Benedictine Spirituality Christ Discernment Lectio Divina Lent Prophetic voices Rule of St Benedict Scripture Uncategorized

A habit of listening.

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Today I’m reflecting on the first reading from the prophet Jonah. I’m struck by Jonah’s response to God’s call:

“Up!…Go to Ninevah, the great city and preach to them as I told you to”

Perhaps having learned from his earlier disagreement with God Jonah obeys swiftly and without argument or prevarication:

“Jonah set out and went to Ninevah in obedience to the word of the Lord.”

His response can make obedience seem easy, straightforward and simple, but it’s more complex than that. It takes me back to the Rule of St Benedict which calls us to “unhesitating obedience”. This is not a call to simply do what we are told, though it sometimes requires that.

Rather the call to obedience is a call to listen and respond to the call of God. It requires discernment, both to hear the call and discover the response we need to make. In the first instance the call to obedience is a call to listen. Then it is a call to respond to what we hear.

We’re called to develop a habit of listening, to attune ourselves to God’s presence in every situation so that we learn to recognise God’s voice in our lives. From this listening we will be able to discern the response we’re called to make. It’s a process that requires practice. We will make mistakes, getting it wrong, trusting in God’s mercy, and being willing to try again and change direction if necessary.

Where are you being called to develop a habit of listening this Lent?

Benedictine Spirituality Christ Gospel Lectio Divina Lent Monastic Life Scripture Uncategorized

A time of promise.

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Since we started Lent the word that’s been going through my mind is promise. I look this year Lent seems to be offering a promise, reminding me that God is calling us back into a covenantal relationship that is based on love in today’s first reading God makes a covenant with Noah, promising never again to sweep everything away in a flood:

“Here is the sign of the Covenant I make between myself and you and every living creature with you for all generations: I set my bow in the clouds and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.”

St Peter talks about the waters of baptism that lead us to the promise of resurrection. In the gospel we see Jesus driven into the wilderness by the Spirit. His time in the wilderness is a time of testing:

“The Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness and he remained there for 40 days, and was tempted by Satan.”

As I look back at Jesus’ wilderness experience I find there is hope and promise as well as struggle. As he is driven into the wilderness he carries with him the promise of his baptism, when the clouds were torn open and God reminds him that he is God’s beloved son. Even in his experience of temptation there is hope and a reminder of the promise carried in those words of God. Jesus doesn’t only face temptation in his wilderness time, as Mark tells us:

“And the angels looked after him.”

Lent is a time for us to face our own wilderness and the temptations it brings. It can be easy to lose sight of the promise that is also there. Yet, as we face the temptations and challenges of Lent we are also offered the promise of God’s everlasting love.

As you begin your Lent journey where are you aware of the promise of God’s love sustaining you?

Ash Wednesday Benedictine Spirituality Christ Cross Lectio Divina Lent Liturgy Prophetic voices Scripture Uncategorized

Ash Wednesday

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There are many ways to describe Lent. It’s a time for, reflection, renewal, fasting, almsgiving and much more. Generally, one of these will take on more significance or importance for us than others, and that may change from year to year. But underlying all of those is the call back into relationship with God. At the heart of all our Lenten practices, from Ash Wednesday onwards is this call to relationship. The Prophet Joel writes:

“Now, now – it is the Lord who speaks – come back to me with all your heart, fasting, weeping, mourning… Turn to the Lord your God again for he is all tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in graciousness and ready to relent. Who knows if he will not turn again, will not relent, will not leave a blessing as he passes…”

It’s a call that’s full of challenge and promise. It challenges us to look closely at our lives, to ask how far we’ve allowed the busyness of our lives to squeeze God out. In a world where we are always supposed to be positive and in control his words remind us of all the grief that we both carry and cause. We are challenged to allow ourselves the freedom to admit that all is not well in our lives and in our world. Alongside the challenge there is hope and a promise that helps us to face it. Whatever we are facing, however enthusiastically we begin Lent and however that enthusiasm might wane over the coming weeks the gracious promise of God will remain, offering us hope and encouragement. Wherever this Lenten journey leads us the God of tenderness and compassion will be there with us, encouraging and supporting us whatever we face.

On this Ash Wednesday where do you hope to encounter the God who is all tenderness and compassion?

Benedictine Spirituality Christ Discernment Lectio Divina Saints Scripture Uncategorized

For the glory of God.

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I’ve been reflecting on the second reading from St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. He writes:

“Whatever you eat, whatever you drink, whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

This seems such an obvious statement that it hardly needs to be said. Of course, we would want to be doing everything for the glory of God. Yet, reflecting on putting it into practice we soon realise it’s not that straightforward. We have to discover for ourselves what that might mean in our circumstances. In this short passage St Paul gives some idea of what it means in his situation:

“I try to be helpful to everyone at all times, not anxious for my own advantage but for the advantage of everyone else, so that they may be saved.”

Once again this seems very obvious, and we can easily agree that this is what strive to do. Yet to achieve this is not always straightforward. We can’t always know what will be the most helpful in any given situation. We can’t assume we know what people will need. If we are to model ourselves on Christ we have to take the time for prayer and discernment. We have to listen to people to tell us what will help them.

We also have to listen to ourselves to discern if we are in a position to offer that help. If we are to do everything as St Paul suggests “for the glory of God” we need to be generous in listening and responding. We also need to be honest and humble in admitting that we might not be able to meet every need that is presented to us.

What might it look like to do everything for the glory of God in your situation today?

Benedictine Spirituality Christ Lectio Divina Liturgy Rule of St Benedict Saints Scripture Uncategorized

Held in love.

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A post from the archives for the feast of St Scholastica:

Today we are celebrating the feast of St Scholastica, the sister of St Benedict and the patron saint of Benedictine women…It’s a feast about the power of love, and that keeps coming up in the readings. In his first letter to the Corinthians St Paul writes:

“Love is always patient and kind; it is never jealous; love is never boastful or conceited; it is never rude or selfish; it does not take offence, and is not resentful. Love takes no pleasure in other people’s sins, but delights in the truth; it is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope, and to endure whatever comes.”

St Paul captures the essence of love and why it is so essential to our lives. He expresses both the ideal we strive towards and the practicalities of how we make that ideal a reality in our daily lives.

We also hear St Gregory the Great’s account of her last visit with St Benedict. At St Scholastica’s request they stay up all night “conversing of holy things”. This means Benedict has to spend the night outside his monastery. He initially refuses her request until her prayer results in such a fierce storm that he is compelled to stay with her. St Gregory comments:

“It is not surprising that the woman…was more effective than he [St Benedict] was on that occasion. For according to the saying of John, “…God is love.” So it was entirely right that she who loves more should accomplish more.”

St Scholastica’s actions speak of an aspect of love that we often forget, self-love. This can be a real challenge, not least because we are aware of its dangers. St Scholastica had the awareness to know her need of love, and the courage to admit it. If we are to strive towards St Paul’s ideal of love, we need to be ready to accept the patience and kindness that love offers us as well as offering it to others.

Where are you being called accept the love you are offered today?

Christ Discernment Gospel Lectio Divina Scripture Uncategorized

Bridging the Gap

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I’ve been reflecting on Jesus’ encounter with the Syrophoenician women. It turns all my expectations on their heads, and each time I revisit it it offers me a new challenge to reflect on. I expect Jesus to be kind loving and accepting of those who ask his help regardless of their backgrounds, to welcome the outsider and the stranger. In this passage Mark presents a different Jesus, at least at its beginning. When the woman, clearly a foreigner, first approaches him his reaction is to turn her away in a manner that must have caused offence, saying to her:

“It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the house-dogs.”

The woman could have gone away at that point, hurt and rejected, but she didn’t. Courage or desperation compelled her. She stayed and argued with Jesus until she changed his mind:

“‘Ah yes, Sir, she replied, ‘but the house-dogs under the table can eat the children’s scraps.'”

Her courage in standing her ground and arguing her case is transforming for her and for Jesus. She makes him see things from a new perspective and he changes his mind, saying to her:

‘For saying this, you may go home happy: the devil has gone of of your daughter.’

It’s left me reflecting on how we respond to people who we perceive as “other”. Our temptation is generally to turn away, to block them or disregard their opinions and experience. This gospel suggests another way, that we take the time to bridge the gap between us, to listen to their perspective, and to risk allowing that to change us.

Where are you being challenged to listen to another’s perspective today?

Benedictine Spirituality Christ Gospel Prayer Presentation Scripture Uncategorized

Bearers of Light

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Apologies for the lateness of this post. I’ve been having technical issues. Today we’re celebrating the feast of the Presentation. It strikes me as a feast that looks both backwards and forwards. Its liturgy resonates very much with the Christmas liturgy, as we revisit Christmas hymns and antiphons. Yet, it also compels us to look forward to the new beginning heralded by the coming of the Messiah. Like Simeon and Anna, we are called to draw hope from our heritage and move forward into the unknown bearing the light of Christ for our world and our times. The second reading last night at the vigil was from St Sophronius. Today I have found myself reflecting on these words:

Let us all go together bright with the light to welcome with old Simeon that everlasting shining light. Rejoicing with him in our souls, let us sing a hymn to the Begetter and Father of the light, who has sent the true light and driven away the darkness and made us all shine with that light.”

It’s not the first time I’ve reflected on them, and each time I revisit them they remind me that, in these last dark, cold days of winter we are called to be bearers of the light of Christ to each other and to the world. This year I’m very aware of the many darknesses that the world faces. It can feel overwhelming and we can easily feel hopeless.

Yet the opposite is true. In these dark times it’s even more important that we become bearers of that light for our suffering world. As well as looking back to the coming of the Light at Christmas I find myself looking forward through the pain and suffering of these times to the new light and life that Easter promises, trusting that, however small the light may sometimes feel, it will not be overcome.

As we celebrate the feast of the Presentation where is Christ calling you to be his light bearer today?


Having a break

I will be taking a break from blogging until the end of January. Looking forward to starting again then.
Benedictine Spirituality Christ Christmastide Gospel Holy Spirit John the Baptist Lectio Divina Scripture

Called to life and hope

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Today we’re celebrating the Baptism of the Lord, the feast that brings the Christmas season to an end. As it celebrates the first public appearance of Jesus it refocuses our attention in a new way. The humility and openness of John the Baptist turns our attention towards Jesus:

“Someone is following me, someone who is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to undo the strap of his sandals.”

His action takes an already growing sense of expectancy in the crowd and points it towards its source and hope. He shows us the one we are to follow, to imitate, to grow into. As she reflects on Mark’s account Sr Verna Holyhead writes:

“This gospel is a declaration of who Jesus is to Mark’s church, a statement of their self-understanding as disciples of the new messianic times who are sons and daughters of the Father because they are baptised into the Spirit-filled and Beloved Son, and commissioned to serve in his name.”

Her words remind me that we, like those first disciples, are called to reflect on who Christ is for us today. Like the early Church we will struggle to understand and accept the implications of that for our lives. The reflection will necessarily challenge us. It will lead us through deep and tumultuous waters as we struggle to let go of all that would prevent us from embracing the new life Christ offers

Jesus, the beloved and favoured one, has come to challenge and transform us with his costly gift of love. As he rises from the waters of his baptism he calls us to follow him through it’s depths into the light of life and hope.

How is Christ calling you to follow him today?

Benedictine Spirituality Christ Christmastide Gospel Lectio Divina Scripture Uncategorized

Delights and challenges.

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Today we’re celebrating the feast of Epiphany. Together with the Baptism and the wedding at Cana it’s part of a trio of epiphanies that recognise Jesus as the promised Messiah, the Son of God. It’s full of awe, wonder and joy. Yet there’s another side to it. There’s challenge, threat and uncertainty there too. The magi find the Christ after a hard, and sometimes dangerous journey that’s summed up in T. S. Eliot’s poem, “The journey of the Magi”:

“A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.”

Their journey brings them joy and delight as the gospel makes clear:

“The sight of the star filled them with delight, and going into the house they saw the child and his mother Mary, and falling to their knees did him homage.”

Yet that doesn’t cancel out the difficulty, challenge, suffering and hardship, they face but manifests in the midst of all those hard realities of life. Generally, I think we’d prefer that joy and delight would cancel the hardship, but it is just possible that, by not doing so, the gospel offers us a greater hope and a greater joy.

This way it takes account of the hardships and suffering we all live with, and tells us that it’s in the midst of those that we’ll discover the joy the Magi followed the star to discover. In our challenging and uncertain times that seems to me to increase the hope by acknowledging the hardship and telling us that however hard our journey we can discover and delight in the presence of Christ who chooses to dwell in our midst.

Where is Christ inviting you to delight in his presence in your life this Epiphany?