’s chapter 7 on humility in The Rule to understand and accept is rungs six and seven.  On rung six of the ladder of humility, St. Benedict tells the monk to be content with “the lowest and most menial treatment.”  On rung seven, the monk is told to admit “with his tongue and be convinced that he is inferior and of less value.”   It is a mistake for us to interpret Benedict as saying that the monk is suppose to have a low self esteem or accept abuse in any form.  What he is saying is that we tend to be all caught up in our false-sense of self.  We like our first place in line.  We like to be approved of.  Liked.  Cherished.  No one is as important as we are individually.  St. Benedict is telling us to live as Jesus did.  He is telling us to accept and live into from our true sense of self, our essence even when we are last on the likable list.  St. Benedict is teaching us to find our worth, our stature, our place in line; in God alone.  St. Benedict is telling us what Jesus is showing us.  Let go and trust in God alone.

How is Jesus challenging you to live from your essence today?

Amen.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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

Holy Tuesday Reflection

Grain of Wheat

Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour.”  (John 12:23-26 NRSV).

In his book Monastic Practices, Charles Cummings, OSCO writes about the place of food in the daily Monastic life (see p.81).  It is not a simple matter of filling our bellies to satisfy us.  Eating is about participating and giving thanks for all the many ways the Monastic receives food.  Monastics do not just eat food; we take food.  In so doing, we remember each part of the food was the product of the sun, rain, soil, growing, farming, labor to harvest.   The food such as bread needed the wheat, the flour, the eggs, the yeast, the kneading, baking, packaging.   The grapes are tended to on the vine.  They are harvested and over many years become wine.  These things do not happen without something that is living dies, and/or someone giving over their time and talent to serve the common good of those who will eat.  We recognize that everything we are eating and sharing is from God’s graciousness and others participating as co-creators with God.

In today’s Gospel Jesus is accepting and announcing that the hour to give His life has come.  His Disciples still do not know what to make of this action Jesus is about to do.  As He does many times before, Jesus talks in symbolic language to help us to understand that what Jesus is about to do is about the fruit it will bear.  If His death is going to bear fruit, then He must endure the shame and hardship of the Cross to bring it about.   Furthermore, Jesus tells us that if we want to bear fruit as followers of Jesus; we must be willing to follow Him and give up ourselves in self sacrifice as Jesus did.  We may or may not be called upon to suffer a horrible death by crucifixion.  However, all of us are called upon to search for union with God seeking God’s will and letting go of ourselves to serve God and each other.

“Never swerving from his instructions, then, but faithfully observing 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 Saint Benedict in Latin and English. Conclusion of the Prologue  p.167).

What is Jesus calling on you to let go of, so that you may follow Him and serve others in His Name?

How can you live more intentionally into Jesus’ invitation to discipleship?

Amen.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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

 

Holy Monday Reflection

Mary&JesusFeet

 

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. (John 12:3 NRSV).

I remember the last four days of my Mother’s life.   I was next to her bed day and night. The Priest from my Parish came to anoint Mom, but also to celebrate Holy Communion with us.  My Mother was no longer able to eat or drink.  The Priest knew that I needed the Body and Blood of Christ every bit as much as my Mother did.  It was a beautiful moment at a difficult time.

Mary knew that Jesus’ time was coming soon.   She knew that this would be her last opportunity to be as close to Jesus before His death.  In this moment when Jesus was about to enter into His Passion and death,  Mary imitates what Jesus is about to do, for Jesus.  She gives the most expensive gift she has in her house and uses it to love Jesus who loved her and all of us in total selflessness.

If we ponder nothing else today, let us ponder these questions:

What in your life is your greatest and most cherished possession?

Are you willing to give your great and most treasured possession to love and honor Jesus’ unselfish sacrifice?

Amen.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

“We mean that without an order from the abbot, no one may presume to give, receive or retain anything as his own, nothing at all–not a book, writing tablets or stylus–in short, not a single item, especially since monks may not have the free disposal of their own bodies and wills.  For their needs, they are to look to the father of the monastery, and are not allowed anything which the abbot has not given or permitted.  All things should be the common possession of all, as it is written, so that no one presumes to call anything his own. (Acts 4:32).  (RB 1980: The Rule of Saint Benedict in Latin and English, Chapter 33 Monks and Private Ownership. p.231).

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