St. Benedict: The Contemplative Prophetic Witness

“If today you hear God’s Voice, harden not your hearts” (Psalm 95:7,8).

As many of my faithful readers know, I live with an autistic spectrum disorder. There is no part of my life that is untouched by the effects of autism. It effects every interpersonal relationship in one way or another. It is part of my being, and always will be. It means that there are many things I am not able to do in ways that people without autism can. Things that trouble most neuro-typical (without autism) people, are more intense for me. One way my autism effects me, is that I am the exact opposite of the general population. I experience less depression during the cold winter months. I experience more depression during the hot and humid summer time.

Yesterday, someone who works with me regarding my autism asked me a question. “Don’t you think it is very prophetic that with your depression being worse during the summer time, and St. Benedict’s Feast Day is right smack in the middle of summer?” Honestly, I never thought about it that way.

In her book, The Breath of the Soul: Reflections on Prayer, Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB wrote,

“[Prayerfulness] trusts that no matter how malevolent the situation may be, I can walk through it unharmed because God is with me “(p.46).

Contemplative prayer guides us to hear God’s voice in every moment and everywhere. God’s voice may or may not speak in words we can understand or receive without some kind of interior disruption. Ironically, the very experience of being disrupted is a good indicator that we heard God better than we think. The Contemplative experience of prayer that characterized St. Benedict is that God is a “father who loves you” and wants us closer in relationship with God that we can imagine. My autism is a big obstacle in many ways, but, it is what helps me to let go of a lot of other things that can consume me, and embrace God’s grace in silence and solitude. God uses my most painful and difficult seasons to draw me deeper into God’s heart and know I am never alone. With God, I am always loved and cherished. So are you.

How, where and when are you hearing God’s voice today?

Amen

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

If you feel led to buy me some coffee, please scroll down to the bottom of the right sidebar and click on the Benedictine Coffee Mug. Thank you so very much.

Reflection on Farming Faithfulness

“Trust in the Lord and do good; live in the land, and farm faithfulness” (Psalm 37:3 Common English Bible).

Christine Valters Paintner, in her book Desert Fathers and Mothers: Early Christian Wisdom Sayings, writes the following story by an anonymous Desert Monastic.

A brother fell when he was tempted, and in his distress he stopped practicing his Monastic Rule. He really longed to take it up again, but his own misery prevented him. He would say to himself, “When shall I be able to be holy in the way I used to be before?”

He went to one of the old men, and told him all about himself. And when the old man learned of his distress, he said, “There was a man who had a plot of land; but, it got neglected and turned into waste ground full of weeds and brambles. So he said to his son, ‘Go and weed the ground.’ The son went off to weed it, saw all the brambles and despaired. He said to himself, ‘How long will it take before I have uprooted and reclaimed all that?’ So he lay down and went to sleep for several days. His father came to see how he was getting on and found that he had done nothing at all. ‘Why have you done nothing?’ He said. The son replied, ‘Father, when I started to look at this and saw how many weeds and brambles there were, I was so depressed that I could do nothing but lie down on the ground.’ His father said, “Child, just go over the surface of the plot every day and you will make progress.’ So he did, and before long the whole plot was weeded. The same is true for you, brother: work a little bit without getting discouraged, and God by his grace will re-establish you” (p.109).

The contemplative looks for the opportunity to farm faith. A relationship with the Holy Spirit begins with God planting the seed of faith within us. Just like the farmer must tend to watering, and grounding the soil so the seed can grow into ears of corn; so we have to spend some time in silence and solitude to nurture our faith in God. Just as the crops require the sun for light, rain for water, the skilled hand of the farmer to pick the weeds and brambles; so we must with all humility, accept our own poverty of spirit that daily needs the grace of God. Contemplative prayer invites us into the mystical experience of God’s skills to feed and till our hungry souls.

“And finally, never lose hope in God’s mercy ” (RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English, Chapter 4 On the Tools for Good Works, p.29).

How are you farming faithfulness in your relationship with the Holy Spirit today?

Amen.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

If you feel led to buy me some coffee, please scroll to the bottom of the right sidebar and click on the Benedictine Coffee Mug. Thank you so much.

Reflection on the Spirit

“If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:25 NRSV).

Exactly how do we define our identity?

I have written before about labels, our false-sense of self and our true selves. The times we are living through, puts labels on top of labels, on top of labels. The labels by themselves only describe many things about us. When we cling to labels and put all of our identity into the labels, we hand over our dignity and our true selves to an idol. We deprive the very essence of what makes us who we really are to something that does not satisfy our interior thirst for God. We forget what the Redemption by Jesus Christ of ourselves, has given us.

Basil Pennington in his book Centering Prayer: Renewing An Ancient Christian Prayer Form wrote;

“He [The Holy Spirit] is our Spirit, the Gift given to you at Baptism to be your very own spirit; ask Holy Spirit through the words printed in these pages to “teach spiritual things spiritually.” (p. 10).

Contemplative prayer can be thought of as a journey of our spirit in search of union with God, The Holy Spirit to be a “new creation in Christ.” (See 2 Corinthians 5:17-18). The Holy Spirit gives new life to who we are, because of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ, the Word of God. We only need to spend some time in solitude and silence to live into the Holy Essence (Spirit) who is our essence and well-spring of our new life in Christ. There in is our strength in times of weakness, our hope when we are in despair, our victory when we have lost everything.

“And finally, never lose hope in God’s mercy.” (RB:1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English. Chapter 4 The Tools for Good Works, p. 29).

What identity are you living by?

Amen.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

If you would like to buy me a coffee, please click on the much at the bottom of the right sidebar. Thank you in advance.

Reflection on Blessed

st.benedictstainedglass

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3. NRSV).

There is a big misconception that has been going on way too long.  It is the thinking that there is only one to four ways to experience contemplative prayer and mysticism.  Sitting is solitude and silence is probably the greatest way to experience contemplative prayer.  Lectio Divina is best done when we are quietly reading the Scriptures and going through the methodical progression of Lectio (reading), Meditatio (Meditate), Oratio (prayer) and Contemplatio (Contemplation).  This too is true.  Using a routine prayer form such as using Prayer Beads, or the Prayer Rope, or even walking through a forest, are great ways to enter into union with God in prayer.  All of these are amazingly good ways to practice contemplative prayer.

The biggest misconception is that contemplative prayer is about us.  It happens because of something we must do; and if we do not do it and experience some kind of emotional and/or spiritual ecstasy, then we must be doing something wrong.

Contemplative prayer that opens up the possibility of a mystical experience is about God’s grace meeting us where we are, and seeing in our hearts the yearning desire to find union with God.  A yearning search that is there by God’s initiative waiting for us to accept the opportunity to let God be God, and get ourselves out of the way.  Contemplative prayer is not about being perfect.  It is about God reaching us within the whole of ourselves, seeing us as we are, where we are, and us experiencing how blessed we are to be so poor in spirit, that God brings the Kingdom of God to live within us.

Jesus’ invitation to “seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things will be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33 KJV) is God seeing us from God’s perspective.  Our deep desire to experience God from the depths of ourselves is in the here and now; even if we are depressed, in despair and wondering where God is.  God is in the wondering.  God is in the searching.  The God we are searching for and wondering about, has already found us.  In Jesus, God has told us that we are blessed because we are poor in spirit.  God also told us that the Kingdom of Heaven is ours; not just in the world to come, but in the here and now.

“We believe that the divine presence is everywhere and that in every place the eyes of that Lord are watching the good and the wicked (Proverbs 5:3)”.  (RB 1980: The Rule of Saint Benedict in English. Chapter 19:1).

Do you know in the whole of your being, that God sees you as being blessed?

Amen.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

 

 

Contemplation: Here and Now

Stormy Lake Ontario

 

“To become a contemplative, a daily schedule of religious events and practices is not enough.  We must begin to do life, to be with people, to accept circumstances, to bring good to evil in ways that speak of the presence of God in every moment.”  (Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB, Illuminated Life: Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light p.535).

All of us are in circumstances of one kind or another that we would love to change.  We want more money.  We want what the world tries to sell us; and all too often succeeds.  Something bigger, better, faster, something more efficient.  We want to solve our most urgent of problems by changing events of the past.  Some of us go about living in a state in which accepting what is in our past is something we try to avoid.

A very wise person gave me what I believe is a paraphrase of something said by Buddhists.  “Much of our suffering is because of our refusal to accept what is.”  Jesus Himself has something to say that is comparable.  “Today has enough problems of its own; tomorrow can look after itself” (read Matthew 6:31-34).

Contemplative prayer and the mystical experience at its best, brings us face to face with what is, as it is.  Contemplative prayer invites us to see God in the midst of joy and sadness.  Peace and calamity.  In moments when every thing seems to make sense.  In moments when everything we thought made sense; suddenly becomes something we cannot begin to make sense of.

God is here.  God is there.  God is moving on us.  God is calling us to a renewal of relationship with God in the here and now.  The contemplative vision and experience waits patiently to show us the way towards a conversion of heart and life; from God’s point of view.  Not our own.

How are you contemplating and seeking the presence of God in your own life today?

Amen.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

Lenten Reflection: Purity of Heart

St.JohnCassian

 

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. (Matthew 5:8 NRSV).

Every leap year on February 29th, The Episcopal Church commemorates my favorite Monastic Saint after St. Benedict.  St. John Cassian.  The Spirituality of St. Benedict and The Rule, and much of the Spirituality of the Western Church came from St. John Cassian.

St. John Cassian spent a great deal of his time with the Desert Mothers and Fathers learning about how they searched for holiness by withdrawing from worldly distractions.  St. John Cassian integrated their wisdom as to be lived out in community.  Benedictine Spirituality borrows from Cassian.   The Benedictine model of community is best understood as “Growing into who we  are through our relationships with others” (Benedictine Values at St. John’s University in Collegeville, MN).

We are now deep into Lent.  We are turning the corner between Ash Wednesday towards Holy Week and Easter Day.  We are continuing to fast and in acts of self-denial as we approach the Easter Triduum.  It is so easy for all of us to forget why we are doing what Christians do during Lent.

In the first of The Conferences, Chapter VII, How Peace Ought to Be Sought, Abbot Moses tells us that if we are fasting, praying vigils, prayerfully reading Scripture and praying without purity of heart being our goal; then we will not find peace we.  If we are doing all of those things and not caring about our neighbor, then all the things we do will bring us no fulfillment.  Purity of heart is nothing more than seeking the other for the sake of the other and not wanting anything else in return.

Thomas Merton wrote “The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves and not to twist them to fit our own image.”

How is God calling you to purity of heart?

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB

The Presentation as Renewal

PresentationTemple

Be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new nature created after the likeness of God in righteousness and true holiness.  (Ephesians 4:23-24.  The New Zealand Prayer Book. p.662)

The date of February 2nd, the Presentation of Christ in the Temple has several meanings in the Liturgical Year.  Today marks 40 days since we celebrated the Nativity of Christ on December 25th.  Eight days from today is already Ash Wednesday; the beginning of Lent.  The Presentation can be thought of as our “bridge” between Christmas and Lent.  Today, we make the turn towards recalling the events of the Death and Resurrection of Christ.

When I read the short verse for the Presentation from The New Zealand Prayer Book, the idea of it being a day for renewal struck me.  The Christmas event and the events of the Easter Triduum are about renewal.  So, I was surprised to learn to think of the Presentation as also being about renewal.

In The Rule of St. Benedict, his many texts throughout its many chapters point us to multiple opportunities to start over.  We begin by “listening with the ears of our hearts.”  We begin each day, each of the various hours of the day with the Divine Office.  Each Office is a new beginning at the specified time of the day.  Humility is the opportunity to ascend by our acts of humility, or descend by our attitudes of arrogance.   Yet, at the end of the twelve steps of humility, we are challenged to start over from step one.

The Presentation invites us to contemplate beginning again from the point of pureness of heart, obedience out of love and the sacrifice of our hearts as we search for union with God.   We all walk away from these yearly feasts and tread out a bit further away from what the Gospel of Christ calls us to.  In the Presentation, we are invited back to our sacred temples of prayer and repentance and receive the blessing of God to start over again.  We are “renewed in spirit” and “put on the new nature” so that we move forward with the love of Christ as our guide and goal.

How is God calling you to contemplate how you are being renewed today?

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB