Reflection on Listening: Yup Again!

I will listen to what the Lord God is saying, for he is speaking peace to his faithful people and to those who turn their hearts to him. (Psalm 85:8 The Book of Common Prayer, p.709).

When we read those famous first words in the Prologue of The Rule of St. Benedict notice that he is talking about the ear of the heart, as opposed to the physical ear. “Listen, my child to the masters instructions, and incline the ear of your heart.” Benedict returns to the subject of listening throughout the Prologue. He quotes from Psalm 95, “If today you hear God’s, harden not your heart.” “Listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Revelation 2:7). “Come and listen to me, I will teach you the fear of the Lord” (Psalm 34).

St. Benedict would have leaned about listening from the Desert Mothers and Fathers. In particular St. Moses, who famously said, “Sit in your cell. Your cell will teach you everything.”

Listening to God involves a continuous letting go. Our cell is our interior self, as much as it can be a physical space. Listening to God so that we can hear God speaking peace to us, is strengthened in time spent in silence and solitude; but we must nurture our interior self by remaining open to God at all times. Each moment and encounter is a contemplative experience, if we will only listen for God in our hearts. In her book, Illuminated Life: Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light, Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB wrote, “Everything in life is meant to stretch me beyond my superficial self to my better self, the Ultimate Good who is God” (p.24).

Are you listening to God in the here and now?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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Reflection on Listening and Serving

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Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ And Samuel said, ‘Speak, for your servant is listening.’ (1 Samuel 3:10 NRSV).

Yes!  Another blog post from me about listening.  When it comes to the contemplative relationship with the Holy Spirit the matter of listening cannot be over emphasized.  Our present culture has us listening to the internet, television and radio at length.  We hear the messages of consumerism over and over again, telling us to buy what is bigger, better and my favorite the “new and improved.”  We give ourselves to these things without discerning their long-lasting impact on our spiritual life.

The Camaldolese-Benedictine tradition makes use of three important tools to grow closer to God.  Solitude, silence and Hesychia.  Hesychia is best explained as what Jesus taught in Matthew 6:6.  “But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Abba Antony once said, “Just as fish die if 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 intensity of inner peace.  So like a fish going toward the sea, we must hurry to reach our cell, for fear that if we delay outside we shall lose our interior watchfulness.” (Desert Fathers and Mothers: Early Christian Wisdom Sayings Annotated & Explained by Christine Valters Paintner, p.9).

The reading from 1 Samuel  to listen for God with the attitude of a servant.   A servant who is ready to rise and follow where God leads us.  The listening being referred to here is what St. Benedict wrote about in the Prologue of The Rule.  “Listen.  Incline the ear of your heart.”   St. Benedict later reminds us of the words we pray everyday at Matins from Psalm 95. “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”

“It was said of Abba Agathon that for three years he lived with a stone in his mouth, until he learned to keep silence” (Paintner, p.119).

As contemplatives, we spend time in silence and solitude letting go of exterior and interior noise, so that we may listen to God more attentively.  God desires more than we can imagine to draw us deeper into God’s divine love.   God knows us better than we know ourselves.  When we take time to listen to God within us, we can experience a true conversion of heart and life.  We can then pray the words in Psalm 32:8 in The Common English Bible with a greater confidence in God’s grace.  “I will instruct you and teach you about the direction you should go.  I’ll advise you and keep my eye on you.”

Are you setting time aside in your daily life to listen with the ear of your heart to God?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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Reflection on the Spirit of Truth

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“I have much more to say to you, but you can’t handle it now.  However, when the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you in all truth” (John 16:12,13 The Common English Bible).

The moment we tell ourselves that we know the truth of God with nothing more to learn; what we are in effect saying is that we are satisfied with being lost in ourselves.  Just the notion that we think that our knowledge and experience of God is an end in and of itself, suggests that we have lost hope and disregarded faith.  When we limit our knowledge of the truth about God to ourselves, we are giving in to our false-sense of self.

The Holy Spirit leads us into our true self by guiding us again and again into a new experience of God.  Every fresh encounter with God’s Spirit of truth is a moment of rebirth.  Contemplative prayer helps us to open our hearts to a fresh breath of the Holy Spirit that unlocks our eternal truth in the Light of God’s Incarnate Word who is Jesus the Christ.

Abba Poeman once said, “So when people hear the word of God frequently, their hearts are opened to the fear of God.”  St. Benedict picks up on this same idea in the Prologue of The Rule when he wrote, “Let us open our eyes to the light that comes from God, and our ears to the voice from heaven that every day calls out this charge: If you hear his voice today, do not harden your hearts (Psalm 95)” (See RB:1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English, p.16).

An encounter with the Holy Spirit of God’s truth begins with silence and listening.   When we take some time in solitude with the God who is “I AM” the Holy One leads us to “incline the ear of our heart.”  As we listen in silence and solitude Holy Spirit does the work that Jesus promised us, which is to lead us to a deep and profound truth through which we experience the Resurrection of new life with God.

“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 Rule of St. Romauld).

Are you letting the Holy Spirit continue guiding you into all truth?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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Reflection on Abiding in God’s Love

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Jesus said to his disciples, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love” (John 15:9 NRSV).

I have a fascination with the power of water.  When we ponder the ocean and the waves; I am amazed at how the weather can change what those waves do within seconds.  Yet, the ocean and its waves are never separated.  Sr. Joan Chittister in her book The Rule of Benedict: A Spirituality for the 21st Century on page 81, she quotes a story from the Desert Monastics.  I am going to paraphrase the story by writing that just as the ocean and the wave are not one, but not two; so are those who seek union with God and abide in God’s love.

The Gospel quote above is from Jesus’ talk with His disciples as He prepares to leave them.  Jesus is telling them to abide in God’s love and share that love with each other.  Just as the ocean and the wave are not one, nor two: so the love of God is not one, but not two in those who abide in God’s love.

My problem when I read “abide in God’s love” is that I am drawn back to my false-sense of self.  I think abiding in God’s love is all about me and is therefore up to me.  I forget that the desire in my heart to abide in God’s love is there by God’s initiative.  Whatever level of desire I have within me to abide in God’s love, it is the job of the Holy Spirit to teach me how to do that.  Abiding in God’s love challenges the contemplative to let go and abide in God’s love by simply searching for the One who has already found us.  Abiding God’s love is a mystical experience in that it draws us to a love that is beyond explanation, expression or description.  It defies any limitation on our part.  It is the Opus Dei (the Work of God0 through prayer, meditation, silence and of course living.

In his book The Eremitic Life: Encountering God ins Silence and Solitude, Fr. Cornelius Wencel wrote,

The meeting of two loves that are present and open to each other is a necessary condition for prayer to come into existence.  It is in contemplative prayer that the hermit touches Christ’s presence most intensely.  This presence has nothing to do with static persistence.  Just the opposite, Christ’s presence is ever new, amazingly fresh and full of unknown potential.  Through our tranquil abiding in Christ, we can understand better His presence as a gift given to the Father as well as to mankind (see page 154).

Do not be daunted immediately by fear and run away from the road that leads to salvation.  It is bound to be narrow at the outset.  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. (RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English, p.19).

Abba Antony said, “I no longer fear God, I love him; for love casts out fear.”

What does it mean for you to abide in God’s love?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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Reflection on Burning Hearts

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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. (Luke 24:32-35 NRSV).

It is amazing that so many little things will grab our attention. Our attention is drawn to things that cause our interior hearts and eyes to pay attention to things that are passing away and cannot satisfy our desire.  When such things are idolized for the sake of themselves, they draw our attention from the One who loves us beyond what our deepest comforts can sooth.

In the Gospel narrative, Jesus suddenly walks along side these Disciples who are grieved by what happened.  In the course of the conversation, He tells them about Himself from the Prophets and the Psalms.  But, they did not recognize Him until He broke bread with them.  The Disciples’ question, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” is an important question.  Are we, like them so drawn into our false-sense of self that we cannot hear Jesus, the Word speaking within the whole of ourselves?  What is the problem?

“It was said of Abba Agathon that for three years he lived with a stone in his mouth, until he had learnt to keep silence” (Desert Fathers and Mothers: Early Christian Wisdom Sayings Annotated & Explained by Christine Valters Paintner, PhD. p.119).

God wants to speak to us so we can clearly hear God.  We can hear God very clearly when we are silent within ourselves.  A silence that lets go of external and internal noise.  A silence that draws us into our burning hearts that long to listen to God speaking to us through the Scriptures while we are fed by the breaking of the bread, who is Christ Jesus Risen from the dead.

“Listen, and incline the ear of your heart.  This is advice from a father who loves you.” (Prologue to the Rule of Saint Benedict).

“Sit in your cell as in Paradise.  Put the whole world behind you and forget it” (From the Short Rule of St. Romuald).

Is your heart burning within you to listen to God in silence?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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Reflection on Mouth and Heart

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“Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, Lord, my rock and redeemer” (Psalm 19:14.  The Common English Bible).

One day, while I was doing Lectio Divina on the words of Psalm 19:14 in The Common English Bible, I found myself disturbed by the words “and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, Lord my rock and redeemer.”  As I meditated on these words I found myself needing to reword the quote from this Psalm.   “May the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, my Lord, my rock, my redeemer; so that the words of my mouth may also be pleasing to you.”   If what I am meditating on in my heart is to be pleasing to God, then I must do what scares me the most.  I must relinquish control of what I think I know will be pleasing to God within my heart to begin with.  I must let God teach my heart what is pleasing to God.   How can I please God in the meditations of my heart, if I do not let God teach me what pleases God?

I recently began reading an incredible book entitled Desert Fathers and Mothers: Early Christian Wisdom Sayings, Annotated & Explained.  The annotations and commentary are written by Dr. Christine Valters Paintner.   As I have been thinking of what I was going to write in this blog reflection today, I came across some words that she wrote that express so beautifully, what I am writing about.

“The desert journey isn’t about embarking on a long and arduous struggle to find God at the end of the road. Desert spirituality is about looking for God right in the midst of wrestling with ourselves.  God in the heart of the struggle, and so we are to stay there with the holy presence until the treasure is revealed” (From the Introduction, p. XXIX).

If we are to embark on a mystical journey with God, then we must begin by letting go of thinking that we must have the answers for everything that is going on with us; inside and out.  Searching for union with God in the deepest recesses of our whole self, is an excursion with the God who knows us better than we know ourselves.  When we are in our cells in solitude with God, there is no pretending that our human brokenness is not there.  We must face it, and let God walk through it with us; so that we can by God’s grace, let it go.  Only then, can the meditations of our heart be pleasing to God who is our rock and redeemer; and from our mouths will come what is pleasing to God and beneficial for the world around us.

“The blessed space of quiet discernment and contemplative understanding manifests itself when we are quiet enough to listen to the still, small voice guiding our path forward” (Teresa Pasquale Mateus, Ashes and the Phoenix; Meditations for the Season of Lent, edited by Len Freeman, p56).

“Go sit in your cell, and your cell will teach your everything.” (Abba Moses).

“Listen and incline the ear of your heart” (Prologue, The Rule of Saint Benedict).

When you meditate with God in your heart, what do you hear God saying to you?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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Reflection on Broken to Ashes

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“The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:18.  The Book of Common Prayer, p.657).

Almost anything including the human body can be burned and/or broken into ashes.  It is a stark reminder that nothing is permanent.  Everything and everyone eventually passes beyond our sight and becomes dust and ashes.

As we begin the Season of Lent on this Ash Wednesday; it is a good time to begin searching within ourselves to discover what is broken within and/or about us.  Psalm 51:18 and Ash Wednesday tell us that it is okay if we are broken.  God loves us and in Jesus redeems us as broken people.

“Lent is a good moment for a spiritual stocktaking; a pause, a retreat from life’s busy surface to its solemn deeps.  There we can consider our possessions; and discriminate between the necessary stores which have been issued to us, and must be treasured and kept in good order, and the odds and ends which we have accumulated for ourselves.”  (Lent with Evelyn Underhill, Second Edition. Ash Wednesday taken from the School of Charity, p. 15).

Praying to God from the whole of ourselves in Contemplative and/or Centering Prayer is our chance to take off the masks by which we think we are hiding things from God.   Our sins and brokenness keeps us from a deeper relationship with God, only because we hang on to them within our false-sense of self.   In The Rule of Saint Benedict he tells us,

“we urge the entire community during these days of Lent to keep its manner of life most pure and to wash away in this holy season the negligences of other times.  This we can do in a fitting manner by refusing to indulge in evil habits and by devoting ourselves to prayer with tears, to reading, to compunction of heart and self-denial.  During these days, therefore, we will add to the usual measure,,,” (RB 1980: The Rule of Saint Benedict in English. Chapter 49, p.71).

Notice that Benedict tells us that a good way to observe Lent is not just by self-denial, he also suggests adding on to the usual amount.  Letting go is important, of course, but it must be accompanied by adding something that takes us to our true-selves.

During these days of Lent, we can offer our broken and contrite hearts to God; and let Jesus transform us to search for union with God within our essence; possessed by the Holy Spirit.  This is not only contemplative, it is mystical.  God sees our brokenness as opportunities for growth, not impediments to God’s grace.

4. The path you must follow is in the Psalms–never leave it. (From St. Romuald’s Brief Rule).

Have you considered offering God your broken and contrite heart during this Lent?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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