Benedictine Spirituality Gospel Monastic Life Prophetic voices Scripture Uncategorized

With gentle strength

Photo by Rose Erkul on Unsplash

Today I’m reflecting the prophecy from Isaiah that Matthew quotes in today’s gospel. It presents an image of the Messiah who comes to save the nations. It’s an image of strength, gentleness and integrity:

“He will not brawl or shout, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets. He will not break the crushed reed, nor put out the smouldering wick till he has led the truth to victory: in his name the nations will put their hope.”

Every time we hear this passage I’m touched by its gentle strength. It promises a leader who doesn’t have to brag or boast, someone who doesn’t get ahead by trampling on others or pushing them aside. It describes a leader who responds with compassion and tenderness to those in need. It’s very appropriate that Matthew quotes this passage about Jesus after he has spent his time curing those who followed him despite being at personal risk from the plotting of his enemies. He presents a model of leadership that can put his own concerns aside for the sake of others, and who responds to their vulnerability with kindness.

It’s a very countercultural image, it turns our expectations of leadership upside down. It raises questions for us both when we find ourselves in a position of leadership and when we are faced with the prospect of choosing a leader. I find myself wondering how different our lives could be if we had this model of leadership at the forefront of our minds when we make those choices.

What gives you the courage to hope in Christ in these challenging times?

Benedictine Spirituality Prophetic voices Scripture Uncategorized

Reins of kindness and leading strings of love

Image by SplitShire from Pixabay

For most of this week our first readings have been from the prophet Hosea. I found them especially resonant in the light of the unfolding political crisis. Hosea presents a picture of a nation in turmoil, a people of divided heart who have turned away from God, broken the covenant and wandered far from the promise that give them life. It’s a bleak picture of a broken society that seems utterly hopeless, and it’s easy to see that mirrored in our own times.

Yet Hosea balances this scenario with an offer of hope. In response to the faithlessness of the people we’re shown a loving God who reaches out with healing, compassion and kindness. God’s response their unfaithfulness is to remind them that they are created by and for love:

“I led them with reins of kindness, with leading strings of love. I was like someone who lifts an infant close against his cheeks; stooping down to them I gave them their food.”

It’s one of the most tender and loving images in Scripture. It doesn’t deny their sin, or say it’s acceptable. Instead it offers an alternative, offering them a way back to the presence of the God who can heal their brokenness and teach them to act with kindness and compassion.

Reflecting on this I find myself wondering how different our public discourse might be if we remembered that each one of us is held in being by this loving and tender God. I wonder if that thought would enable us to treat each other with kindness and compassion even when we fundamentally disagree.

How is God calling you to respond with kindness and compassion in challenging situations?

Prayer Prophetic voices Scripture Uncategorized

Rooted in the Promise

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

I’m reflecting on these words from today’s first reading, from the prophet Amos:

“I mean to restore the fortunes of my people… I will plant them in their own country, never to be rooted up again out of the land I have given them.”

They are words full of promise spoken to people who have have lost everything they held dear. Family, friends, homes and communities have been destroyed, uprooted and scattered. Everything they believed to be secure and certain has been dislodged, and they are left destitute.

Into their desperate plight Amos’ words must have brought some comfort. He reminded them that however bleak their situation the God of the covenant would be with them, supporting and sustaining them in all that they faced. Whatever they’ve been through God promises to bring them home safely to dwell in God’s presence.

It seems to me these times when the challenges and suffering we face can feel so overwhelming this is also an important message for us. However bleak things appear the God of love offers the same promise and hope to our situation as he did in Amos’ time. Even in our fragmented, damaged world God offers us a safe home, where our hearts can be rooted and held in God’s love.

In your challenging times what helps you to stay rooted in God’s love?

Benedictine Spirituality Gospel John the Baptist Prophetic voices Saints Uncategorized

Called to the margins

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Today we’re celebrating the birthday of St John the Baptist. From his very beginnings John is marginal, he marks the boundaries between the Old Testament and the new Testament. He calls us to look back to the rich tradition of the old Testament with its covenant and promise, and forward to the new hope offered by the coming of Christ. While being on the margins brings insight, wisdom and the clarity of view that those in more central positions can miss, it is an uncomfortable and often dangerous position.

Those on the margins are often ignored, misunderstood or even despised. They make us feel uncomfortable or even threatened. John the Baptist knew that all too well. Reflecting on this I was struck by these words from the hymn we sang at last night’s vigil:

“How shall we hear the Word if we despise the voice…”

They carry something of the urgency of John’s original message. They remind me that the voices that call us to be open to the transforming power of the Word are not necessarily ones we are comfortable with. If we we want to hear the Word in our times we have to turn towards the voices of those on the margins today. We have to ask ourselves whose voices are despised, silenced, ignored. Then, responding to John’s instruction, we have to listen to them and allow them to point us towards Christ.

Where are you being to hear the Word from challenging directions today?

Benedictine Spirituality Eastertide Gospel Lectio Divina Prayer Prophetic voices Saints Scripture Truth Uncategorized

Seekers of Truth

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Today, on the feast of St Bede the Venerable, these words from the gospel are running through my mind:

“When the Spirit of truth comes you will be led to the complete truth.”

In a world awash with fake news it’s very easy to become jaded about the very idea of truth. It can be tempting to build a protective wall around ourselves, to become mistrustful in order to avoid being misled, hurt or betrayed.

The gospel suggests a different path. Jesus offers us the Spirit to lead us to a truth that we can truly trust. Even in these challenging times when trust is difficult, the truth Jesus offers can sustain us and lead us to new life.

St Bede, a monk from the north-east of England also lived in challenging and dark times. He knew danger, uncertainty, suffering and the fragility of life. Through it all he was able to keep focused on his pursuit of truth through his study, writing and teaching. None of these activities were ends in themselves. Important as they were, they were underpinned by the seeking of God which was the heart of his life as a monk. Bede’s life shines out as a beacon of hope and integrity both to his own time and to ours.

If, like him, we can give our full attention to seeking the truth Christ offers we can become beacons of light in the darkness of the times we live in.

Where is the Spirit leading you to give your attention to seeking truth this Eastertide?

Eastertide Lectio Divina Monastic Life Prayer Prophetic voices Saints Truth Uncategorized

Good beyond all good.

Photo by Brigitte Tohm on Unsplash

Earlier this week we celebrated the feast of St Catherine of Siena, Doctor of the Church. A third order Dominican she was a woman of both action and prayer. She took a public role in the life of the church, speaking out against schism, promoting unity and advocating for clerical reform. These words from her dialogue on Divine Revelation touched me:

“By your light you enlighten our minds… In this light I know you and I picture you to myself as the supreme good, the good beyond all good… Beauty beyond all beauty, wisdom beyond all wisdom. You are the food of angels, who gave yourself to us in the fire of your love.”

Her public activity was nourished and sustained by the prayer that kept her connected to the God who is the supreme good. It was because she drew her strength from the fire of God’s love that she gained the courage to speak truth to those in authority.

She speaks to me especially powerfully this year when our world seems so consumed by cruelty and suffering. In such times it can be hard to see the goodness, beauty and wisdom of God in our lives. It’s easy to get discouraged, to feel swamped by sufferings we can’t alleviate. We can be drawn to despair which stops us from acting at all or we can rush in, attempting to fix everything, ending up burnt out and exhausted.

St Catherine’s example suggests an alternative. We could begin by building up a prayer life that connects us to the fire of God’s love in a way that nourishes and sustains us in all of our actions and all that we are called to face.

How does the fire of God’s love nourish you in all that you face in life?

Benedictine Spirituality Cross Good Friday Gospel Holy Week Lectio Divina Lent Prophetic voices Scripture Triduum Uncategorized

Christ our Life

Image ©Turvey Abbey

At Office of Readings on Good Friday we sing the Lamentations of the Jeremiah. This morning I was struck by their opening lines:

“All of you who pass this way, look and see,
is any sorrow like the sorrow that afflicts me?”

It seems the perfect verse for this Good Friday that we come to bearing the overwhelming sufferings of the pandemic and of the war in Ukraine. It’s a suffering that desperately needs acknowledging, and the cross is the only place that can hold it.

Yet, in Lauds I found the Lamentations were given a new and broader perspective by these verses from the Byzantine liturgy:

“How can you die, Christ our Life?
How can you lie in the tomb?
By your death you will destroy the power of death,
And you will raise the dead from their tombs.”

They Echo the heart breaking sorrow of Jeremiah, giving us a place to acknowledge our own heartbreak and suffering. Yet, they also carry us beyond that. They point out that our faith doesn’t stop at the cross. The cruel suffering that the cross represents is a staging post on our journey to new life in the resurrection. They remind us that the Christ who lay in the tomb is already risen. He is with us in the sufferings and uncertainties of our times and will lead us through that to the new life that his resurrection promises.

As we bring our sorrows before the cross this Good Friday where are you inspired by the hope of the new life Christ promises?

Benedictine Spirituality Holy Week Lectio Divina Lent Monastic Life Prophetic voices Scripture Uncategorized

Transforming mercy

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Today I’m reflecting on the first reading from the prophet Ezekiel. At first glance it presents a bleak picture. The people of Israel are scattered, they’ve betrayed themselves, their covenant with God and become lost in sin and idolatry. It seems a hopeless situation, one that’s all too easy to identify with in the context of our own challenging and painful times.

Yet, for all this bleakness the passages not a hopeless one. Ezekiel tells us that God’s response to the betrayal is one of mercy, love and compassion. In the face of the betrayal and sin of the people God responds with the promise of a new covenant, a covenant of peace that will bring them back to live in God’s presence, surrounded by God’s love:

“I shall make a covenant of peace with them, an eternal covenant with them. I shall settle my sanctuary among them for ever. I shall make my home above them; I will be their God and they shall be my people.”

As we see the suffering unleashed in so many places by war, poverty and injustice it seems to me that we desperately need to find ways of turning back again that God of love and mercy. We need to discover the life changing reality of that mercy in our personal and communal lives. Challenging as it is, a deep and new awareness of our need for mercy is a good place to enter Holy Week.

As we move into Holy week where do you most need God’s transforming mercy in your life?

Benedictine Spirituality Lectio Divina Lent Prophetic voices Scripture Uncategorized

Promise and hope

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For the past few days I’ve been reflecting on a passage from the prophet Isaiah. God has stepped into the lives of the suffering people just at the moment they felt most abandoned saying:

“Shout for joy, you heavens; exalt you earth. You mountains break into happy cries! For the Lord consoles the people and takes pity on those who are afflicted.”

It’s a passage full of hope and promise. As I read it I can almost feel the relief of the people as they are led to springs of water by the God who loves them. We are living in times of unimaginable suffering, wherever we look we see the suffering caused by war, by pandemic and by severe economic hardship. In those circumstances it can be hard for us to trust that the promise Isaiah describes is for us today as well as for past generations.

It seems to me that it’s precisely in dark times like these that we need to believe that promise and to expect and trust in its fulfilment. As I reflected on this I was drawn to these words from one of our Lent hymns:

“Through death and darkness let us trust,
God’s mercy always holds us.
His Word and Spirit light our path
Till endless light enfolds us.”

These words remind me that whatever darkness and suffering we face today God is with us, holding us and leading us in the ways of light and life.

Where are you aware of being held by God’s love in your dark times?

Benedictine Spirituality Lectio Divina Lent Monastic Life Prophetic voices Saints Uncategorized

Called to be kind

Photo by Camille Brodard on

This morning our second reading was from the writings of St Gregory Nazianzen. These words have stayed with me for the rest of the day:

“Nothing must come between your intention and your act of kindness. Kindness is the only thing which does not admit of delay.”

His words reminded me of something I took away from an On Being podcast. It was along the lines of kindness being a virtue we could all manage as it consists of simple, small acts that we can perform in the course of daily life. Kindness often goes much further than we expect. Even the smallest acts of kindness can have a huge impact on the people who receive them, and on those who offer them.

In many ways we don’t have to try to be kind. Our impulse to kindness is instinctive; it often kicks in automatically when we see someone in need. But, as St Gregory points out, that instinctive impulse doesn’t always carry through into action. So many things can turn us away from following that initial call through into those actions that ripple out from small and unassuming beginnings to lighten burdens and change lives.

It seems to me that Lent is an especially good time to reflect on the call to kindness and to what might delay us from turning that impulse into action.

Where are you called to transform your impulse to kindness into practical action today?