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 the Word at Home

“The Word became flesh and made His home among us. We have seen His glory, glory like that of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14, The Common English Bible).

I am using The Common English Bible for this reflection, because I am drawn to the words “and made His home among us.” These words disturb me. I am so comfortable hearing the words of John 1:1-18 as the cozy doctrine of the Incarnation. As long as I kept them in my mind to the hearing of this Gospel every Christmas, they never make the journey from the head to the heart.

When I spend time with these words in Lectio Divina (the prayerful reading of Scripture) the Holy Spirit tells my heart that Jesus is coming to make His home within me at this moment. I am in a bit of a panic attack, because I am so attached to enjoying my interior home where my ego has its own room. My false-sense of self has given my ego a run of the home in me. Jesus, the Word wants to make a home in me? If that happens, I will know just how much God knows me in my total vulnerability. I will experience the reality of the words of Psalm 139:1.

“Lord, you have searched me out and known me; you know my sitting down and my rising up; you discern my thoughts from afar.”

I/we must remember that contemplative prayer is at its climax when we let go of everything, including our high expectations and open ourselves to experience Emmanuel “God with us.” God comes so that we can see ourselves from God’s perspective. Jesus comes to make His home in us, because God loves us so completely because of who we are, as we are and desires to make our hearts a most beautiful holy abode for God-Self. God wants to plant the seed of God’s Holy Spirit in our hearts so that a wondrous garden with every beautiful kind fruit can grow. Those many weeds within us that need to die and be pulled, will help us to be transformed into that “new creation” (see 2 Corinthians 5:17-18) rising up with Jesus in the Resurrection.

“Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ, for He is going to say, ‘I came as a guest, and you received me.'” (St. Benedict’s Rule for Monasteries. Chapter 53 On the Reception of Guests, p.73).

How are the words “The Word became flesh and made His home among us” speaking to your heart?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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Reflection on Treasuring and Pondering

Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. (See Luke 2:1-20 NRSV).

Our experience of Jesus coming as the Word Incarnate has been made known to us throughout the through the Gospels and the written works history of Christianity. Many authors have drenched their readers with helpful theological insight indeed.

Our modern celebrations of the Nativity of Christ are shaped by the traditions of our family, culture and the nearly endless round of Christmas muzac in the stores, restaurants and the radios that started November 1st. Our churches have amazing music, candlelight services with elaborate sermons and decorations. All of these things are wonderful. Yet, they fail to capture the Christmas event in a way that penetrates us to the point of cherishing the great mystery so that it reshapes us from the inside out.

Mary shows us how the arrival of Jesus and the things that take place around her changes her life. She “treasured these things and pondered them in her heart.” In so doing, Mary made her heart a fitting residence for Jesus within her. This is the best example of contemplation and mysticism that we can have on this Christmas Eve/Day.

Mary’s moment of contemplation captures the meaning of the words that begin The Rule of St. Benedict. “Listen, and incline the ear of the heart.” If the arrival of Jesus at His Nativity is to have an impact on our relationship with God; we should start with treasuring Christ and pondering Him within the whole of ourselves. In Jesus, God has become one with us, and wants us to search for union with the purity of heart for the sake of who God is and nothing more. Jesus came to give us a direction through God’s extravagant love. We must let it sink in to treasure Jesus and ponder Him in our hearts.

Will you find a time and a place to treasure and ponder who Jesus is for you?

Amen.

May all of you have a holy and blessed Christmas Season.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

Reflection on Patience in the Heart

“Be patient, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.” (See James 5:7-10 NRSV).

This is the time of the season when our patience grows thin. The celebration of the Nativity is ten days away. We are still in the season of Advent. We continue watching, waiting and preparing. Today, we read from James “You must also be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.”

The electric and technological developments that bring us social media with iPhones or Smartphones, have made waiting and patience an antiquated way of living. We can pay our bills, move money, order groceries and clothing without leaving our homes at lightening speed. Such advances are doing exactly what they are intended to do. As a result, our capacity for waiting patiently has been compromised. It effects our spiritual awareness of God moving slower, to draw us into a deeper relationship with God.

The image of the farmer planting the seeds is a perfect illustration here. To live as a contemplative, we must see ourselves as the seeds that God has planted to grow and bloom into the most beautiful human beings. In this season of Advent, God wants us to slow down, to spend some time in silence and solitude and open our hearts to the presence of God who is already here. Greater things come to those who meditate and receive God’s wondrous love, so that God can add even more of the grace that is transformative. This transformation is not dependent on having the correct theology. The transforming grace of God is beyond logic and is so much richer than doctrine or dogma. God’s grace through Jesus, the Incarnate Word meets us in the deepest places within us and gives new life, again and again. This is why we wait in patience and strengthen our hearts.

“What is not possible for us by nature, let us ask the Lord to supply by the help of his grace.” (RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English, p.18).

What will waiting patiently for God mean for you?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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Reflection on Ashes and Dust

“Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (From the Ash Wednesday Liturgy).

After a house or building has burned down, the ash that is left can feel so final. When one’s hopes and dreams for what the building might have given are all over the place with only ashes left; the grief just pours out. When Mt. St. Helen’s in the State of Washington erupted in 1980 a lot of the ashes were taken and molded into sculptures. What seemed like a devastating conclusion, became new opportunities for something beautiful to come from it.

As we begin Lent with this Ash Wednesday, we are reminded of our mortality. Nothing in or about our lives in this world is permanent. There is a beginning and ending of just about everything, including our mortal bodies. The ashes remind us of where we came from, and where our physical bodies will end up. Ash Wednesday brings with it a wonderful irony. Though our bodies are temporary, God’s love is eternal. In Jesus Christ, the Word, we are God’s Beloved. Jesus came to draw us closer in relationship with God through His life, death and resurrection.

In The Rule of St. Benedict, he tells his monastics to observe the Season of Lent “to keep [themselves] most pure and to wash away the negligences of other times” (RB 1980, p.71). I suggest that among those negligences is how much we allow them to fill the hunger within us, that is really a yearning for God. The contemplative is always in touch with that hunger, and seeks union with God to satisfy the longing. The hunger is not an end in and of itself, but a moment of grace to let the Holy Spirit speak to our malnourished hearts.

The ashes today are a reminder that our bodies and this earth are not a conclusion to a story. They are only one part of the story that still has a new chapter to be added. Contemplative prayer moves us to live into the whole story of who we are, and Who we are seeking. Ash Wednesday reminds us of who the Author really is; and what character we are in the whole of story.

What do the ashes on Ash Wednesday mean for you?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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Reflection on God’s Crown and Diadem

You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.” (Isaiah 62:3 NRSV).

The Prophet Isaiah was reassuring the people of God that what was happening to and around them was not the end of the story. God was still working to make them more than they were through circumstances that were far from perfect.

For Christians who are celebrating the Christmas Season, the presence of Jesus as the Incarnate Word is the promise of God that we all are “the apple of God’s eye.” The Word that always was, is and ever shall be was born as a vulnerable human baby like each of us. Jesus, like each and every one of us has the potential to be nurtured by God’s grace to be God’s crown; so precious, that even in our imperfections we will know the holiness of God at work in our lives.

The mysticism of Christmas is that whatever we have done that may have brought us to a devastating end, God’s Incarnation in Christ gives us a new opportunity to begin again. Every new beginning has a lot of uncertainty. We are vulnerable to many dangers that can be difficult to understand and work through. The path before us will need a lot of moments in solitude and silence, so that we can listen to the direction of the Holy Spirit. The directions may be simple or complex. The only way to get a sense of where to go and what to do, will be determined by the mystery of God’s plans for us that are yet to come to fruition.

The Christmas Season is our message of hope, that whatever point we are at in our lives, God has a desire for us because we are God’s shining crown and royal diadem. We are being remade by God through the circumstances in the here and now, to live in to our true selves in God’s timeline.

“In God’s goodness, we are already counted as God’s own..” (The Rule of Benedict: a Spirituality for the 21st Century, by Sr Joan Chittister, OSB, p.5).

What do you see God doing with the circumstances of your life?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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Reflection on St. John

We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us—we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. (See 1 John 1:1-9 NRSV).

St. John the Evangelist is my very favorite of the Apostles and New Testament contributors. The beginning of John’s Gospel with the words “In the beginning was the Word….” is beyond profound. The three letters attributed to St. John and Revelation are so beautiful.

On this text from 1 John, St. Augustine of Hippo wrote,

“Life itself was therefore revealed in the flesh. In this way what was visible to the heart alone could become visible to the eye, and so heal men’s hearts.” (The Liturgy of the Hours, Volume I Advent and Christmas Season, p.1267).

The Johannine communities that gave us these words from the Apostle tell us about what they have personally witnessed. The love of Jesus, the Word made visible and tangible. It was more exciting than yesterday’s news story that had come and gone. The love of God in Christ was transforming them from the inside out. The love they experienced was so powerful, that they had to write about it.

This reading from First John leads us into contemplation. When John and his community experience the love of the Word, they move into what Thomas Keating wrote about in his book The Mystery of Christ: The Liturgy as Spiritual Experience,

“The revelation of being loved by God characterizes the first stage of contemplative prayer. It enables us to see God in all things” (p.73).

St. John reminds us that we experience the transformative power of Christ when we let God into our hearts. St. Benedict tells us in the beginning of The Rule. “Listen carefully to the master’s instructions, and incline the ear of your heart.” Once we let go of our false-sense of self, and let God’s desire for us, feed our desire for God; it is then that we will find God by loving God; that we will be led by the Holy Spirit to love God when we find God. Contemplative prayer and the mystical experience help us to begin again, as we open our hearts to the experience of Jesus the Word made flesh by the faithful witness of those who have come before us.

Where are you looking to find Jesus today?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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Reflection on The Incarnate Word

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:1-5 NRSV).

Words have a lot more power than we think. One word can carry any variety of meanings. Think of how little it takes for a word to change our moods, perspectives, and outlook.

The Psalmist in Psalm 139:3 wrote, “Indeed, there is not a word on my lips, but, you, O Lord, know it altogether.” ( The Book of Common Prayer, p.794).

The Nativity of Jesus Christ is the story of the Word that was with God and was God. Jesus is God’s Word spoken and made one with us in the Incarnate Word. Jesus has come as one like us, to tell us and show us how deep the love of God is for all of us. In Jesus, God comes to bring the Word into our hearts so that we can “incline the ears of our hearts” to hear and respond to God’s desire for us.

Notice that Jesus arrived as a vulnerable Child. There was no room for Mary and Joseph in the inn. The Manger was the closest place a available. It was hardly a sterilized space. It was far from the ideal situation. Yet, God did something extraordinary there. God used what was right there at that moment, to transform the Manger and the world for all time; by being born as a helpless Child with countless possibilities before Him.

This Mysticism that is brought to our contemplative prayer this Christmas Season, is the wonder of God entering our troubled and imperfect world. God comes to us as we are and where we are to bring God’s transforming Grace. Jesus comes to save us from our certitude; so that we can listen, pray and allow ourselves to move and grow with God’s Incarnate Word to help us to continue the story that we thought was finished. The God-Life Jesus brings us can be discerned with Mary who “ponders these things in her heart.” (See Luke 2:19). It is in the heart that we can lean from Jesus, about how to grow closer to God. We need God’s help. That is why Jesus Christ was born of Mary. Jesus is the light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not (and will not) overcome that light.

What is Jesus, The Incarnate Word saying to your heart today?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

A very Merry and Holy Christmas to all of you.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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Reflection on The Magnificat

“…for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and Holy is His Name.” (See Luke 1:39-55 NRSV).

Mary knew that something amazing happened to her. Her visit to Elizabeth confirmed the experience she had with the Angel Gabriel at the Annunciation. Mary still had a future full of uncertainty. Her world was turned upside down. Mary reflects and responds in a song full of praise known as the Magnificat. Mary sings of a mystery so profound that changes her life, and the whole world around her and beyond.

All of us at one point or another, find our lives turned upside down by the many unwelcome surprises life brings. A job lost. A relationship that ended. A death so devastating. News of a child who is sick or in trouble with the law. These and other experiences change our routines and priorities quite quickly. We can fight our emotions about such things only so long; then discover that if there is going to be any way of moving forward, the first thing we must do, is let go and put our faith and trust in God in the here and now.

The Mighty One is doing great things for us right where we are in life. Even if it feels like the only thing God is doing, is giving us grace to accept where are, what we are facing; and allow ourselves to experience the contemplation of God’s presence. As contemplatives, we search and sing of what God is doing. God is there in our pain and grieving. God is there helping us to sing the song in the silence of what can only be heard in the heart of one who seeks union with God in everything that makes no sense.

“What is not possible for us by nature, let us ask the Lord to supply by the help of his grace.” (The Rule of St. Benedict in English, p.18).

What are the great things God is doing for you?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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Reflection on Prepare the Way

“….the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” (See Luke 3:1-6 NRSV).

The Second Sunday of Advent features one of the best Biblical figures on the subject of desert monasticism; St. John the Baptist. His life, message and ministry creates a splendid example of contemplation and mysticism. Not to mention his humility when St. John the Baptist later said, “he must increase, as I must decrease.”

To prepare the way for God to come, we must begin with putting all else aside for a little while. Many probably will not walk out into a desert physically or geographically. We can if we will spend some time in silence and solitude, let go of everything that holds us down in Centering Prayer. Just spending time letting all our thoughts go and settle for nothing, not even warm fuzzy spiritual feelings; and just be with God. St. John the Baptist shows us how to allow ourselves to lose what we cling to go so we can repare the way for God to be all that matters. In so doing, our experience of God, becomes a window for Jesus to make Himself known to the world around us.

“Your hidden life speaks to the world, but only gives light in so far as it fuses with concentrated love. The Forerunner was a peerless witness to Jesus Christ, being charged with the mission to point him out: ‘Here he is’, “Ecco’.” (The Hermitage Within: Spirituality of the Desert, by A Monk, translated by Alan Neame, p.21).

Contemplative prayer is the work of God’s grace to prepare the way for God the Holy Spirit to make within us a residence for Jesus. In the Prayer of St. Anselm taken from his work, the Proslogion, we pray “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.” The desire is the pathway we are preparing to journey on. It is the love of God we have yet to find, in the love of the God who has already found us. This is the Mysticism we contemplate during this season of Advent. It is the mystery that we long for that comes to us in the celebration of Christmas.

“Clothed then with faith and the performance of good works, let us set out on the way, with the Gospel for our guide, that we deserve to see him who has called us to his kingdom (1 Thess 2:12). (RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English, p.16).

How are you preparing the way for Jesus during this season of Advent?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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