Reflection on Solitude, Silence and Suffering

“But as for me, I have trusted in you, O Lord.  I have said, “You are my God.  My times are in your hand; rescue me from the hand of my enemies, and from those who persecute me.  Make your face to sine upon your servant, and in your loving-kindness save me.”  (Psalm 31:14-16 The Book of Common Prayer, p.623).

There is a common misunderstanding about solitude.  Solitude in the common understanding tends to mean alone and to be lonely.  Solitude for the contemplative is not a running from something.  Solitude and silence for the Desert Monastics was how they cleared away all obstacles to be quiet and alone with God within their deepest selves.  Spending time in solitude and silence does not imply being completely peaceful and tranquil.  We do hope for tranquility at some point.  Camaldolese Benedictines spend our time in the cell of our hearts in solitude and silence to let God take us into the depths of ourselves to see what is really there.  In our cells, we find how deep our own suffering has taken us, and let God use it however God wants.  This is the letting go in contemplative prayer that I write about all the time.

The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday shows the fickleness of the human heart.  We want Jesus to be received by us in all His glory, then at His Passion and Death we become content with letting Jesus go it all alone.  The actions of Jesus’ Disciples tell us so at length in the Passion narratives.  Yet, what we see throughout the Passion story, is that Jesus gracefully and lovingly accepts the suffering He experiences.  Even before Pilate and the questions he asks Jesus: in the Passion narrative of St. Mark 15:5 we read “Jesus made no further reply, so Pilate was amazed.”   Jesus completely surrenders Himself to what is happening.  Jesus faces it for what it is, and pays the ultimate price of His life.  And of course, His death is not the final word.

The mystery of Holy Week for contemplatives is that Jesus enters into our suffering in a attitude of solitude and silence, because He knows that God is in the midst of it all with Him; even if He cannot feel Him.  Jesus finds the presence of God in faith alone; even as Jesus cried out the words of Psalm 22:1 “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus trusts in God alone.

Whatever our suffering might be we are never there alone.  When we enter into our suffering in solitude and silence with trust in God, we leave our times in God’s hands as the Psalmist wrote.  Holy Week reminds us that though suffering happens to all of us, including God’s Son, even death is a transitory result.  We are invited by Jesus this week, to follow Him in His suffering and our own to let go of ourselves and find the joy of the Resurrection of new life.

“But as we progress in this way of life and in faith, we shall run on the path of God’s commandments, our hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love.  Never swerving from 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 St. Benedict in English.  The Conclusion of the Prologue, p.19).

3. The way is via the Psalms-do not leave it.  If, in your beginners fervor, you fail to do the whole Psalter, do a little here and a little there. (From the Short Rule of St. Romuald).

How are you entering into your relationship with Jesus in the midst of your suffering?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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Reflection on Righteousness and Stumbling

BenVigilsCast your burden upon the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous stumble.  (Psalm 55:24. The Book of Common Prayer, p.662).

The words above spoke to me a couple of days ago during the Office of Diurnum (or Noonday Prayer).

The first part of the verse is beautifully sung in the well known Oratorio Elijah by Felix Mendelssohn.  The melody suggests the freedom from the burden by casting it upon the Lord with complete trust in God’s ability to sustain us.

The second part, “he will never let the righteous stumble” really caught my attention.  The Antiphon before this part of the Psalm is prayed read, “God will never let the righteous stumble.”  After I read those words, I found myself praying about them in Lectio Divina.  I have no reason to expect God to keep me from stumbling.  I am a weak man with the capability to think only of myself and about myself.  I can confess quite openly that I have those times in my life when I find myself caught between what God may want me to do, and what I want to do; only to choose my way with haste.

The answer to this prayer came by way of a book I am reading entitled, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  On page 48, Bonhoeffer writes,

“Can we, with the Psalmist, call ourselves innocent, devout, and righteous?  We dare not do so in so far as we are ourselves.  We cannot declare our virtue as the prayer of our own perverse heart.  But we can and should do so as a prayer out of the heart of Jesus Christ that was sinless and clean, out of the innocence of Christ in which he has given us a share by faith.  In so far as “Christ’s blood and righteousness” has become “our beauty, our glorious dress,”  we can and we should pray the psalms of innocence as Christ’s prayer for us and gift to us.  These Psalms, too, belong to us through him.”

In Chapter 19, The Discipline of the Psalmody, of The Rule of Saint Benedict, he wrote,

“We believe that the divine presence is everywhere and that in every place the eyes of the Lord are watching the good and the wicked (Prov. 15:3).  But beyond the least doubt we should believe this to be especially true when we celebrate the divine office.” (RB 1980, p.47).

What is our point of contemplative prayer here?

God’s perspective of us is through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  It is because of this great mystery of our faith as Christians that we can depend on God not letting the righteousness that is ours through Christ stumble with no place else to turn.  We can and should turn to the mercy of God in Christ so that the righteousness which we have gained through Christ Jesus becomes a living reality; even through our common faults.  God seems to know very well what to do with those.

This seems to be one incredible moment of contemplative prayer.

What do you think?

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB