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 Burning Heart

So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread. (See Luke 24:13-35 NRSV).

This Easter Gospel reading is among the best ways to understand Lectio Divina. The purpose of the prayerful reading of Scripture is to lead us to the spiritual experience of listening to Jesus teach our hearts through the Holy Spirit. When we read a scripture passage slowly and spend some time in silence as the Word goes deeper into our hearts, we are wanting to, “hear them, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them” (The Collect for Proper 28, The Book of Common Prayer, p.236).

Jesus the Risen Christ met His friends on the road to Emmaus because they were disturbed. Jesus asked them questions, spoke with them about the things he mentioned many times before His crucifixion. Jesus was not tired of telling them. It was not until Jesus went in to eat with them, and broke the bread that they recognized Him for who He was.

When the disciples ask themselves the question “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking with us on the road…,” they were having the experience of human beings down through the centuries. God is often present and speaking very clearly through what is taking place before us in the here and now, but, we do not notice God’s presence.

All of us want this coronavirus crisis to go away so we can go back to how things were. We want to go back to our jobs and that sense of security we had. We all want to attend our churches, meet our friends and family without all this social distancing. However, that is not happening. But, are our hearts not burning as the Risen Christ walks among us, and talks to our hearts; drawing us ever more deeply into seeking union with God for the purpose of God alone? God in the Risen Jesus is so close to us in our hunger and thirst for a love that knows no bounds and is just there with us, so we can be with God. This is the heart of what Contemplation is about.

Idleness is the enemy of the soul. Therefore the brethren should be occupied at certain times in manual labor, and again at fixed hours in sacred reading. (Chapter 48 On the Daily Manual Labor. St. Benedict’s Rule for Monasteries, p.68).

Is your heart burning as the Risen Jesus is walking with and talking with you?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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

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Reflection on Easter in the Desert

“The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation .” (Psalm 118;14. The Book of Common Prayer, p.761).

Alleluia. Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.

It hardly seems like Easter. Minnesota, where I live is getting a snow storm as I write this blog entry. Yet, the snow falling on Easter seems to fit. Many of us are used to being in our churches on Easter. Our churches are usually so crowded that extra chairs must be put out to accommodate the overflow. People go to Easter Sunday services while wearing the best spring clothes. It is always so wonderful when the sun is shining with nice warm weather on Easter.

Easter in the Year 2020 is not at all like what we are used to. The coronavirus is even preventing families from gathering for Easter dinner with relatives they have not seen since Christmas. Some people are rightly worried about those who are sick and suffering. Many are grieving the loss of those they love. How can we contemplate the mystery of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ with everything upside down?

The Desert Monastics lived their lives in such a way, that they were always in a world that was upside down from how many people functioned. The Mothers and Fathers of the Desert gave over everything that was considered “normal” for an unusual way of life through which they searched for a deeper union with God.

Christine Valters Paintner in her book Desert Fathers and Mothers: Early Christian Wisdom Sayings wrote,

“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 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).

The Easter experience of Resurrection is not without the pains of Good Friday. The victory of new life is always preceded by letting go of what is familiar, preferred and desired. Unless we spend time in contemplative prayer before the Cross, we will miss the mysticism of the empty tomb on Easter.

The chaos of the coronavirus can be overcome, by recognizing the inevitability of loosing everything as we have known them to be, and giving ourselves over to a new way of living for a whole new beginning.

Jesus and His Resurrection are our strength and our song, and Christ has become our salvation by the wondrous love of God.

“Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ, and may Christ bring us to everlasting life.” (The Rule of Benedict: A Spirituality for the 21st Century, by Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB, p.298).

Alleluia. Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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Reflection on The Unusual Entrance

When Jesus and his disciples had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, “Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.” (See Matthew 21:1-11 NRSV).

Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was the beginning of unusual events. As Jesus rode on the back of a donkey, He brought a radical change to what other people thought how things were supposed to be. During the turmoil, Jesus was recognized for who He really was.

Our Holy Week journey during the coronavirus crisis is also radically different. Many of us are unable to attend the most beautiful and meaningful worship services of the year. All of our yearly Holy Week rituals are disturbed. We cannot hear the beautiful music we are used to. The Liturgical rites that make the Scripture readings come alive cannot be experienced in real time. We are not even able to gather with family and friends in the ways we usually do. Jesus is entering into our Holy Week journey to carry us through to Easter by means that are unfamiliar to us.

The current situation we are living through is a perfect opportunity for Jesus to bring us to an experience of contemplative prayer unlike any other. We are unable to rely on what has made us familiar and comfortable. Our false-sense of self that relies on us to set the schedule of what to do, is too uncertain. It is in our uncertainty, that Jesus makes His triumphant entry with God’s plan for our redemption.

St. Moses the Desert Monastic wrote, “Sit in your cell. Your cell will teach you everything.” This year during Holy Week, we have two choices. We can choose to dwell in self pity with fear that makes us ignore what is within us that drives us away from God. The second choice is to let go of what we are holding on to, and open ourselves up to the powerful transformation of God’s self-giving love . God’s love during Holy Week meets us in our fear, sadness and brokenness to bring a radical healing and reconciliation. Our pain and suffering during these dark and difficult times are not meant to be an end in and of themselves. God meets us in our cells, and teaches our hearts through the mystical experience of Christ Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection that becomes our own life’s journey.

“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).

In what ways is Jesus changing your heart and life as we begin this unusual celebration of Holy Week?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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Reflection on Preparing the Wilderness of the Heart

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” (See Matthew 3:1-12 NRSV).

When we think of the wilderness, we tend to associate it with an external landscape. It is a place we might go (or be set out) on a journey to or through. Whether it is a destination we go to of our own choosing, or by a misplaced sense of direction; the wilderness (or the desert) is a perfect symbol of what can happen with our interior self.

St. John the Baptist saw himself as the forerunner of Christ. He had such a clear sense of who he was, and what his purpose in life was, that he separated himself from everything to live into his true self. St. John the Baptist knew that God was the One he wanted to give his life to. He was able, therefore, to search and be the “voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord…”.

In the book entitled The Hermitage Within: Spirituality of the Desert, Alan Neame writes a fascinating translation of St. John the Baptist’s Wilderness.

“You are more than the Bridegroom’s friend. Your soul is truly the Bride, and you will make the outpourings of the mystic marriage-song your own: “‘I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine.'” (See the Song of Solomon 6:3). (P.19).”

St. Moses the Black wrote “Sit in your cell. Your cell will teach you everything.”

The cell and the wilderness in the spirituality of the Desert Mothers and Fathers represents the heart and the environment we are in. Our hearts need times of silence and solitude so that we can prepare a way for God within us. Our cells are so often lost in the wilderness of our false-sense of self that is so cluttered with the junk that suffocates our souls. God wants to walk with us in the wilderness of our cells to show us God’s true love and grace within our essence, that is our eternal truth. Advent is the time in which we journey with St. John the Baptist to contemplate our relationship with God and ourselves to find healing and reconciliation through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Let us open our eyes to the light that comes from God, and our ears to the voice that everyday calls out this charge: If you hear his voice today, do not harden your hearts (Psalm 95:8).” (RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English, p.15,16).

What does the wilderness of your heart look like today?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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Reflection on God Knows You

“Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you….” (See Jeremiah 1:4-5a).

Many of the great spiritual authors have written that “the foundation of any spirituality is self knowledge.” Knowing ourselves is a life long journey. As our bodies go through the stages of life, our interior self travels further than where we physically stand. Our minds wander. Our hearts become fragile and broken. Our souls experience the brunt of the decisions we make, or others made for us. The journey can feel hopeless and fruitless.

The contemplative grows through God’s grace of self-awareness. A person who lives as a contemplative accepts the struggle to receive through faith what God is doing with us. As we read from the Prophet Jeremiah, God knew us before we were formed in our mother’s womb. God consecrated us to search for union with God in the here and now before we knew ourselves. Through the salvation brought to us by Jesus Christ, God has empowered us in the Holy Spirit to be God’s holy people. God loves us and brings us healing and wholeness in silence, solitude and contemplation.

The spiritual exercise of the prayerful reading of Scripture called Lectio Divina moves the Bible verse we are reading from our minds to our hearts. Once the words or sentence is in the whole of ourselves; we are to let the Holy Spirit teach us things about ourselves and ways that we can deepen our relationship with God in our lives. Through the powerful mystery of God’s word, we are transformed from glory to glory, and experience the presence of God. The experience of the holiness of God can become our inspiration to change the world around us.

“In God’s goodness, we are already counted as God’s own….” (From The Prologue to The Rule of St. Benedict).

As the word of God comes to you today, what are you listening to God telling you?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

Please visit my website to learn about my ministry of Spiritual and Grief Companionship.

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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

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Reflection on A Contemplative Advent

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. Remember, O Lord, your compassion and love, for they are from everlasting. (Psalm 25:4-5, The Book of Common Prayer, p.614).

Among my many social challenges I experience because of autism is knowing when, who and how to ask for help. It happens because of being overwhelmed by too many options in my brain at one time. Over the past seven years since I was first diagnosed, I have had to learn that the sooner I tell those closest to me that I am overwhelmed by my options and need help, the less overwhelmed I will be. I will get the help I need, when I accept my vulnerability and entrust what I need from the right people.

Advent is a season of waiting and watching for God in the Person of Jesus. We look forward to the return of Christ in glory. We want Jesus to come and change this world of violence and chaos to how we think things should be. The season of Advent leads us to remembering that God did something so profound in the Incarnation. In the book Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas, one of the contributors Karl Rahner in The Divine Dawning wrote,

“No, you took upon yourself our kind of life, just as it is. You let it slip away from you, just as ours vanishes from us. You held on to it carefully, so that not a single drop of its torments would be spilled. You hoarded its very fleeting moment, so you could suffer through it all, right to the bitter end” (p.71,72).

If we want a contemplative experience of Advent, we must “begin again.” We begin by praying with the Psalmist that by ourselves, we do not know how to find God’s truth and know God’s compassion. The contemplative looks for the mystery of God in our humility and vulnerability as life is in the here and now. In our suffering and messy lives the Advent of Christ is already happening. When we let go, and allow God to teach us the way of truth, salvation and compassion; the Holy One comes and makes a home within us. It is a very limited experience, and so we continue to cry; Come, Lord Jesus, Come.

“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, Chapter 72, p.95).

What are you waiting for Jesus to do for you this Advent?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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Reflection on Contemplating Resurrection

EmptyTomb

“When Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and the were alarmed.  But he said to hem, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.  He has been raised; he is not here.  Look, there is the place they laid him.”  (See Mark 16:1-18 NRSV).

Each of us knows the experience of going in search of someone who said they would be in a specific place where we would meet them; and lo and behold, they are not there.  There is a sudden moment of sadness, anger perhaps, anxiety.  We might take out our cell phones and call the person and find out where they are.

Imagine the reaction of Mary Magdalene and the other women who went to Jesus’ tomb where He had been laid.  They were already filled with sadness.  I am sure their eyes opened wide and their jaws dropped at the sight of the stone being rolled aside.  To make matters more suspicious, they discover a man who tells them that Jesus rose and is not there.  In John’s account of the Resurrection, Jesus and Mary Magdalene spoke with each other.  Mary was drawn to a contemplative vision of Jesus who called her by name.

A contemplative is always searching for the Risen Christ who is hidden from our sight.  It is through the eyes of faith that we search for and find union with the Risen Jesus.  We do not experience mysticism by looking for Jesus with our knowledge and expectations of how the Risen Christ will look.  We spend time in silence and solitude, letting go of what we think and know about God.  The Risen Christ reveals Himself in the silence of our interior self.  When we see what is in our cell for what it is, the Crucified Christ leads us on to experience the Resurrection of new life with Him.  When we meet Jesus in contemplative prayer we are never the same.  We are always being remade into a new person though the love of the life-giving Jesus who meets us, calls us by name and finds us in the here and now.  Let us always be ready to sing with the Psalmist who wrote, “On this day the Lord as acted; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24 The Book of Common Prayer, p.762).

“Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ, and may he lead us all together to everlasting life” (RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 72, p.95).

Alleluia! Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed.  Alleluia!

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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Advent Reflection: God Is With Us

Nativity

 

“Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name, Emmanuel”  Meaning “God is with us.” (Matthew 1:23, RSV).

There is a lot going on around us.  Preparations for the celebration of Christmas.  Shopping.  Wrapping.  Writing out Christmas cards.  Choirs preparing for the Christmas Eve service.  Organists preparing their pieces with the additional instruments.  Clergy writing sermons, making their holiday rounds for the shut ins, etc.  People are volunteering for the local soup kitchens to serve a Christmas meal for those who are in need.

As we journey through Late Advent to the celebration of the Nativity, we are comforted by the words, “God is with us.”

There are many for whom the Christmas holidays are anything but comfortable and joyful.  Many of us have painful memories of family who are no longer with us.  Last year I was in a year of grief when my mother passed away November 22, 2015.  I was never so happy to see January 2nd arrive.  Perhaps there are families with members in the military who are far from home.  What does “God with us” mean for them?

Whether our lives are in some kind of happy order or not, the mystery that we can celebrate is that God is with us.  God is with us and we are loved beyond our wildest imaginations.  We are loved and viewed by God as God’s beloved in Christ, God’s Beloved Son.  God sees what is in our hearts.  God cares about what is happening, including, but not limited to those moments when our faith is shaken or weakened.

God is with us.  God is here seeking union with us and calling us to seek union with God.

How are you celebrating or longing for the words “God is with us”?

Amen.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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