Reflection on Humility and Anxiety

St.BenedictStainedGlass

 

“Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6-7 NRSV).

I am drawn to these words today because I am a Benedictine who loves Chapter 7 in The Rule of Saint Benedict; and because I live with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).

Before I continue on, I want to give a very strong word of advice to Priests, Ministers, Preachers, Spiritual Directors, etc.  Never tell a person with any kind of anxiety disorder to just hand it over, do not be anxious and all will be fine.  It never works that way.  In fact, the more things like that are said, the more anxious a person with an anxiety disorder gets; because she/he just can’t measure up to the high expectations.  There is a false sense of guilt for things the individual is not responsible for.  People with anxiety disorders upon hearing “do not be anxious” will shy away from the advice and the advisor.

I am drawn to these words from 1 Peter because I do have an anxiety disorder.  Just giving over anxiety in prayer helps relieve it, but it is never completely gone.   When I read the words, ” Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.,” I hear the Spirit drawing me in with everything that I am and experiencing, accepting me with God’s extravagant love; with a home in Christ that is safe, and offers me consolation.

We are now in the time in our Liturgical Year between the Ascension and Pentecost.  The Apostles who lost Jesus once in His Crucifixion, were so happy after He was raised from the dead; now find themselves with Jesus gone again.  Can we just imagine for a moment the anxiety they must have experienced?  They were in a no win situation, until after Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came upon them.

The contemplative is drawn through these words to relinquish everything that is shaking us up, and trust in God with humility.  It is time to stop trying to handle it all ourselves.  It is time for us to stop thinking that all this stuff defines who we are.  It is time to sit in silence, with all the noise within and let the Holy Spirit bring a peace into our hearts, because we are in the Presence of the God who cares about what shakes us to pieces, and is somewhere in the middle of it all.  In humility we are not being asked to measure up.  On the contrary, the Holy One is lovingly and tenderly moving us to let it go.  God is telling us “It is okay.  You are not alone. Let us work through this together.”

“Let a [person] consider that God is always looking at him from heaven” (St. Benedict’s Rule for Monasteries, p.22).

How are you managing the anxieties of your life as you sit in the presence of God?

Amen.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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

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

Lent Reflection: Light

Lit Candle

 

“We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work.  As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (John 9:4-5 NRSV).

Today’s Scripture basis is taken from the Gospel for the Fourth Sunday in Lent.  This is the story of Jesus healing a blind man by spitting in the dirt and making mud to put over his eyes.  When the man born blind washes away the mud he can see.   Before Jesus begins the work of healing, Jesus tells us what He is doing.  He is doing the works of His Father, who is also our Father (see the Lord’s Prayer), and telling us to do those works while it is day.  Jesus proclaims Himself as the “light of the world” as long as He is in the world.  If I may dare to paraphrase Jesus, “I am here to do the works of my Father who sent me.  So long as I am here, I am the light in the midst of the darkness.  I will make this blind man see.”

Saint Benedict said something similar, only he was borrowing and adapting the words from John 12:35 in the Prologue of The Rule.  “Run [not walk] while you have the light of life, that the darkness of death may not overtake you.”

I wonder how different our jobs, our relationships and other daily ordinary things would be if we spent some time in contemplative prayer with the words “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”  Or, how might we see our daily ordinariness as something so much more “we must do the works of the one who gave them to us, while we are given the opportunity to do them”?

Our defeat in contemplative prayer and what makes the mystical experience almost impossible is we have somehow convinced ourselves it is is all about us.  Contemplative prayer and mysticism is a work of God’s grace.  The works we are given to do as God’s light to the world is also a product of God’s graciousness.   We are not an island unto ourselves.  As contemplatives we are always searching for union with God knowing that it is God who initiated the desire for the search within us, because God has already found us.  God’s grace that gives us the work of being that light for the world; is drawing us closer to God through the Holy Spirit “that has been given to us.”  It is God who begins the work and who brings it to its conclusion.  As this light becomes more visible in us, others see the light of God in and through us.

“We pray. Lord, that everything we do may be prompted by your inspiration, so that every prayer and work of ours may begin from you, and be brought by you to completion.” Amen.  (Prayer based on the Prologue of St. Benedict’s Rule. Saint Benedict’s Prayer Book for Beginners. p.113).

What work are you doing to be God’s light in the world?

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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

Lent Reflection: Hiding Place

carthusian-monk-praying-4

 

You are my hiding place, O Lord.  (Psalm 32:8. The Book of Common Prayer, p.624).

Thomas Merton in his book Thoughts in Solitude wrote, “There is no greater disaster in the spiritual life than to be immersed in unreality.”  The unreality he wrote about can be an addiction we are not taking care of.  Or, a conversation with a friend or spouse that we have been avoiding.  It can and most often is the unreality of our life with God within ourselves.  How do we know what our relationship with God is really like if we don’t spend time with God as our hiding place?

Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB in her book Illuminated Life: Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light wrote, “Silence frightens us because it is silence that brings us face to face with ourselves.”

In the midst of a noisy world full of radio, television, the internet, iPhones and iPads; our God is missing us.  God is missing being closer to us in moments of solitude and silence so that we may embrace God as our hiding place; where God is waiting to embrace us.  In God who is our hiding place, our imperfections do not matter.  Our health in mind, body or spirit does not matter.  All the questions and frustrations, broken relationships and desires can be found in a nice crowded closet when we spend time away for a little while with God who is our hiding place.

In God our hiding place, we can enjoy the mystical experience of contemplating God’s perfect and holy love.  The Holy One who gave us Jesus our Redeemer (who Himself sought out moments of solitude), enters into the crowded places and spaces of our lives while we are hidden away with God, while God “creates a clean heart” in us.  In God as our hiding place, we surrender all; and seek only union with the God who has already found us.

Are you spending time in silence and solitude with God as your hiding place this Lent?

Amen.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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

Lenten Reflection: A Clean Heart

God and the Heart

 

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. (Psalm 51:11. The Book of Common Prayer, p.657).

The Psalmist in Psalm 51 is pleading with God for mercy and forgiveness.  It is a recognition of our human mortality.  We are sinners who need God’s grace and healing.  Psalm 51 is about emptying the dirt of our personal and spiritual self and depending completely on God to redeem us.  Is it any wonder why in The Rule of St. Benedict he prescribes that Psalm 51 (50 as St. Benedict used the Grail Psalms in which they were all one number behind our current English version) be used every day during Matins (or Lauds)?   Esther de Waal in her book A Life-Giving Way: A Commentary on The Rule of St. Benedict writes, “The act of acknowledging my weakness and failure is not a morbid dwelling on sin but a turning in confidence to the God who sees a humble and contrite heart and is there to rescue me just as he rescued his people in the past” (p.79).

So what about a clean heart?  The contemplative understands that Psalm 51:11 is a deeply prayerful desire in our heart by God’s initiative that lets go of everything we are holding on to in there; and trusting in God’s view point of our hearts; to make them a clean space for God alone.  When we let go of all the stuff that weighs us down and crowds us in and put our trust in the Holy Spirit; God resides in there because the space has been cleaned out and made ready for the one who gives our hearts all that we need.  Our hearts are made clean and ready to be occupied by its Creator and Redeemer.

What do you need let go of for God to come into your clean heart this Lent?

Amen.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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

Lenten Reflection: Forgive as We Forgive

Lord's Prayer

 

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matthew 6:14,15 NRSV).

In The Rule of St. Benedict Chapter 13: On the Celebration of Lauds on Ordinary Days in verses 13-14, he wrote,

Thus warned by the pledge they make to one another in the very words of this prayer: Forgive us as we forgive (Matt 6:12), they may cleanse themselves of this kind of vice.  At other celebrations, only the final part of the Lord’s Prayer is said aloud, that all my reply: But deliver us from evil (Matt 16:13).

Why was this so important to St. Benedict?

In a residential Benedictine Monastic community, the Monastics live in close quarters with each other 24/7.  They are literally on top of one another at all hours of the day or night.  Praying.  Eating.  Sleeping.  Working.  Reading.  In chapter meetings.  Writing, etc. Those of us even in a dispersed community struggle in our relationships with each other too.  St. Benedict did not want his Monastics to allow themselves to let quarrels regardless of how small to brew into a grudge by which the members would not forgive each other.  Such a grudge has the ability to rip the community apart and make life unbearable for everyone.  Such disruption also creates a real problem for silence and contemplation.  Therefore, St. Benedict had the Lord’s Prayer recited in the silence up to “But deliver us from evil,” so that members of the community could let go and allow God to help them keep the community together in harmony.

Those of us who are married know that the same kind of thing can happen between spouses.  They can also happen between parents and children.  How many holiday dinners are very tense (or destroyed beyond repair) because one member of the family just has never forgiven another?  It happens to the best of us.

I would very much like to encourage my readers to consider spending some Lectio Divina time on the words “forgive, as we forgive.” While in this time, allow the Holy Spirit to bring to mind someone(s), anyone(s) that you have not forgiven.  Let Jesus into those moments of pain, fear, anger and give you the grace to let it all go and forgive.   I have had to do this any number of times in the past, and I will be doing it that many more times in the future.  As we contemplation those words, “forgive, as we forgive” it is amazing how gentle and merciful God is in such moments.  You just might be amazed to discover that the one person you have had the hardest time forgiving is yourself.   Even there, God will bring so much grace into your life that you will come out of it a healthier and happier person.

Who do you need God’s help to forgive as you have been forgiven?

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB

Reflection on the Fall Season

FoliageConceptionAbbey(The image above is a photograph I took of the foliage at Conception Abbey in the fall of 2014.)

Day by day remind yourself that you are going to die.  (RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English, p. 28).

I imagine the above quote will rattle some of my readers.  What a way to begin the work week.  Yet, it is just as important.

The Season of Fall is about death and dying.  The grass that was so green during the Summer months has been turning brown.  The animals are gathering their food to begin hibernating for the Winter.  The leaves are turning into their beautiful colors as they prepare to fall on the ground and die.  All of these are reminders that life in this world begins and ends.  While we are so fortunate to be here at whatever stage of life we are in, we have work to do.  The work includes showing how beautiful the world really is and can be; even though it is all temporary.

All of the things that we hang on to and have to let go of; are passing away and leading us towards a new life beyond the grave.  Have you ever noticed that the leaves on the trees turn into their various colors without hardly ever trying to hang onto their leaves?  Can you imagine what the world would be like if the trees complained as much as we do about having to let go of what we think is beautiful and worth keeping.

Saint Benedict tells us to keep the fact that we are going to die in the front most part of our minds.  He tells us this because the prayer and work we have to do is preparing us for the ultimate act of letting go.  It is about letting go so that we can enter more fully into a relationship with God alone.  The goal for Saint Benedict is to “prefer Christ above all else.” (Chapter 72).

In centering prayer, we are practicing the acts of accepting things as they are and letting them go.  We let go as the Holy Spirit takes us through silence into letting go because “only you, Lord, make (us) dwell in safety”. (Psalm 4:8. The Book of Common Prayer, p.129).  As we let things go, we are led into contemplative prayer so that we may view things from God’s perspective.  Centering prayer and contemplative prayer open us up to enter into the realm of God with faith and trust so that we can receive God’s gracious presence and loving mercy.  We cannot do that, however, unless and until we let everything go (including our own lives) into God’s hands seeking only union with God for God’s sake and not our own.  “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (Matthew 5:8, NRSV).

May we all have the grace to accept things as they are, and let them go so that we may experience the fullness of God’s love in this world and in the next.

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB