Reflection on Arms Stretched Out

“Jesus called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it” (See Mark 8:27-38, NRSV).

I am sure the title of this blog entry and the Gospel quote might seem a little odd to some. Jesus is calling us to carry our cross, to give up our lives and follow Him. Yet, I titled the blog post as about the arms outstretched.

The mysticism of the Cross is that our God in the Person of Jesus stretched out His arms and embraced us. God’s love is so profound, so complete, that Jesus held nothing back.

St. Julian of Norwich wrote, “Christ carried us within him in love and travail, until the time of his passion. And when all was completed and he carried us so for joy, still all this could not satisfy the power of his wonderful love” (Canticle R Enriching Our Worship 1, p.40).

The contemplative experiences the love of God in such a way, that we know that love is more than a theological thesis. It is known in the depths of our hearts. Contemplation is an encounter with the loving arms of God stretched out, while we embrace that love in whatever comes our way. It will not always come in something warm and fuzzy. It happens because God’s grace has moved within us to stretch our arms to embrace the challenges we are given in the here and now.

Taking up our crosses is about faithfulness. Carrying our crosses is not about being perfect. Carrying our cross is God’s holy love forever outstretched for us to embrace God at any time, any where and in anyone.

“Listen carefully, my son, to the master’s instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart. This is advice from a father who loves you; welcome it, and faithfully put it into practice” (RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English, p. 15).

Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen. (The Book of Common Prayer, p.100).

Are you ready to carry your cross, knowing that the arms of Jesus are forever outstretched for you?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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Reflection on Wounds

Crucifixus

“Packs of dogs close me in, and gangs of evildoers circle around me; they pierce my hands and my feet; I can count all my bones.” (Psalm 22:16 The Book of Common Prayer, p.611).

There are many ways of looking at the Passion and Death of Jesus on the Cross.  They are each unique and have something to contribute to the whole.  Jesus’ death was a terrible event.  It was ugly.  It was bloody.  In Jesus’ betrayal, trial, and crucifixion is the experience of every form of human suffering that can be imagined or experienced.   Christ’s Death on the Cross is the confirmation of our faith that God is with us in whatever is happening to us.  God’s extravagant love is poured out for all  humankind in this amazing act of obedience.

The Contemplative looks upon the wounds of Jesus on this Good Friday and sees in them a way into the depth of God’s loving goodness.  The cry of anguish, helplessness and a willingness to accept where God had Jesus in what was so vicious and cruel.  Yet, love for His Father and all of us was Jesus’ sole objective.  St. Julian of Norwich wrote in A Song of True Motherhood “Even when all was completed and he carried us so for joy, still all of this could not satisfy the power of his wonderful love.” (Canticle R. Enriching Our Worship 1, p. 40).   The very reality that all of humankind has many many problems are mysteriously represented and accepted by God, as Jesus hangs on the Cross between eternity and time with His arms outstretched; is God’s arms of love ever ready to embrace all of us.

When we open ourselves to experience the love of Christ on the Cross within our wounds we discover what Abba Pambo said, “If you have a heart, you can be saved.”  Christine Valters Paintner in her book Desert Fathers and Mothers: Early Christian Wisdom Sayings Annotated and Explained writes, “The desert elders saw the heart as the center of our being  where we encounter God most intimately” (See pages 26-27).   As Contemplatives, we can always meditate on the wounds of Jesus, our wounds and those of humankind from our interior selves.  When we surrender in obedience to the grace of God through Jesus Christ; the transformation of our own lives and those of the world around us becomes possible so long as we get ourselves out of the way.

“Brothers, now that we have asked the Lord who will dwell in his tent, we have heard the instruction for dwelling in it, but only if we fulfill the obligations of those who live there.  We must , then, prepare our hearts and bodies for the battle of holy obedience to his instructions.  What is not possible to us by nature, let us ask the Lord to supply by the help of his grace” (RB 1980: The Rule of Saint Benedict in English, The Prologue, p.18).

How do you see the wounds of your life in the light of the wounds of Christ on the Cross?

Amen.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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Reflection on Foot Washing

WashingFeet

“And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.” (John 13:3-5 NRSV).

I have been enjoying reading the book Ashes and the Phoenix: Meditations for the Season of Lent edited and compiled by Len Freeman.  In his meditation written by Jason Leo for Tuesday in Holy Week he writes,

“there is more going on in the story of Holy Week than Jesus’ death, more going on than a horrible story of the execution and death of a good man.  It is the beginning of a journey to new life for Jesus and for us–for all of us’ (See page 99).

In the journeys of our lives we all come from pathways full of circumstances.  Some of those circumstances have happened by the chances of life.  Some are because of choices we made good or bad.  Others are the result new experiences that changed our sense of direction.  Others gave us sense of ourselves that have boxed us up in to who we think God is to each of us (and sometimes everyone else).

Contemplative prayer brings about the greatest of mystical experiences when we let go of who we think God is and what God does.  The contemplative opens herself/himself up to letting God show us who God is in Jesus, and who we are because of who God’s Incarnate Word is.  The desert Mothers and Fathers teach us that our experiences of God bring the greatest of changes to our lives when we let the masks come off, even if we do not like what we see reflected in our interior mirrors.  God accepts us as we are, and wants us to as well.

Our feet often tell us and others  a lot of what our personal walk with God is like.  We have all walked long, dirty, painful and stinky pathways.  We have experienced suffering in ways during which we dragged our feet and got a few callouses.  Our toe nails have gotten too long.  Our feet may have dry skin as we walked through the burning desert of denial.   Jesus wants to wash our feet, because He has been walking those same roads with us.  Jesus washes our feet to tell us that it is okay to let go and begin to walk a new journey with Him.  That journey will take us to the Cross where our false-sense of self will be crucified and die.  On Easter, we will rise with Jesus to begin walking in the way of new life.

“With this conclusion, the Lord waits for us daily to translate into action, as we should, his holy teachings.” (RB 1980: The Rule of Saint Benedict in English, p.18).

“An old man said, ‘Every time a thought of superiority or vanity moves you, examine your conscience to see if you have kept all the commandments, whether you love your enemies, whether you consider yourself to be an unprofitable servant and the greatest sinner of all. Even so, do not pretend to great ideas as though you were perfectly right, for that thought destroys everything.'” (Daily Readings with the Desert Fathers, p 32).

Would you let Jesus wash your feet?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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Reflection on The Wheat

Grain of Wheat

Jesus said, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.  Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep this world will keep it for eternal life.  Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am , there will my servant be also.  (See John 12:20-33 NRSV).

A few weeks ago, I went to a doctor’s appointment.  There was a lot of snow and ice around.  I had to park on the side of the street.  When I got out of my car and walked with my cane, I was stopped by the sight of a lot of snow and ice pilled up between the street and the sidewalk.  This was a very challenging moment for me, because I am on the Autistic Spectrum.  I found myself stuck in place, because I was afraid of the next step I might take.  Just then, a gentleman came along and offered to help me.  The man held me in a loving embrace, and helped me over the snow mound to the dry sidewalk on the other side.   I embraced him and said a relieving thank you.  God had come to my aid through the generosity of this stranger.  It was a very humbling experience.  It was also a teaching moment for me.  If I had remained there by myself, I would have been stuck there.  If I had tried to walk without help, I could have slipped and gotten hurt.  It was when the man reached out for me, that I had to let go and let him help me.

“Abba John gave this advice, “Watching means to sit in the cell and always be mindful of God.  This is what is meant by, ‘I was on watch and God came to me.” (Matthew 25:36)  (Desert Fathers and Mothers: Early Christian Wisdom Sayings Annotated and Explained by Christiane Valters Paintner, p.11).

In Desert spirituality the cell is a place in our interior self in which we encounter God with the best and worst of ourselves.   It can be as St. Romuald writes “Sit in your cell as in Paradise.”  It can also be an inferno.  When we see the worst of ourselves in our cells, the best thing is let God work through it with us.  If we try to escape, it will only catch up with us later.  If we pretend it isn’t there, it only becomes worse instead of better.  To find that paradise within our cells, we must let go and let God embrace us and carry us through to the other side.  Our gentle and loving Shepherd will help us get to safety.

If we want to find the true path with Jesus, we must like the grain of wheat fall and die to ourselves.  When we empty ourselves there is a “death” that occurs as we bear a lot of fruit in the mystery of God’s love for each of us.  We enter into a deep moment of Contemplative Prayer that takes us in the here and now and transforms us into true followers of Jesus.  When we let ourselves go and follow Jesus the Word, we must commit ourselves to going with Him to the Cross.  It is by Christ’s death and our own, that we have a hope of the Resurrection.

“This message of mine is for you, then, if you are ready to give up your own will, once and for all, and armed with the strong and noble weapons of obedience to do battle for the true King, Christ the Lord.” (RB 1980: The Rule of Saint Benedict in English, The Prologue, p.15).

Are there single grains of wheat in your life that you need to let go of?

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 Mug.   Thank you so much.

Holy Tuesday Reflection

Grain of Wheat

Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour.”  (John 12:23-26 NRSV).

In his book Monastic Practices, Charles Cummings, OSCO writes about the place of food in the daily Monastic life (see p.81).  It is not a simple matter of filling our bellies to satisfy us.  Eating is about participating and giving thanks for all the many ways the Monastic receives food.  Monastics do not just eat food; we take food.  In so doing, we remember each part of the food was the product of the sun, rain, soil, growing, farming, labor to harvest.   The food such as bread needed the wheat, the flour, the eggs, the yeast, the kneading, baking, packaging.   The grapes are tended to on the vine.  They are harvested and over many years become wine.  These things do not happen without something that is living dies, and/or someone giving over their time and talent to serve the common good of those who will eat.  We recognize that everything we are eating and sharing is from God’s graciousness and others participating as co-creators with God.

In today’s Gospel Jesus is accepting and announcing that the hour to give His life has come.  His Disciples still do not know what to make of this action Jesus is about to do.  As He does many times before, Jesus talks in symbolic language to help us to understand that what Jesus is about to do is about the fruit it will bear.  If His death is going to bear fruit, then He must endure the shame and hardship of the Cross to bring it about.   Furthermore, Jesus tells us that if we want to bear fruit as followers of Jesus; we must be willing to follow Him and give up ourselves in self sacrifice as Jesus did.  We may or may not be called upon to suffer a horrible death by crucifixion.  However, all of us are called upon to search for union with God seeking God’s will and letting go of ourselves to serve God and each other.

“Never swerving from his instructions, then, but faithfully observing his teaching in the monastery until death, we shall through patience share in the sufferings of Christ that we may deserve also to share in his kingdom. Amen”  (RB: 1980: The Rule of Saint Benedict in Latin and English. Conclusion of the Prologue  p.167).

What is Jesus calling on you to let go of, so that you may follow Him and serve others in His Name?

How can you live more intentionally into Jesus’ invitation to discipleship?

Amen.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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

 

Lent Reflection: Take Up Your Cross

Cross

 

Then Jesus said to them all, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves? (Luke 9:23-25 NRSV).

All of us like to receive a nicely wrapped gift.  There is just something about the time, money and effort someone went through to think of us and give us something so beautifully wrapped up.  The color of the wrapping paper, the bow and the wonder we have of what we have been given; and of course the surprise.  When we open the gift, what we find is something that the gift giver thought long and hard about.  What delights our heart with joy and gratitude, is that of all the people on earth, the gift giver thought about us without counting the cost.

Our Christian Faith with its many mysteries is beautiful.  The gift of God’s salvation for humankind is beautiful and wonderful in and of itself.  What makes it so wonderful, is that God gave us everything in God’s Son Jesus Christ to be our Savior and Redeemer; without counting the cost.  God’s love for humankind is so great, so awesome that Jesus taking up the Cross on our behalf is in and of itself a gift beyond comprehension.

On the other hand, the greatness of our faith comes with a cost for us to ponder.  The Christian life of living in faith and trust; requires of us a life lived with gratitude to God, the Gift-Giver.  The contemplative lives with all of creation, with our individual challenges in mind, body and/or spirit acknowledging that God walks with us, within us and around us.  For the contemplative, taking up our cross is an openness to living in relationship with God in the ordinary, the sickness, the impairment, the addiction and the hopelessness; knowing that we are never alone, nor are we without the opportunity to live our faith to the fullest in the amazing love of God.  We can choose to live our faith with tunnel vision; focusing only on our own lives through which we are losing through selfishness and greed.  Or, we can live into our relationships with our hearts open to the Holy who always lives in relationship with us; never counting the cost.

“Let us get up then, at long last, for the Scriptures rouse us when they say: It is high time for us to rise from sleep (Rom 13:11).  Let us open our eyes to the light that comes from God, and our hearts to the voice from heaven that everyday calls out this charge: If you hear his voice today, do not harden your hearts (Ps. 94 [95]:8). And again; You that have ears to hear, listen to what the Spirit says to the churches (Rev 2:7). (RB 1980: The Rule of Saint Benedict in Latin and English. The Prologue, p.158).

What cross is Jesus calling you to pick up and follow Him today?

Amen.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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

Lenten Reflection: Take Up the Cross

Cross

 

Then [Jesus] said to them all, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. (Luke 9:23 NRSV).

The Season of Lent takes us all through a journey of meditating on the Cross.  The day after Ash Wednesday, The Episcopal Church takes us to the Gospel of Luke 9:18-25 where we find the words I have quoted above.  The words, “deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” seem to strike all of us a little differently.  Each of us have a different kind of cross, in a unique place where God intersects with us.

As Christians we believe that it was on the Cross that God reconciled with humankind through Jesus Christ.  We also believe that God identified with every form of human suffering when Christ gave Himself for us on the Cross.

Thomas Keating tells us in The Mystery of Christ: The Liturgy as Spiritual Experience that on the Cross, Jesus even gave up His relationship with God.  When Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?” (Psalm 22:1), He gave up his relationship with God, his Father, and embraced that relationship through faith alone.  Jesus had to cling to God with purity of heart; as in, seeking union with God for God’s sake, looking for nothing else in return.  Such is why Jesus is exalted through His humility.  (See Philippians 2:5-11).

Our contemplation on what it means to deny ourselves and take up our cross challenges us to seek union with God with a total abandonment of everything else and to only want God.

The two most important words during Lent and/or any form of contemplative prayer are, “let go!”  Letting go is a great way to deny ourselves and take up our cross.

How is Jesus asking you to deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Him?

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB