Benedictine Spirituality Christ Cross Lectio Divina Scripture Uncategorized

The challenge of hope.

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Today’s first reading, from the prophet Isaiah, is full of promise and hope. It presents an image all the peoples of the earth been welcomed by God to a banquet on God’s holy Mountain. It is a promise of salvation and new life that is at odds with our current reality as we watch people’s lives torn apart by war and violence once again. I’m reflecting especially on these words:

“On this mountain God will remove the mourning veil covering all peoples, and the shroud enveloping all nations, God will destroy Death for ever. The Lord will wipe away the tears from every cheek; he will take away the people’s shame everywhere on earth.”

It’s easy to be hopeful when life seems safe and secure. It’s much harder to hope when we are aware of how precarious life is. Isaiah was writing to people who knew what it was to lose all hope, people who had been exiled and lost everything they held dear. Through centuries of seeming hopelessness his words kept their hope alive. These words, so full of hope, touch us all deeply because we all carry pain that feels inconsolable.

In this hard week they also bring to mind all those who are mourning the loss of homes, livelihoods, communities and loved ones. In the face of such suffering the passage takes on a new depth and meaning. This beautiful passage offers us a challenge as well as an invitation. We are also called to hope in that promise even in those times when life seems utterly hopeless.

Where is Christ calling you to hope in your dark times?

Benedictine Spirituality Christ Cross Gospel Lectio Divina Scripture Uncategorized

Towards Jerusalem

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In today’s gospel Jesus makes clear to his disciples that he is heading towards Jerusalem and suffering. His words are stark and challenging. Once again I find myself sympathising with Peter’s response. He says to him:

“Heaven preserve you, Lord;… This must not happen to you.”

Peter rushes to make things better, to help Jesus Jesus avoid the suffering. We often feel like that when we encounter a loved one in pain. Our first instinct is to do whatever we can to remove the pain, to “make everything better”. We do this even when we know from experience it is not necessarily the best or most helpful way.

Jesus points out that God’s way is different. God calls us not to avoid the necessary suffering life brings, but to accept it:

“Those who want to be followers of mine must renounce themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their lives will lose them; but those who lose their lives for my sake will find it.”

We can all identify with the suffering this passage talks about. Jesus is not glorifying suffering, or suggesting that we should deliberately seek or hang onto it when it comes. Instead, he suggests that in embracing the suffering that comes our way we move through into the new life that he promises.

The cross is a vital part of our faith, that we all experience in some form. But it is not the point of the gospel, or the end of the Christian story. Sometimes it is more challenging to trust and embrace that hope of new life than it is to accept the suffering of the cross.

Where is Christ inviting you find the hope of new life in the sufferings you face?

Benedictine Spirituality Christ Cross Gospel Lectio Divina Scripture Uncategorized

Following Christ

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In today’s gospel Jesus is brutally honest with his disciples about the cost of following him. It will include suffering, loss, challenge and conflict. While this is true of any human life Jesus is making it clear to his disciples that following him will not help them to avoid the suffering of life. On the contrary, he calls them to accept that suffering willingly, refusing to give into the temptations of avoidance and grumbling which can be so soul destroying. He says to them:

“Those who do not take up their cross and follow in my footsteps are not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it; those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

While his words are a challenge they also carry hope and promise. He challenges us to look honestly at the tactics we use to numb our pain instead of accepting it as part of life and as something we can, by the grace of God, grow through towards new life. Knowing human suffering from personal experience he offers us the hope of completely understanding our suffering, however unlikely that might sometimes appear.

He promises us that whatever sufferings we face in life he will be there with us, a compassionate, loving presence in even the darkest of times. Neither the hope nor the promise will remove the sufferings they offer a framework to encourage us to face them.

What cross is Christ calling you to take up today?

Benedictine Spirituality Christ Cross Eastertide Eucharist Gospel Lectio Divina Monastic Life Prayer Prophetic voices Resurrection Scripture Uncategorized

Believing in Christ

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Reflecting on today’s gospel I’m struck by these words:

“Jesus said to the crowd: ‘I Am the bread of life. Those who come to me will never be hungry; those who believes in me will never thirst.’”

His words resonate because they take me back to our most basic needs, the things we need to to sustain life. Without the basic necessities of food and water we cannot live. Jesus is not speaking of our physical needs in this case. Instead, he reminds us that that our spiritual needs are as basic and as intrinsic to human flourishing as our physical needs are. To be full alive we need to have both spiritual and physical needs met. We cannot live well if one or the other is not lacking.

Living through a cost-of-living crisis that leaves so many people unable to feed their families adequately or to heat their homes only increases the impact of his words. It’s impossible to hear Jesus speak of hunger and thirst without thinking of those in our society who don’t have enough to eat. In those circumstances I can’t help but feel that his words should cause us some discomfort.

The new life the risen Christ offers us necessarily turns us back towards those who have less than we do. In inviting us to come to him Jesus also challenges us us to do everything in our power to ensure that we strive for more equitable society where everyone can have their basic needs met with dignity and respect.

Where is the risen Christ challenging you to do everything you can to meet the needs of others today?

Benedictine Spirituality Cross Divine Office Holy Saturday Holy Week Lectio Divina Monastic Life Prayer Rule of St Benedict Scripture Uncategorized

Kindness and Emptiness

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There is always an element of relief in arriving at Holy Saturday, if only because we’ve moved through the high drama of Good Friday to a quieter, more reflective space. People often talk of Holy Saturday as a “tomb day”, a time to sit with the emptiness that follows death, to allow the events of Good Friday to sink in. I recognise the yearning for that and its wisdom yet, it’s not an experience I recognise from monastic life.

In practice for many of us Holy Saturday is very much a hybrid day, we are aware of its emptiness, the mourning and the uncertainty. We also have to acknowledge that the Easter vigil is fast approaching and that Easter liturgies and treats do not plan themselves. So it is also a day of preparation and anticipation that can be very busy.

As we move through this hybrid day I’m reflecting on these words from the lamentations of the prophet Jeremiah from this morning’s Office of Readings:

“The favours of the Lord are not all past, nor his kindnesses exhausted; every morning they are renewed: great is his faithfulness. My portion is with the Lord says my soul, and so I will hope in him.”

Even in the midst of his lamentation Jeremiah is able to acknowledge the kindness and faithfulness of God, and to put his hope in that. His words speak to me of the hybrid reality of the day. It seems to me that Holy Saturday calls us to imitate God’s kindness to others as we get on with the many preparations for Easter, and to ourselves as we seek small moments of quiet during the day.

As we celebrate Holy Saturday where are you aware of the Lord renewing your capacity for kindness?

Benedictine Spirituality Christ Cross Divine Office Gospel Holy Saturday Holy Week Lectio Divina Monastic Life Prayer Scripture Uncategorized

Grief and hope…

A Holy Saturday reel based on the Byzantine liturgy. I love that it’s full of hope and allows space for grieving…

Where do you need to find space for grieving and hoping this Holy Saturday?

Benedictine Spirituality Christ Cross Divine Office Good Friday Gospel Holy Week Lectio Divina Scripture Triduum Uncategorized

Good Friday, day of second chances

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This week I’ve been listening to Amy Jill Levine’s courses on Holy Week and the Good Friday. One of the things she highlighted is how often Jesus offered people a second chance, Zacchaeus, all those tax collectors and sinners, the woman taken in adultery come to mind and there are many more.

It has an added significance as we revisit the passion, and see the second chance offered to those who denied and betrayed him, to those who sat on the side lines or runaway, or who only found the courage to come to him under the cover of darkness.

As we come to Good Friday, facing the stark reality of the Cross, it can feel like the time for second chances has run out. As we commemorate the crucified Christ it can seem as though we have reached the end of the story, and that our hopes are ending in death, disgrace, betrayal and failure. On Good Friday we begin Lauds by singing these verses from the Byzantine liturgy:

“Life-giving Lord, it is right to sing your praise, for your hands were stretched out on the Cross, and so you destroyed the power of death.”

We start Good Friday by acknowledging Christ as our “Life-giving Lord”, a powerful reminder that the Cross is not the end of the story, but a gateway to new life. The Cross is an essential part of our faith, we need to face it, acknowledging the suffering and death it represents. And, we need to accept the second chance it offers us with it’s promise of new life.

What second chance is Christ offering you this Good Friday?

Benedictine Spirituality Christ Cross Foot washing Gospel Lectio Divina Lent Scripture Triduum Uncategorized

The light of Love

Image ©Turvey Abbey

All week we’ve watched tension, uncertainty and fear growing around Jesus and his disciples with the Gospels getting increasingly dark as we’ve journeyed through Holy Week. I often think of the gospel for this evenings mass of the Last Supper as a bright spot in the midst of that darkness.

As he gathers with his disciples to celebrate the Passover Jesus is fully aware that his hour has come. He knows that he is about to be betrayed and that he will soon be facing a brutal and humiliating death. In the midst of that darkness he chooses to wash the feet of his disciples in saying to them:

“If I, then, the Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you should wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you.”

Jesus’s action takes us back to Mary anointing his feet and we can almost smell the scent permeating the air again. Both gestures treat the bodies of others with respect, honour and compassion. Later we will watch with horror. Later we will watch with horror as Jesus’ body is battered and tortured.

It doesn’t take away the darkness of fear, the or the suffering he is about to undergo, it won’t take away the brutality of crucifixion. It does show us that love cannot be overcome or destroyed whatever we face. It challenges us to discover ways that we can bring the light of that love into the dark spaces of our world today.

Where are you being called to carry the light of Christ love to those around you today?

Benedictine Spirituality Christ Cross Gospel Holy Week Lectio Divina Lent Scripture Uncategorized

Challenged , yet loved.

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Whenever tragedy strikes our instinct is to look for reasons why this has happened. While this might be a necessary process for us it can sometimes be less than helpful. I’m struck by how often it can lead us to be judgemental and blaming of others. We see something of this in today’s gospel as we are brought face-to-face with Judas, the disciple who who betrayed Jesus, handing him over for thirty pieces of silver.

Judas is often portrayed as a scapegoat, everything that subsequently happens is blamed on his betrayal. Yet, if we read the Gospels carefully we see that Judas is part of a bigger picture. Jesus makes that clear as he says:

“The Son of Man is going to his fate, as the Scriptures say he will…”

In “Entering the Passion, a beginner’s guide to Holy Week.” Amy-Jill Levine suggests that we read the passion narratives with compassion. While we can do that with Peter, and the other disciples, it seems much harder to apply to Judas. Judas presents us with a challenge. He compels us us reflect on whether we’ve ever compelled others to act in a particular way to meet our own needs.

He challenges us to ask ourselves, where we have let others down or felt unworthy and unresponsive to the redemptive love God offers us. The passion narratives show us both the best and the worst that we are capable of. Today’s gospel requires that we acknowledge the worst we can be, and then turn back to the God who is waiting to heal and redeem us.

Where are you being challenged to open yourself to the redemptive love of God today?

Benedictine Spirituality Christ Cross Gospel Holy Week Lectio Divina Lent Prayer Rule of St Benedict Scripture Uncategorized

Into the Father’s hands.

“The Son of man alone yet trusting goes.
His life into his Father’s hands commends.”

One of the things that holds the themes of Holy Week together for me is our Lauds hymn. Each day it its own verse that reflects a particular aspect of the Salvation narrative that we’re celebrating through this great and challenging week.

These are combined with a refrain that’s repeated each day, linking the themes and drawing them together across the days.

Today’s theme is trust. Alone, betrayed and deserted by those who love him Jesus hands himself over to the Father in complete trust. In stressful times I tend towards micromanagement, wanting to control and fix everything myself. So I find Jesus’ capacity to abandon himself completely to God’s will breath taking and challenging. It reminds me that I am also called to surrender and to put myself and my concerns into God’s hands rather than trying to fix everything myself.

Where are you called to surrender your life over to God this Holy Week?