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 Storms and Faith

Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (Matthew 14:22-33 NRSV).

Among the many lessons we are learning this year is how unpredictable life is. Our lives can be going fairly well. Just like a storm out of nowhere, the coronavirus swept us all under our feet. Whatever the cause, or reason; this virus has brought international hardship and an entirely different life to our world.

Today’s Gospel reading from Matthew could not be more suited for what we are living through. The disciples are in the middle of a storm. The lives of everyone of those people is in danger. I don’t blame Peter for being so scared, even when Jesus calls him to step out and walk on the water. Everything around Peter is not predictable, including and especially seeing Jesus walking on water.

The contemplative message of this Gospel narrative is that Jesus comes to be with us during the storms of life. God may not stop the wind from blowing, or the water overflowing. We might take a step to walk on the stormy waters, and lose our faith during the journey. The storm is happening right now and right where we are. It is in through those tumultuous times of our lives (and oh are we all in them), that Jesus comes to us.

As Benedictines, we take a vow of Stability. The vow of Stability is a promise to place ourselves in the hands of God, with everything about us, as it is. The masks to cover our fears and wounded souls come off, in the vow of Stability. Stability means that even in the face of the storms of fear and change; we do not run away. Stability is our tool for facing God as we are, where we are in the here and now. It is through our vow of Stability, that we contemplate what God is doing in our lives through what we are living through in this moment; right here, right now.

The storms are raging on. Life is in chaos for all of us. Jesus is coming to us as we live through the storms of the coronavirus. It is time to let Jesus in to our hearts, to let Him receive us as we are. “The Lord shall watch over your going out and your coming in, from this time forth for evermore” (Psalm 121:8. The Book of Common Prayer, p.779).

“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 faith, we shall run 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).

What is Jesus saying to you as you brave the storms of this difficult year?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB.

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Reflection on God’s Treasure

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it. (Matthew 13:44-45 NRSV).

We are all living through a time with a lot of death around us. The COVID-19 pandemic has killed way too many people. We have been experiencing and grieving the death of the way our lives used to be before this international crisis. It is a painful time we are living through.

In the midst of the sickness and chaos, Jesus talks about His Kingdom being like a treasure hidden in a field, and a pearl that is so precious, that the owner sells everything they have to get the pearl. If you are feeling the grief and anger that so many of us are experiencing; it is perfectly understandable that our response to Jesus would be, “ Oh yeah? Then, when is enough, enough?” Whenever we draw a conclusion on God as to what is happening, we are cutting God and ourselves short.

“Try to enter your inner treasure-house and you will see the treasure-house of heaven. For both the one and the other are the same, and one and the same entrance reveals them both. The ladder leading to the kingdom is concealed within you.” (St. Isaac of Syria, in Kadloubovsky and Palmer, Writings from Philokalia on Prayer of the Heart, p. 30).

God’s greatest treasure is already and always within us. God has blessed us with our eternal truth within our essence. As Christians, we know that God gave Jesus as the Redeemer of our souls. God’s act of salvation on our behalf is because of how much God treasures us. We are the pearl that God sold everything to get for God’s Self. Even with all the muddy ness of a global pandemic, death and losses, there is always love deep in the heart of God that reaches out for us, in the very depths of who we are. In our tears, sadness, hopelessness and broken lives, God calls us to search for union with God who is ever present and hurting within us. God may not make things what we want them to be tomorrow or next week, but, in Jesus, God walks with us through it all.

As contemplatives, we know that the challenging times we are living through are a time in the desert. It is in this desert time, that everything that we really are is inescapable. We are hungry and thirsty. We are freezing from the darkness of isolation. We are overheated from news flashes going by with the rising number of new infections, and we can only do so much. In our desert experience, we cannot ignore our need for God to be our shepherd. So, we must do what St. Romuald wrote in his short rule. “Sit in your cell as in paradise.” We need to spend time with God in our cell (our hearts) with everything we are feeling, no matter how ugly we think it is, and allow God in God’s Grace to meet us there and be our nourishment and thirst quencher by faith and trust alone.

“In God’s goodness, we are already counted as God’s own…”

“The person who prays for the presence of God is, ironically, already in the presence of God.” (Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB. The Rule of Benedict: A Spirituality for the 21st Century, p.5-6).

Do you see yourself and your neighbor as God’s treasure during this time of global pandemic?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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Reflection on God is Near

Seek the Lord while he wills to be found; call on him when he draws near (Isaiah 55:6, Canticle 10, The Book of Common Prayer, p.86).

It has happened to me many times. I have lost something. I search everywhere for what I lost. I dig under the mail piled up on my desk. I open drawer after drawer. Then, I discover that the very thing I have been looking for is right in front of me. I spend so much time and energy looking for something that is before my nose.

God is closer to us than we think. Who God is and where God is are mysterious; that much is very true. Equally mysterious is that God is as close to us as every cell in our body. God, the Holy Spirit is present in every breath we take. The mercy of Jesus releases us of our sins with each breath of air we blow out. The grace of God is willing to be found, if we will only search for union with God for no other reason than to live into our relationship with the holiness and awesomeness of God.

The contemplative lives into the God-Life that is nearby, ready for us to call the God that found us in the depths of God’s loving Being. God is so wanting us to to love God, that God gave us the desire to look for God to love because of who God is. We already know that God gives us what we need the most. Jesus told us as much in the Gospel of Matthew 6:25-34). In verse 33 Jesus said “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” So God is the One we must search for. God is always very nearby.

God then directs these words to you: If you desire true and eternal life, keep your tongue free from vicious talk and your lips from all deceit; turn from evil and do good; let peace be your quest and aim (Ps 34:14:15). Once you have done this, my eyes will be upon you and my ears will listen for your prayers; and even before you ask me, I will say to you: Here I am (Isa 58:9). (RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English, p.16).

Will you spend some in silence today to be with God who is always near you?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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Visit my website to learn about Br. Anselm Philip’s Ministry of Spiritual and Grief Companionship.

Reflection on Saint Benedict

My child, if you accept my words and treasure up my commandments within you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; if you indeed cry out for insight, and raise your voice for understanding; if you seek it like silver, and search for it as for hidden treasures—then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk blamelessly, guarding the paths of justice and preserving the way of his faithful ones. Then you will understand righteousness and justice and equity, every good path. (Proverbs 2:1-9 NRSV).

Let us think for a moment about the things we urgently search for. Our phones. Our keys. Money. The remote to our television set. Jewelry. A successful career. Popularity. Fortune. Control. We search for the most exciting. We crave what comes the easiest. We want things the way they were before COVID-19.

The writer of Proverbs tells us to want something so life-giving, that it would be better than chocolate in our mouth. The Wisdom of God is longing for us. If we will sit in silence long enough to “incline the ear of the heart” we will gain the a consciousness of God that will reform us to love God, our neighbor and ourselves in ways we would never have imagined.

In the Fall of 1993, I went to my first retreat at a Benedictine Abbey. It was my introduction to who Benedict was. I remember the first time I read some of The Rule of St. Benedict. My initial reaction was “What a weirdo he was.” Lol. Since that time, I have studied The Rule many, many times. For three years, I received spiritual direction from Fr. Anselm who is now the Abbot of Pluscarden Abbey in Scotland. That is in large part why I requested the name as my religious name, Whenever my life has edged out of where I should be, I eventually return to what I have learned from the life and The Rule of St. Benedict. Once I begin again to spend time praying my Offices, reading from The Rule, suddenly, even the roughest of experiences leads me into a deeper awareness of God.

In the RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English at the end of chapter 73 he wrote “Then with Christ’s help, keep this little rule that we have written for beginners.” Benedictine spirituality is not about being an athlete of religion. The contemplative way of St. Benedict is about beginning over and over to search for union with God through a life of continuous prayer. When we commit ourselves to beginning again the search for the wisdom of God in this very moment, we will receive an abundance of life from the storehouse of God’s greatest riches of grace.

During this time of sickness and death that is so overwhelming, we are gaining the opportunity to let go of what keeps us from living into our faith in God alone. As St. Benedict spent those three years in the cave at Subiaco and learned God’s Word; we too are in our own Subiaco time. What we do with our relationship with God during this time is up to us. God promises us the fruits of the resurrection even as we are staring death in the face. If we spend this time with our hunger for the Wisdom of God, and let God speak to our hearts in that desire, the best things are yet to come.

What are you desiring most from God during this time of a worldwide pandemic?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

O Lord my God, Teach my heart this day where and how to see you, where and how to find you. You have made me and remade me, and you have bestowed on me all the good things I possess, and still I do not know you. I have not yet done that for which I was made. Teach me to seek you, for I cannot seek you unless you teach me m or find you unless you show yourself to me. 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. Amen. (Prayer of St. Anselm of Canterbury, St. Benedict’s Prayer Book, p.118).

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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 Stillness

“Be still, then, and know that I am God…” (Psalm 46:11. The Book of Common Prayer, p.650).

These simple words tell us to be still and know who is God. Yet, the very moment we hear them we are made aware of how disturbed we are. The words and the punctuation are meant to give us some important spiritual direction. Be still followed by a coma, the word then followed by another coma and the knowing who is God seem to suggest a brief moment of rest with the next word being followed by another moment of repose that leads us to knowing who is God.

When I first read these words, my whole being discovers that I am anything, but, still. I have various personal issues that make being still very challenging. It is not easily achieved by my own strength. It takes me being “attentive with the ears of the heart” to remember that becoming still is something I need God’s help to do. God speaks through these words, to tell me how much God loves me and that God knows me better than I know myself. God helps me remember that it is God’s Grace that will lead me to a stillness, by helping me to let go of thinking that I must be still on my own strength.

Our God wants nothing more from us than to search for union with God with purity of heart. To be in union with God means wanting God only because of who God is and not what God can give. God knows that we cannot do this without spending some time in silence, stillness and solitude so that God can take us on a journey through our whole selves, to bring us healing and holiness through an intimate relationship with God.

In contemplation, we long for the stillness that comes from just being with God wherever we are. Through mysticism we let go of what we think we know and trust in God’s love to take care of the rest.

“Speaking and teaching are the master’s task; the disciple is to be silent and listen.” (RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 6. p.31).

Can you find a place and moment to be still, then, you will know who is God?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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

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Reflection on God’s Wondrous Love

“Blessed be the Lord! for he has shown me the wonders of his love in a besieged city.” (Psalm 31:21. The Book of Common Prayer).

Sometimes when our lives seem to have fallen apart, we might compare the experience to being a city that was under siege and left in ruins. Everything that was is no longer. The destruction and debris is everywhere. Nothing that was standing is without need to be rebuilt or repaired.

In Chapter 7 of The Rule of St. Benedict, he challenges us in the sixth and seventh degrees of humility. He writes about acceptance of even the harshest treatment and learning to say with Psalm 22:6 “I am a worm and no man, scorned by all and despised by the people.”

In his book The Rule of Saint Benedict: Initiation into the Monastic Tradition, Thomas Merton stresses that St. Benedict is that to live with a low self-esteem is the opposite of humility because by it, we draw too much attention to ourselves. He goes on to say that Benedict is telling us to let go of our false-sense of self. To learn to trust in God when our lives are shaken to pieces, as opposed to trusting in the little things of life to feel whole.

A contemplative learns over the course of a lifetime that seeking union with God for no other reason than God alone is to have all that we need. Yes, it takes all of our lives through moments of quiet time and living with God in the various moments in life to let go and let God be our everything. In the moments when things that were fall apart, that is where God’s wondrous love becomes best known in the whole of ourselves. When we experience the wonder of God’s love through contemplation and mysticism, the besieged city of our lives is a new beginning, and never a conclusion.

How are you experiencing God’s wondrous love in the besieged cities of your life?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

Reflection on the Potter and the Clay.

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him. Then the word of the Lord came to me: Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. (See Jeremiah 18:1-11 NRSV).

What makes contemplative prayer unique from other forms of prayer? Isn’t going to a church service enough?

There e are many forms of prayer for the Christian. Liturgical prayer. Intercessory prayer. Devotional prayer. These and other prayer forms are all important. Contemplative prayer is about what is inside of our hearts. Where other forms of prayer seem to stop at the end of our lips and minds; contemplative prayer takes us on the longest journey; from the head to the heart. Lectio Divina or the prayerful reading of the Scriptures is a contemplative type of prayer. The words of Scripture that we read very slowly go into our eyes and mouth, then down deep into our deepest selves where the Holy Spirit speaks to us through the words. God teaches our hearts as we meditate on what God wants us to learn from what we read. The next step is to pray to God for ourselves to be led into a deeper awareness and relationship through what we learned. The last part of Lectio Divina is to sit in the presence of God in contemplation to just be there and do nothing else.

In contemplation, we allow God to be the potter to mold and shape us from within our interior self.

“We can’t see God by some sort of intellectual vision, because cognition depends on a sensory infrastructure which cannot see divinity. It is only at the level of spirit that God is visible” (Michael Casey. Toward God: The Ancient Wisdom of Western Prayer., p.163).

St. Benedict wrote The Rule as an instruction to the heart about letting go of the many things we cling to. He knew that God wants us to be so much more than what we think we can be. God is at work in us through contemplative prayer to be the most beautiful and amazing person from the inside out.

“Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ, and may he bring us to everlasting life” (RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English, p.95).

How is God working like a potter with the clay in your heart?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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

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Reflection on God’s Love and Home

Jesus said to Judas (not Iscariot), “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” (See John 14:23-29 NRSV).

What does loving God so that God can make a home with us look like? How can we keep the word of Jesus in a world that challenges us to give everything over to technology and innovation. The Bible itself has been given over to commercialism and theological debates. It is quite difficult for us to make our hearts into a space for the word and Jesus without us being open to the movement of God the Holy Spirit to reveal a new relationship with God that is living and growing.

“Abba John gave this advice, ‘Watching means to sit in the cell and be mindful of God. This is what is meant by ‘I was on watch and God came to me. ‘” (John the Dwarf, Desert Fathers and Mothers: Early Christian Wisdom Sayings, by Christine Valters Paintner, p.11).

The “cell” for the Desert Monastics meant the heart. The famous saying of St. Moses the Black is applicable here. “Sit in your cell. Your cell will teach you everything.” Our hearts are so cluttered with anger, resentment, and our egos. So long as we give our hearts to our false-sense of self, we cannot hear God’s word clearly. When we run from what is in our hearts, we cannot experience God’s healing grace.

“Openness is the door through which wisdom travels and contemplation begins.” (Illuminated Life: Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light, Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB., p89).

Contemplation unlocks our hardened hearts. The mystery of God’s love comes to us through the Scriptures, through nature, through where we are in the here and now. Contemplation brings us into that relationship with God that can be experienced, but not explained. In contemplative prayer, our senses knows that God is present, real and tangible. When we “incline the ears of our hearts” to God in moments of solitude and silence, Jesus the Word will come to love us and make a home with us. God’s Love will transform us from the inside out. We will live from our eternal essence with God’s Holy Essence.

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

Will you let Jesus make a home for God in your own heart?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

Please visit my website or more information about my ministry of Spiritual and Grief Companionship.

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