Reflection on the Word at Home

“The Word became flesh and made His home among us. We have seen His glory, glory like that of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14, The Common English Bible).

I am using The Common English Bible for this reflection, because I am drawn to the words “and made His home among us.” These words disturb me. I am so comfortable hearing the words of John 1:1-18 as the cozy doctrine of the Incarnation. As long as I kept them in my mind to the hearing of this Gospel every Christmas, they never make the journey from the head to the heart.

When I spend time with these words in Lectio Divina (the prayerful reading of Scripture) the Holy Spirit tells my heart that Jesus is coming to make His home within me at this moment. I am in a bit of a panic attack, because I am so attached to enjoying my interior home where my ego has its own room. My false-sense of self has given my ego a run of the home in me. Jesus, the Word wants to make a home in me? If that happens, I will know just how much God knows me in my total vulnerability. I will experience the reality of the words of Psalm 139:1.

“Lord, you have searched me out and known me; you know my sitting down and my rising up; you discern my thoughts from afar.”

I/we must remember that contemplative prayer is at its climax when we let go of everything, including our high expectations and open ourselves to experience Emmanuel “God with us.” God comes so that we can see ourselves from God’s perspective. Jesus comes to make His home in us, because God loves us so completely because of who we are, as we are and desires to make our hearts a most beautiful holy abode for God-Self. God wants to plant the seed of God’s Holy Spirit in our hearts so that a wondrous garden with every beautiful kind fruit can grow. Those many weeds within us that need to die and be pulled, will help us to be transformed into that “new creation” (see 2 Corinthians 5:17-18) rising up with Jesus in the Resurrection.

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

How are the words “The Word became flesh and made His home among us” speaking to your heart?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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Reflection on St. Stephen

While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.” (See Acts 6:8-7:2, 51c-60 NRSV).

“Good King Wenceslas looked out

On the feast of Stephen

When the snow lay round about

Deep and crisp and even

Brightly shone the moon that night

Though the frost was cruel

When a poor man came in sight

Gath’ring winter fuel.”

Yesterday was the First Day of Christmas. On Christmas Eve, we sang hymns of the peace that the Christ Child would bring. There was the hope of “peace and goodwill toward all people.” On the Second Day of Christmas, we remember St. Stephen being stoned. Is today’s commemoration of St. Stephen a contradiction to the Nativity of Jesus, or is it a wake up call for the soul?

I continually repeat the opening words of The Rule of St. Benedict because it contains the most important words that Christians would do well to internalize. “Listen, my loved one, and incline the ear of the heart.” The arrival of Jesus Christ, the Word, holds us spell bound by its beauty and simplicity. The simplicity is that in Jesus, God makes God’s Self vulnerable. God came in Christ to become vulnerable as one of us, and with us. Vulnerability brings a risk without knowing what the end result will be.

Listening to God within the wholeness of ourselves makes us vulnerable to letting go of our false-sense of self; to find our true self in the fullness of Christ’s revelation. Christ is revealed as the Light in the midst of our darkness. The darkness may be a grudge we are holding. It might our reluctance to accept what is and letting go of what we wish things were. That darkness may be a pain we will not allow ourselves to experience with God’s compassion embracing us so that we can heal through it.

Contemplative prayer and mysticism in this Feast of St. Stephen is to know that God is always present and interacting with us and in us in any situation we find ourselves in.

“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39. NRSV).

Will you spend time in silence and solitude to let the Christ Child inside your vulnerable heart today?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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Reflection on Treasuring and Pondering

Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. (See Luke 2:1-20 NRSV).

Our experience of Jesus coming as the Word Incarnate has been made known to us throughout the through the Gospels and the written works history of Christianity. Many authors have drenched their readers with helpful theological insight indeed.

Our modern celebrations of the Nativity of Christ are shaped by the traditions of our family, culture and the nearly endless round of Christmas muzac in the stores, restaurants and the radios that started November 1st. Our churches have amazing music, candlelight services with elaborate sermons and decorations. All of these things are wonderful. Yet, they fail to capture the Christmas event in a way that penetrates us to the point of cherishing the great mystery so that it reshapes us from the inside out.

Mary shows us how the arrival of Jesus and the things that take place around her changes her life. She “treasured these things and pondered them in her heart.” In so doing, Mary made her heart a fitting residence for Jesus within her. This is the best example of contemplation and mysticism that we can have on this Christmas Eve/Day.

Mary’s moment of contemplation captures the meaning of the words that begin The Rule of St. Benedict. “Listen, and incline the ear of the heart.” If the arrival of Jesus at His Nativity is to have an impact on our relationship with God; we should start with treasuring Christ and pondering Him within the whole of ourselves. In Jesus, God has become one with us, and wants us to search for union with the purity of heart for the sake of who God is and nothing more. Jesus came to give us a direction through God’s extravagant love. We must let it sink in to treasure Jesus and ponder Him in our hearts.

Will you find a time and a place to treasure and ponder who Jesus is for you?

Amen.

May all of you have a holy and blessed Christmas Season.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

Reflection on Patience in the Heart

“Be patient, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.” (See James 5:7-10 NRSV).

This is the time of the season when our patience grows thin. The celebration of the Nativity is ten days away. We are still in the season of Advent. We continue watching, waiting and preparing. Today, we read from James “You must also be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.”

The electric and technological developments that bring us social media with iPhones or Smartphones, have made waiting and patience an antiquated way of living. We can pay our bills, move money, order groceries and clothing without leaving our homes at lightening speed. Such advances are doing exactly what they are intended to do. As a result, our capacity for waiting patiently has been compromised. It effects our spiritual awareness of God moving slower, to draw us into a deeper relationship with God.

The image of the farmer planting the seeds is a perfect illustration here. To live as a contemplative, we must see ourselves as the seeds that God has planted to grow and bloom into the most beautiful human beings. In this season of Advent, God wants us to slow down, to spend some time in silence and solitude and open our hearts to the presence of God who is already here. Greater things come to those who meditate and receive God’s wondrous love, so that God can add even more of the grace that is transformative. This transformation is not dependent on having the correct theology. The transforming grace of God is beyond logic and is so much richer than doctrine or dogma. God’s grace through Jesus, the Incarnate Word meets us in the deepest places within us and gives new life, again and again. This is why we wait in patience and strengthen our hearts.

“What is not possible for us by nature, let us ask the Lord to supply by the help of his grace.” (RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English, p.18).

What will waiting patiently for God mean for you?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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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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