Reflection on Listening: Yup Again!

I will listen to what the Lord God is saying, for he is speaking peace to his faithful people and to those who turn their hearts to him. (Psalm 85:8 The Book of Common Prayer, p.709).

When we read those famous first words in the Prologue of The Rule of St. Benedict notice that he is talking about the ear of the heart, as opposed to the physical ear. “Listen, my child to the masters instructions, and incline the ear of your heart.” Benedict returns to the subject of listening throughout the Prologue. He quotes from Psalm 95, “If today you hear God’s, harden not your heart.” “Listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Revelation 2:7). “Come and listen to me, I will teach you the fear of the Lord” (Psalm 34).

St. Benedict would have leaned about listening from the Desert Mothers and Fathers. In particular St. Moses, who famously said, “Sit in your cell. Your cell will teach you everything.”

Listening to God involves a continuous letting go. Our cell is our interior self, as much as it can be a physical space. Listening to God so that we can hear God speaking peace to us, is strengthened in time spent in silence and solitude; but we must nurture our interior self by remaining open to God at all times. Each moment and encounter is a contemplative experience, if we will only listen for God in our hearts. In her book, Illuminated Life: Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light, Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB wrote, “Everything in life is meant to stretch me beyond my superficial self to my better self, the Ultimate Good who is God” (p.24).

Are you listening to God in the here and now?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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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

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Reflection on Touching Jesus

“[The woman] said, “If I but Touch his clothes, I will be made well.” [Jesus] said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well…” (See Mark 5:21-43. NRSV).

The Gospel narrative of the sick woman reaching out for Jesus’ clothes is provides an excellent meditation on Contemplative prayer. The circumstances of her illness, puts her in a moment of vulnerability. She is at the edge of life with no where else to go. She had only hope to find faith. She also knew something about Jesus that prompted her to take a risk. Once she touches Jesus’ cloak and she is healed, all she does is walk away, planning to just keep quiet in thanksgiving. Jesus knew something amazing happened. Jesus confirmed the faith of His daughter.

“There is certainly nothing flashy about contemplation:there is nothing in it that can be translated into marketable commodities and subsequently traded for some temporal advantage. Contemplation is entirely gratuitous, pure grace. On God’s part total gift, on ours total receptivity” (Toward God: The Ancient Wisdom of Western Prayer by Michael Casey, p.171).

God’s grace gives the gift of Contemplative prayer and Mysticism because God knows us as God’s Beloved ones. Whether we are at our moment of vulnerability in a good way or not; God takes the initiative to move our hearts toward a deeper relationship with the Holy Spirit. A relationship of silence and solitude through which we seek union with God with an openness to the presence of God. A presence that is everywhere, allowing us the mystical of seeing ourselves from God’s perspective ctive of an unconditional love that cannot be explained or described. We just know that love is there, and God’s love is all that matters.

Abba Antony said, “I no longer fear God, I love him; for love casts out fear.” (Daily Readings with the Desert Fathers. By Benedict Ward., p.50).

“Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ, and may he bring is all together to everlasting life ” (RB 1989: The Rule of St. Benedict in English, Chapter 72, p. 95).

How are you reaching out in faith to God in your life?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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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

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Reflection on St. John the Baptist

“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel.before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel”(See Luke 1:57-80 NRSV).

The Church celebrates today the birth of one of the most influential people of Desert spirituality. St. John the Baptist personified the vocation of solitude. It is more than fair to say, that the Monastic tradition of living in the silence and solitude of the desert has St. John the Baptist as our pioneer.

The desert life of St. John the Baptist was to “prepare the way of the Lord.” He accepted the unfavorable way of life. He abandoned the lure of wealth and power. His desert life was how he unlocked the mystery of the God that he and all of humankind was awaiting. John the Baptist knew that he was chosen by God for something so amazing, that he let go of everything that could tie him down. St. John the Baptist chose the freedom of solitude, to know the God that was to become the very essence of God’s presence in every human person.

“Like the Forerunner, you were intended for Christ,,,,,,, because the on,y reason for your existence on earth is to love and glorify Jesus” (The Hermitage Within: Spirituality of the Desert. Translated by Alan Neame., p.19).

Contemplation is the gift of God’s grace to grow in purity of heart. Contemplation is about letting go of all our pretenses so that we are liberated to experience the wonder of God. Contemplation is the grace of self awareness; that God is at work in ourselves and the world us in the mystical experience of which our human senses can neither comprehend or describe.

“As long as I am content to know that [Christ] is infinitely greater than I, and that I cannot know Him unless He shows Himself to me, I will have peace, and He will be near me and in me, and I will rest in Him” (Thomas Merton. Thoughts in Solitude, p.109).

“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 noble weapons of obedience to do battle for the true King, Christ the Lord” (RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English, The Prologue, p.15).

“Empty yourself completely and sit waiting, content with the grace of God, like the chick who tastes nothing and eats nothing but what his mother brings him” (From the Short Rule of St. Romuald).

How are you called to be a forerunner for God in your daily life?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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A Faint Reflection

Personality–liberty–is a treasure which is given to be increased and developed by union with the Divine Person of the Incarnate Word, Jesus, our Model and Savior.  Our Personality is a faint reflection of the Person of the Word, the natural Image of the Father. (Thomas Merton: The Life of the Vows: Initiation into the Monastic Tradition 6, p.15).

Reflections

These words of St. Thomas Merton (A Saint included in the Episcopal Churches’ calendar) are from a book I am reading as part of my formation.   These words tell us to treasure our personality and our liberty by giving it over to be developed by seeking union with God through Jesus Christ.   What a stark contrast to how we think of our personality and liberty.

We live in a world and age where private ownership of everything including our bodies, personalities and liberties are all up for us to grab onto.   Why contemplate that there is more beyond ourselves, when we make ourselves our own end?

The picture above gives us a very different perspective. The mountains with their snow caps, the grass, trees, sky seem as if they are all to themselves.  The reflection in the waters below shows the contrary.  The reflection is faint, but it reveals that the scene is not unto itself.  It shares all that it is and can be with the very waters that will flow past it; taking all the goodness of God with it.  It will bring light to darkness, hope to despair and life from death.  It will project the reflection of the Creator and Redeemer with all that is still veiled as the result of the faint reflection.  It will still make a notable difference where it may seem that change is impossible.

Today, may we not dwell so much on how imperfect of a reflection we are of Jesus and His Father.  Instead, may we take hold of the reflection God is making through us that may only be passing us by to impact our own lives and those of others for the brief moment of the contemplative vision.

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB

The Heavens Declare the Glory of God

Psalm191

The heavens appear to be too complicated for a simple reflection.  All of the matter, energy and elements that make up what is millions of light years away can hardly be comprehended by us tiny human beings.  Yet, their complexity is exactly why they are perfect for a simple reflection.

Thomas Merton in writing about The Rule of St. Benedict in his book Initiation into the Monastic Tradition writes extensively about our false sense of self.   Our false sense of self is what causes us to think that our whole essence is about knowing everything, being comfortable with everything and/or being approved of, etc.  While the technological advances of the last decade are nothing short of miraculous; their detriment is in how much they can aid us in being entrenched into our false sense of self.  The remedy that St. Benedict offers us, Thomas Merton tells us, is in Chapter 7 of The Rule, on humility.  Humility is about seeing ourselves as we really are, and living more deeply into a bonded relationship with God and others.  This kind of humility is to help us to learn that even in the midst of conflict and difficulty, our one constant reality worthy of our devotion and reverence is God.

The heavens show us the glory of God that is in our darkest moments, through which the beauty and wonder of God’s will for us shines through in both small and great ways.  We may not be able to name every item in the heavens, but what we are able to see helps us know that we are not the center of the universe.  In fact, we are one very small being.  Yet as the Psalmist writes:

“When I look up at your skies, at what your fingers made–the moon and the stars that you set firmly in place–what are human beings that you think about them; what are human beings that you pay attention to them?  You’ve made them only slightly less than divine, crowning them with glory and grandeur” (Psalm 8:3-4 The Common English Bible).

Amen.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB