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-CoS

See: The Community of Solitude

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Reflection on Psalm 23

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The Lord is my shepherd.  I lack nothing.  He lets me rest in grassy meadows; he leads me to restful waters; he keeps me alive.  He guides me in proper paths for the sake of his good name.  Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no danger because you are with me.  Your rod and your staff–they protect me.  You set a table for me right in front of my enemies.  You bathe my head in oil; my cup is so full it spill over!  Yes, goodness and faithful love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the Lord’s house as long as I live.  (Psalm 23 Common English Bible).

Psalm 23 is probably the single most well known and loved of all the Psalms.  And for good reason.  This is a Psalm of comfort and consolation at funerals time and time again.  It is used often enough that most of us can say it by memory from the original King James Version.

I invite you to join me for a contemplative look at this Psalm. The words on the surface may appear to take us from a moment of chaos to those peaceful meadows and calm waters.  If we think on these words from our minds alone and with our false-sense of self, we will miss the opportunity to meditate on them in our hearts.  Jesus the shepherd comes when we feel that we are lost, weary, restless, in darkness and feasting before our conflicts and makes them into opportunities for God to do wondrous things in us.  In the words of this Psalm, God offers us the truth of what the Resurrection is for the contemplative.  Our lives in their current state are not an end in and of themselves.  The Contemplative searches for union with the Risen Christ where the world sees hopelessness and despair.  The contemplative seeks the mystery of God’s unfolding grace as God takes all that is difficult, painful and confusing and uses them to draw us closer to God’s boundless love and tender mercy.

Yesterday, was the commemoration of St. Anselm who’s name I am so honored to have as my Religious Name.  I read the following words in The Liturgy of the Hours, Volume II on page 1775 written from the Proslogion by St. Anselm, and I believe they speak very eloquently of what Psalm 23 may say to us from a contemplative perspective.

“O God, let me know you and love you so that I may find my joy in you; and if I cannot do so fully in this life, let me at least make some progress every day, until at last that knowledge, love and joy come to me in all their plenitude.  While I am here on earth let me learn to know you better, so that in heaven I may know you fully; let my love for you grow deeper here, so that there I may love you fully.  On earth then I shall have great joy in hope, and in heaven complete joy in fulfillment of my hope.”

“When we have used [the tools of good works] without ceasing day and night and have returned them on judgment day, our wages will be the reward the Lord has promised; What the eye has not seen nor the ear heard, God has prepared for those who love him (1 Cor 2:9).” (RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English, p.29).

“The path you must follow is the Psalms” (From the Short Rule of St. Romuald).

What is your experience of Christ as your good shepherd?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB-CoS

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Reflection on Locked Doors

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“When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you.” (See John 20:19-31 NRSV).

This morning the Rev. Anna V. Ostenso Moore at St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral preached an excellent sermon on the words in John’s Gospel quoted above.   She spent time talking about the doors of the house where the Disciples were locked because of their fear.  Though the doors were locked and they were afraid, the Risen Christ appeared among them and brought them His peace.

When fear grips us we tend to lock the doors of hearts.  We want to hide and keep everyone including Jesus out.  Whatever happened and from wherever the fear comes from, when we allow ourselves to be consumed to the point that we lock ourselves up, it becomes very difficult to hear the Risen Christ speak to our hearts.  Whether the fear is created by the same doubt that Thomas had, or because of things within ourselves that we run from; they are no match  for the power and love of the Risen Christ and God’s love for us.

As we read further into the Gospel story for today, we see that the fear and the locked doors did not keep the Risen Christ out.  He still came among His followers and wished them peace.  The gigantic leap of faith in Thomas’ doubt enabled him to see beyond his own apprehension, the Risen Christ before him, with His wounded hands, feet and side within arms reach.

Fr. Cornelius Wencel, Er.Cam. in his book The Eremitic Life: Encountering God in Silence and Solitude wrote,

“The search for God and the result of renewal of heart leads us to the encounter of a mystery, where we attempt to perceive it with our whole self.  This is a continuous effort to encounter a reality that infinitely eludes every endeavor to define or grasp it” (See page 53).

The contemplative sees their fear and even locked doors as an opportunity to encounter the Living God.  Fear in the heart of those who truly seek God within their whole self is never an end in and of itself.  The Sacred Scriptures and our faith tell us that Jesus who is Risen is our beginning and end.  There is no fear, no event, no doubt that we may harbor that has the power to keep the Risen Christ from coming to bring us His peace and lead us into the mysticism of a deeper experience of God’s loving presence.

[Abba Nilus] said, “Do not be always wanting everything to turn out as you think it should, but rather as God pleases, then you will be undisturbed and thankful in your prayer.” (Desert Fathers and Mothers: Early Christian Wisdom Sayings Annotated & Explained by Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, p.61).

“What dear brothers, is more delightful than this voice of the Lord calling to us?” (RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English, p.16).

Can you identify a place with a locked door in your life?  Will you let the Risen Christ come and bring you His peace?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB-CoS

See: The Community of Solitude

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Reflection on the Ruined Temple

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“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-CoS

See: The Community of Solitude

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Reflection on God Our Strength

“Only God! The God who equips me with strength and makes my way perfect ” (Psalm 18:32. The Common English Bible).

Life sure does throw us a lot of curve balls. Though we may plan things well in advance with all the I’s dotted and the T’s crossed; it doesn’t take much for us to discover that God has other plans. There is an old saying, “If you want to make God laugh; tell God your plans.”

As contemplatives, we learn over time that we are always arriving, but have never arrived. There is always another road to be traveled. We are never on a lonely journey. The Holy One walks with us, and shows God’s Self to be present in the last places we expect to find God. To be a contemplative, means to always be open to the Mysterious. God desires to be closer to us, and so gives us the desire to be on a life long path to search for union with God. God equips us with the strength, and makes our journey perfect; because God alone knows and loves us so intimately, “that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:39).

Spending time in silence and solitude is one way in which we can know more closely that “only God equips me with strength, and makes my way perfect.” In silence and solitude, we let go of everything that distracts us from knowing our true selves, and “do battle under the true King, Christ the Lord.” (Prologue of The Rule of St. Benedict). “Sit in your cell as in Paradise. Leave the world behind you.” (The Brief Rule of St. Romuald).

Can you let God equip you with strength and make your way perfect?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB-CoS

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Reflection on The Wilderness

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“And the Spirit immediately drove Jesus out into the wilderness .  He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.”  (Mark 1:12-13 NRSV).

Thomas Keating in his book The Mystery of Christ: The Liturgy as Spiritual Experience wrote the following words.

“The Biblical desert is not so much a geographical location–a place of sand, stones or sagebrush– as a process of interior purification leading to the complete liberation from the false-self system with its programs for happiness that cannot possibly work.” (p.40).

The wilderness can be a place of solitude and silence; as well as a state of prayer and contemplation.  As we spend time in our wilderness of silence and solitude, we see the best and the worst of ourselves.   Everything about us that is visible and invisible is inescapable. Thomas Merton once wrote, “For although God is right with us and in us and out of us and all through us, we have to go on journeys to find him.”  Searching for union with God includes meeting Jesus where He meets us in our temptations with God’s grace to redeem and transform us.  Amma Sarah said, “The greatest thing we can do is to throw our faults before the Lord and expect temptation to our last breath” (Daily Readings with the Desert Fathers, p.72).

When we spend some time alone with Jesus in our wildernesses of silence and solitude and pray Lectio Divina (the prayerful reading of Scripture), Contemplative and Centering Prayer,  God will always come and graciously help us along.   When we stop for a while and in silence, let God in and let go of our false-self system, Jesus will show us how to search for union with God, even when we are at our worst.

The Psalmist wrote, “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” (Psalm 25:4 The Book of Common Prayer, p.614).  The best way to learn the truth from the God of our salvation is to spend some time with Jesus in the solitude of our wilderness and to learn from what He did as well as what He said.

“Therefore our life span has been lengthened by way of a truce, that we may amend our misdeeds.  As the Apostle says: Do you not know that the patience of God is leading you to repent (Rom 2:4)?” (RB 1980: The Rule of Saint Benedict in English, p.18).

Have you journeyed with Jesus into your wilderness lately?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB-CoS

See: The Community of Solitude

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Reflection on Being Received

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“Abba James said, ‘It is better to receive hospitality than give it'” (Daily Readings with the Desert Fathers, p.42).

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

I have experienced today the most amazing revelation.  It began when I read the words of Abba James quoted above.  As I spent time meditating on these words, I found myself drawn to the words in St. Benedict’s Rule for Monasteries.   The words I was particularly drawn to were, “to receive hospitality..” and “to be received as Christ.”

Through these words, I felt the Holy Spirit disturbing my ego.  When I think of receiving in hospitality, I place the entirety of the responsibility on myself.  Everything is up to me to do to impress the guest by drawing attention to me.  I might like to think that I am being so humble and doing the receiving.   When I exercise hospitality with myself as the sole giver in the encounter, I become self-centered.  I won’t let myself be disturbed or confirmed by God in the guest.

These words from Abba James and Saint Benedict, tell me that it is Christ in the other that is receiving me in hospitality.  When I meditated on it in this way, my attention is no longer on myself exclusively.  Now I have to open the whole of myself, let go of my ego, my need to control and decide; and let Christ in the guest receive me.  Christ becomes my center, as I place myself in Jesus’ care.  Christ comes to me in the guest to receive me, so that I may serve Him in the other.  Christ comes and receives me not only to help me with the things in my life that need conversion, but to bring me conversion by affirming His love for me; to live with thanksgiving the gifts God gives me.  I can give myself over to Contemplative Prayer and experience the Mysticism of knowing and viewing myself from God’s perspective.  This is what Contemplative Prayer and Mysticism are essentially about.

As we are celebrating the Presentation of Christ in the Temple today; it is a good idea to spend some time in solitude and silence.  As we do, perhaps we need to see Jesus receiving us as the guest, and offering Himself for us.  I believe that this is the “Light” that Simeon saw as this Jesus whom he waited for his entire life finally came to present Himself to God.  Christ came and brought His Light to receive our human condition and transform the darkness into the Light of God’s manifestation.

Are you open to being received by Jesus today?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB-CoS

See: The Community of Solitude

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