Reflection on Ashes and Dust

“Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (From the Ash Wednesday Liturgy).

After a house or building has burned down, the ash that is left can feel so final. When one’s hopes and dreams for what the building might have given are all over the place with only ashes left; the grief just pours out. When Mt. St. Helen’s in the State of Washington erupted in 1980 a lot of the ashes were taken and molded into sculptures. What seemed like a devastating conclusion, became new opportunities for something beautiful to come from it.

As we begin Lent with this Ash Wednesday, we are reminded of our mortality. Nothing in or about our lives in this world is permanent. There is a beginning and ending of just about everything, including our mortal bodies. The ashes remind us of where we came from, and where our physical bodies will end up. Ash Wednesday brings with it a wonderful irony. Though our bodies are temporary, God’s love is eternal. In Jesus Christ, the Word, we are God’s Beloved. Jesus came to draw us closer in relationship with God through His life, death and resurrection.

In The Rule of St. Benedict, he tells his monastics to observe the Season of Lent “to keep [themselves] most pure and to wash away the negligences of other times” (RB 1980, p.71). I suggest that among those negligences is how much we allow them to fill the hunger within us, that is really a yearning for God. The contemplative is always in touch with that hunger, and seeks union with God to satisfy the longing. The hunger is not an end in and of itself, but a moment of grace to let the Holy Spirit speak to our malnourished hearts.

The ashes today are a reminder that our bodies and this earth are not a conclusion to a story. They are only one part of the story that still has a new chapter to be added. Contemplative prayer moves us to live into the whole story of who we are, and Who we are seeking. Ash Wednesday reminds us of who the Author really is; and what character we are in the whole of story.

What do the ashes on Ash Wednesday mean for you?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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Reflection on the Gift of the Heart

When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road. (See Matthew 2:1-12 NRSV).

Christina Rossetti wrote in verse 4 of her hymn In the Bleak Mid-Winter,

“What can I give him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; if I were a wise man, I would do my part; yet what can I give him–give my heart.” (See The Hymnal 1982, #122).

The gifts of the shepherds and wise men represent the giving of what they treasured most. Whatever they treasured; how ever much they valued what they had; finding the Word Incarnate was the empowerment for the Magi to offer their precious gifts to Jesus. They gave up the comfort of wherever they came from, and they searched without giving up until they found what their hearts desired.

Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB in her book Illuminated Life: Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light wrote, “To be contemplative I must put down my notions of separateness from God and let God speak to me through the universe into the pores of my minuscule life” (p.43).

In The Rule of St. Benedict, he tells us at the beginning of the Prologue to “incline the ear of the heart” where our essence is. Our essence is the source of our eternal truth. We can offer our heart, our essence to help us search for union with The Word who was with God, and was God. When we offer that most precious of personal treasure as a gift to be used by the Holy Spirit; the sky is the limit. The sky becomes so dazzling, that there might be a star showing us the way to the Light of God.

What is the treasure you are offering to God on this Epiphany?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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Reflection on St. John

We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us—we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. (See 1 John 1:1-9 NRSV).

St. John the Evangelist is my very favorite of the Apostles and New Testament contributors. The beginning of John’s Gospel with the words “In the beginning was the Word….” is beyond profound. The three letters attributed to St. John and Revelation are so beautiful.

On this text from 1 John, St. Augustine of Hippo wrote,

“Life itself was therefore revealed in the flesh. In this way what was visible to the heart alone could become visible to the eye, and so heal men’s hearts.” (The Liturgy of the Hours, Volume I Advent and Christmas Season, p.1267).

The Johannine communities that gave us these words from the Apostle tell us about what they have personally witnessed. The love of Jesus, the Word made visible and tangible. It was more exciting than yesterday’s news story that had come and gone. The love of God in Christ was transforming them from the inside out. The love they experienced was so powerful, that they had to write about it.

This reading from First John leads us into contemplation. When John and his community experience the love of the Word, they move into what Thomas Keating wrote about in his book The Mystery of Christ: The Liturgy as Spiritual Experience,

“The revelation of being loved by God characterizes the first stage of contemplative prayer. It enables us to see God in all things” (p.73).

St. John reminds us that we experience the transformative power of Christ when we let God into our hearts. St. Benedict tells us in the beginning of The Rule. “Listen carefully to the master’s instructions, and incline the ear of your heart.” Once we let go of our false-sense of self, and let God’s desire for us, feed our desire for God; it is then that we will find God by loving God; that we will be led by the Holy Spirit to love God when we find God. Contemplative prayer and the mystical experience help us to begin again, as we open our hearts to the experience of Jesus the Word made flesh by the faithful witness of those who have come before us.

Where are you looking to find Jesus today?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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Reflection on The Incarnate Word

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:1-5 NRSV).

Words have a lot more power than we think. One word can carry any variety of meanings. Think of how little it takes for a word to change our moods, perspectives, and outlook.

The Psalmist in Psalm 139:3 wrote, “Indeed, there is not a word on my lips, but, you, O Lord, know it altogether.” ( The Book of Common Prayer, p.794).

The Nativity of Jesus Christ is the story of the Word that was with God and was God. Jesus is God’s Word spoken and made one with us in the Incarnate Word. Jesus has come as one like us, to tell us and show us how deep the love of God is for all of us. In Jesus, God comes to bring the Word into our hearts so that we can “incline the ears of our hearts” to hear and respond to God’s desire for us.

Notice that Jesus arrived as a vulnerable Child. There was no room for Mary and Joseph in the inn. The Manger was the closest place a available. It was hardly a sterilized space. It was far from the ideal situation. Yet, God did something extraordinary there. God used what was right there at that moment, to transform the Manger and the world for all time; by being born as a helpless Child with countless possibilities before Him.

This Mysticism that is brought to our contemplative prayer this Christmas Season, is the wonder of God entering our troubled and imperfect world. God comes to us as we are and where we are to bring God’s transforming Grace. Jesus comes to save us from our certitude; so that we can listen, pray and allow ourselves to move and grow with God’s Incarnate Word to help us to continue the story that we thought was finished. The God-Life Jesus brings us can be discerned with Mary who “ponders these things in her heart.” (See Luke 2:19). It is in the heart that we can lean from Jesus, about how to grow closer to God. We need God’s help. That is why Jesus Christ was born of Mary. Jesus is the light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not (and will not) overcome that light.

What is Jesus, The Incarnate Word saying to your heart today?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

A very Merry and Holy Christmas to all of you.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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The Incarnate Word and The Light

LightPiercingDarkness

 

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.  (1 John 1:5 NRSV).

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:5 NRSV).

 

The First Sunday after Christmas repeats the use of John 1:1-18 that we heard on Christmas Day.  This year, this Sunday and the commemoration of St. John the Evangelist occurs on the same day.  Because it is a Sunday, the Feast of St. John the Evangelist is replaced by the First Sunday after Christmas.   At the same time, I think that both occurring the same day and date are prophetic in their own right.

The two themes that repeat themselves in the Gospel of John and his first letter is the Word and the Light.  Jesus who is the Incarnate Word is inseparable from the Light.  We see through the darkness because of the Light.  We hear God because of the Incarnate Word.

As St. Benedict wrote in The Prologue to The Rule, his very first word was listen.  Rearrange those letters and we get the word silent.  Benedict tells us to “incline the ears of our heart.”  He begins with these words because to know God more deeply, is to listen deeply to God speaking through The Word.  To see God is to look for the Light.

May all of us look for the Light of God in love and holiness in our many relationships.  May we listen to the Incarnate Word so we may know God in our hearts.  May we respond by what we hear in our hearts, so that others may see things from God’s point of view.  It is a contemplative experience and quite mystical.

Jesus, new beginning, heavenly bread, living water, we hear the word of life, we see and grasp the truth; help us to proclaim it. Amen (A New Zealand Prayer Book, p.694).

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB