Baptism Benedictine Spirituality Christmastide Gospel John the Baptist Lectio Divina Scripture Uncategorized

Favoured and Beloved

Photo by Biel Morro on Unsplash

Today Christmastide comes to an end with the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord. It’s a feast full of the promise of new life. It takes us back to our beginning, recalling creation when God’s spirit, hovering over the waters, called new life out of the the swirling chaos:

“As soon as Jesus was baptised he came up from the water, and suddenly the heavens opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming down on him. And a voice spoke from heaven, ‘this is my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on him.’”

It doesn’t take more than a quick glance at the news to recognise that we are living in chaotic times. That is stressful and unsettling, so this reminder that it was out of the chaos that God called us into being is consoling and encouraging.

It also calls to mind another, more personal beginning. Through our baptism in Christ each of us has been called to become a new creation, to blossom into new life in Christ. Through the gift of this baptism we have become favoured and beloved daughters and sons of God. This certainty can give us the courage and hope living away that allow our baptismal promises to shape our lives and our interactions with one another.

As we start a new year it’s worthwhile to take some time to reflect on these beginnings founded on love and hope. Time reflecting on our baptismal promises and how they might shape our life seems to me to be time well spent as we make our way through these challenging times.

As we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord how might your baptismal promises shape your daily life?

Benedictine Spirituality Christmastide Divine Office Gospel Lectio Divina Scripture Uncategorized

Led by a star

Image © Turvey Abbey

Today as we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany I’ve been struck by how so many many of this week’s Gospels have been about seeking. Shepherds, priests, Levites and John’s disciples are all very clearly looking for something that’s important enough to disrupt their daily routine to find.

This sense of seeking is most clearly seen in the Magi. They felt compelled to set out on a dangerous and uncertain journey, to seek out and pay homage to “the infant King of the Jews”. The risk they were prepared to take is summed up beautifully by TS Eliot in his 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.”

It seems to me that what kept them going on that hard, cold journey was the hope that the birth of the Messiah would bring to the world. In the reality of the world they lived in that hope would have seemed at best uncertain, that is certainly the impression that their encounter with Herod would have given them. Yet they journeyed until:

“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.”

In our uncertain times their perseverance in that hard journey encourage us to keep the glimmers hope alive in our lives however small they might seem. They help us to keep seeking the presence of Emmanuel, Christ-with-us, in the midst of our complex and messy 21st century lives.

As we celebrate Epiphany how do you allow your seeking Christ to disrupt your daily life?

Benedictine Spirituality Christmastide Gospel Lectio Divina Prayer Scripture Uncategorized

Pondering and Treasuring

Icon by Sr Esther, Turvey Abbey

Since I was a child I’ve been fascinated by Mary’s pondering. I always wanted to know what she was pondering, and what treasures she was holding in her heart. If I’m honest, I would still like to know. So today, as we begin a new year with all the hopes and uncertainties that entails I’m reflecting on these words from today’s gospel:

“As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart.”

I imagine that all that Mary faced since the annunciation would have left her with much to ponder. Some of that pondering would have been life-giving, encouraging and hopeful, treasures to help her face whatever the future held. As a young woman, pregnant in unusual circumstances, some of her pondering must touched on the painful, hurtful and judgemental, not treasures to carry into the future, but burdens be laid down.

Mary’s wisdom is that, in the midst of the challenging and uncertainty she faced, she was able to take the time to reflect on what she needed to let go in order to make space for the treasures that would sustain her. This makes her an excellent model for us as we start the New Year. A year of hardships and challenges that has left us with much to ponder. We have to ask ourselves where we discover the hidden treasures in those challenges, and what we have to put down in order to make space for them.

As we move into 2023 what treasures are you carrying in your heart?

Benedictine Spirituality Christmastide Gospel Lectio Divina Monastic Life Prophetic voices Scripture Uncategorized

Into the unknown: Some thoughts on New Year’s Eve

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The last day of the year always seems to me a time for pausing. It’s a time to look back over the past year before we move forward into the unknown territory of the New Year. It’s a time for discerning what we need to take forward with us and what we need to leave behind.

As I look back over 2022 it seems as if the world stage has been overwhelmed by challenge, uncertainty and anxiety. At times it has felt like we were lurching from one crisis to another, and we face the New Year knowing that many of those have yet to be resolved.

In such circumstances it’s very tempting to have be gloomy, it can feel hard, and even dangerous, to hope in such situations. As I reflected on this I’ve been struck by today’s gospel. Writing from his own challenging and uncertain times John reminds us of the source of our hope:

“The Word was made flesh, he lived among us, and we saw his glory, the glory that is his as the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.”

His words take me back to the the heart of Christmas, Christ’s coming with light and truth into the messiness of our world. Even in these dark and uncertain times the light of Christ shines in the darkness, offering us hope and inviting us to trust.

If I look back honestly at this challenging year I find that there are glimmers of light in the midst of the challenges. This presents a new challenge, to actively seek the glimmers of grace and truth that Christ brings however unlikely the circumstances may seem.

As we prepare to enter a new year what gives you the courage to seek the glimmers of Christ’s presence in your life?

Benedictine Spirituality Christmastide Divine Office Gospel Lectio Divina Saints Scripture Uncategorized

Seeds of love

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The Christmas octave is one of the most liturgically challenging times of year. It feels like we’ve hardly begun to celebrate the great mystery of the Incarnation before we are rushed into celebrating one feast on top of another. St Stephen, St John, Holy Innocents and, (in Northampton diocese) St Thomas Beckett follow one on the other. At best it can feel somewhat unfocused.

This year I found a helpful focus in an unexpected place. Yesterday we celebrated the feast of St John the Evangelist and I was touched by the second reading, from the writings of St John Henry Newman. In his parochial and plain sermons, he tells us that Christian love is never an abstract concept, only having meaning when practised in the daily interactions of life:

“By trying to love our relations and friends, by submitting to their wishes, though contrary to our own, by bearing with their infirmities, by overcoming their occasional waywardness by kindness, by dwelling on their excellences, and trying to copy them, thus it is that we form in our hearts that root of charity, which, though small at first, may, like the mustard seed, at last even overshadow the earth.”

His words take me back to the heart of the Incarnation. It’s the Love that St John describes, who comes to show us how become people of love in the midst of all the messiness and challenge of daily life. Practising that love in the ordinary encounters of our life may seem small and insignificant in the face of the challenges our world faces. But those small acts of love have the power to grow like the mustard seed, changing life, lightening burdens and bringing hope.

As we work our way through the Christmas Octave how is love taking root in your heart?

Benedictine Spirituality Christmastide Gospel Lectio Divina Presentation Prophetic voices Scripture Uncategorized

Light in the shadows

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As we celebrate the feast of the Presentation I’m finding myself drawn to the prophetess Anna. She captures something of the essence of this feast which always seems to me to be a combination of shadow and light. In many ways Anna is a very shadowy figure. An older woman and a widow it’s easy to see how she might be overlooked, pushed into the background by people with more importance or louder voices. Yet that’s not the picture Luke paints for us.

She is a woman grounded in the faith of her people, a prophetess who has spent her life in the Temple worshipping and praising God. Like Simeon she recognises that the child being presented is no ordinary child, but the long awaited Messiah:

“She came up just at that moment and began to praise God; and to speak about the child to all who looked forward to the deliverance of Jerusalem.”

Far from a shadowy figure Luke presents a wise woman, who is able to recognise and proclaim the presence of God with confidence. She is no stranger to suffering and loss, having experienced both in her long life. She knew what it meant to keep on hoping even when hope seemed lost in the long shadows of hopelessness. It is out of these shadowy and sometimes painful experiences that she is able to recognise the presence of Christ, the promise light of the world in the most unlikely of circumstances.

As we celebrate the feast of the Presentation how does the light of Christ break through the shadows in your life?

Baptism Benedictine Spirituality Christmastide Gospel Lectio Divina Scripture Uncategorized

The call of the Spirit

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Today we’re celebrating the feast of 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. Reflecting on the Luke’s account Sr Verna Holyhead writes:

“It is Jesus’ prayer that tears open the heavens for the descent of the Holy Spirit and the revelation of his true identity that acclaims him as the Beloved Son on whom God’s favour rests. It is the same for us…At prayer we struggle to hear what God is calling us to be, to know who we are in our deepest truth, at the still point where the Spirit has descended into our depths and anointed us for mission.”

Her words suggest that our following of Christ begins with prayer, with the listening “with the ear of the heart” that St Benedict calls us to. It is in prayer that we discover who we truly are and can respond to the life changing call of the Spirit.

What enables you to open the ear of your heart to the God who calls you into new life?

Benedictine Spirituality Christmastide Epiphany Gospel Lectio Divina Scripture Uncategorized

Touched by wonder

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Today we’re celebrating the feast of the Epiphany. It’s beautiful story of the three kings difficult and dangerous journey gives us one last chance to allow the wonder and mystery of the nativity to touch our hearts before we return to “normal” life.

Like so many of our feasts it can get smothered by the practicalities and bustles of daily life. It can end up being no more than the day we pack away the Christmas decorations. If we’re able to take a little time to pause allow the wonder of the Christ child to touch us again it can give us the hope and courage we need to face life’s challenges. Today I’m reflecting on these words form one of our Christmastide hymns:

“Strange kings come riding, treasure laden,
Called from the East, a world unknown:
Let your dull hearts be touched to wonder,
Zion, city of God, his own.”

It captures the essence of Epiphany for me. The strange kings, bringing unexpected treasures and insights calls us to be open to welcoming Christ in the stranger and in the unexpected. But the words that resonate most are:

“Let your dull hearts be touched to wonder.”

It seems to me that the challenges and uncertainties of daily life can cause our hearts to become dull and heavy. That, in turn, makes it hard for us to reflect the light and wonder of Christ. Epiphany gives us a space to allow that wonder to lodge in our hearts and to shed light and hope in our lives.

What is touching your heart to wonder today?

Christmastide Gospel Lectio Divina Scripture Uncategorized

Pondering treasures.

Photo by Naganath Chiluveru on Unsplash

Every year on 1 January we celebrate the solemnity of Mary, the mother of God. I’m always struck Mary pondering the strange and marvellous events of the nativity:

“As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart.”

She reminds me that these dark days at the end of the year are a time for reflecting and pondering as well as celebrating. It seems to me that that gets easily forgotten in the rush and preparation that surrounds both Christmas and New Year.

Much as I enjoy all of the preparation and celebration I am aware that we also need still, quiet times to reflect on the year that has past. We need a still moment to look back and grieve for what we’ve lost and to give thanks for all we’ve received during the year. We need some space to think about the things that we’d like to carry forward, those we’d prefer to leave behind, and those we have no control over.

That seems to be especially important this year as we leave behind one challenging and hard year to face the prospect of more another that could be equally challenging and uncertain. Moving into a new year we will need those treasures stored in our hearts to give us courage and hope to accept its gifts and challenges.

What treasures will you carry with you into 2022?

Benedictine Spirituality Christmastide Lectio Divina Uncategorized

The inclusivity of Christmas

Image ©Turvey Abbey

A Christmas reflection from the archives:

At the vigil Office for the feast of the Nativity the 2nd reading is from the writings of Pope St Leo the Great. These words resonated with me and I’m still reflecting on them:

“Nobody is an outsider to this happiness. The same cause for joy is common to all, for as our Lord found nobody free from guilt when he came to bring an end to death and to sin, so he came with redemption for all. Let the saints rejoice, for they hasten to their crowns; let the sinners be filled with joy, for pardon is offered them; let the Gentiles be emboldened for they are called to life.”

As we face another unusual Christmas at the end of a second challenging of years it’s helpful to reflect on the complete inclusivity of the Incarnation. The pandemic has taught us much about the people pushed to the margins of our society, turned into outsiders for a whole variety of reasons. We’ve discovered how costly this can be, not just for the people who are pushed out, but for all of us, who are left impoverished by the lack of their presence. We’ve also found out that, in the crisis created by the pandemic it’s often been those people who have kept our society functioning and essential services going.

This brings me back to St Leo’s words and the very centre of the Christmas mystery. There are no outsiders in the generous love of the Incarnation. The coming of Christ is open to everyone, includes everyone. There can be all sorts of differences and disagreements, but no exclusivity, Christ’s coming into the world is for everyone…And that is the source of the joy that fills us at Christmas, even in these hard times.

What joy is Christ bringing into your life this Christmas?