Benedictine Spirituality Christ Gospel Lectio Divina Monastic Life Prayer Rule of St Benedict Scripture Uncategorized Vespers

Grounded in love and prayer.

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Today’s gospel is about learning to pray and forgiveness. As I reflected on it I was struck first of all by these words:

“Jesus was in a certain place praying.”

They reminded me that prayer is not an abstract activity, it is a practical activity grounded in the reality of our daily lives. Jesus is praying in a real, physical place in the midst of a particular web of relationships and events. It is in the midst of this complex reality that his disciples ask him to teach them to pray. The pattern of prayer he lays out for them grounds them even further in the reality of their daily lives, moving them from praise and thankfulness to forgiveness.

Forgiveness also needs to be grounded in the reality and context of our daily lives. St Benedict recognises this when he says that the Our Father should be said by the superior at Lauds and Vespers “because thorns of contention are likely to spring up“. He wants the community to be reminded regularly both of their need for forgiveness and their need to forgive others in the course of their daily life. The prayer Jesus teaches his disciples points us in the same direction, asking us both to accept and give forgiveness:

“Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive each one who is in debt to us.”

It seems to me that these two are intimately linked. We begin by acknowledging our own need for forgiveness. When we know ourselves held in the loving forgiveness of God then we are able to reach out and offer forgiveness to the people who have wounded us in the course of our daily interactions.

What enables you to ground your prayer in the reality of your daily life?

Advent Benedictine Spirituality Divine Office Lectio Divina Monastic Life O Antiphons Prayer Psalms Scripture Uncategorized Vespers

Come to save us.

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From the archives:

At vespers this evening we’ll sing the last of the O antiphons, O Emmanuel, “God-with-us. It always seems to me that it refocuses our attention on the meaning of Advent:

“Emmanuel, our king and lawgiver, for whom the peoples are waiting, and their saviour: Come to save us, Lord our God.”

It reminds us that all the longing and waiting of Advent will end with a promise fulfilled. At just the moment when the waiting might begin to feel like too much the antiphon calls us to keep hoping, keep looking for the light of Christ’s presence to come and transform our lives.

The times we’re living through make Advent seem longer and darker than it used to. The suffering caused by the aftermath of the pandemic, the war in Ukraine, the economic crisis all make it hard to find be hopeful. The struggle required to negotiate the challenges we face leaves little energy for hope or joy. Yet even in such dark uncertainty we’re called to wake up, to become aware of the presence of Emmanuel, God-with-us.

The antiphon has reminded me that however dark and uncertain our lives seem, whatever we are living through, and however well or not so well we handle that, Christ will come and dwell in our lives with us, bringing his healing, life giving light into whatever darkness we face.

Where do you need Christ’s presence with you this Advent?

Advent Benedictine Spirituality Gospel Prayer Psalms Scripture Uncategorized Vespers

King of the Nations

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From the archives for 22 December:

Today we sing the 6th O antiphon, O Rex Gentium, O King of the nations. It can be tempting to dismiss this antiphon because kingship can seem like an outdated or untrustworthy notion in our days. We live in times that are generally suspicious of leaders and authority figures can encourage us to distance ourselves from this challenging antiphon. But the antiphon, and the gospel, present a different view of kingship, leadership and power:

“O king of the nations, whom they long for, the cornerstone who made two into one: come and save humankind, whom you formed from the earth.”

The King of the antiphon, the one we long for is not like the earthly rulers we’re used to. He doesn’t abuse or misuse power, he doesn’t overwhelm or manipulate others. Instead he comes quietly, refusing to trample those who feel crushed by life. With gentleness and kindness he reaches out, offering hope and consolation to all who grieve and suffer.

He is the saviour, the servant king of the Gospels, come to dwell with his people. He washes the feet of his disciples, and cooks them breakfast by the lake of Tiberius. He doesn’t come with the pomp or power of earthly rulers. He comes gently, kindly, compassionately and courteously into our lives, offering us hope and solace in these painful and challenging times.

What do you long for from the coming of Christ the King in this challenging Advent?

Advent Benedictine Spirituality Divine Office Lectio Divina O Antiphons Uncategorized Vespers

Light in the darkness

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From the archives for 21 December, O rising sun:

Today we sing the 5th O antiphon, O Oriens, O rising sun. On the darkest day of the year we’re called to sing out the glory of the eternal light. As we face challenging and uncertain times the liturgy offers us this:

“O rising sun, glory of the eternal light, and sun of justice: come shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death.”

Coming on the shortest day, at the darkest point of the year, it tells us that however deep the darkness is it will not overpower us. It points us beyond death and darkness, proclaiming that they will not have the last word. It reminds us that seeds of light that are already quietly germinating in that deep darkness, preparing to bring us into new life.

It seems to me that it’s especially important to focus on the coming of the light in this dark time of year, and in these dark times we live in. Otherwise it might be too tempting to succumb to that darkness that can seem so all embracing.

Whatever we might be facing. However bleak things might feel or appear to us the light of Christ will come into our lives with it’s promise of new life and hope just as the sun will return and the days lengthen.

In these dark days where is the eternal light beginning to dawn in your life?

Advent Benedictine Spirituality Divine Office Lectio Divina Monastic Life O Antiphons Prayer Scripture Uncategorized Vespers

Longing to be free.

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Today at Vespers we sang the 4th O antiphon, O Clavis David, O key of David”:

“O key of David, and ruler of the house of Israel: who open and none can close: close and none may open: come bring out of prison the captive who sits in darkness and the shadow of death.”

It speaks of a deep and powerful yearning for freedom that lives within all of us. We each long for freedom from all that would restrict our growth and development. We desire the freedom to become the people we are called to be, to nurture the talents we’ve each been given. This yearning for freedom is deeply personal and individual, yet there is more to it that that. The past few years have taught us some hard lessons about freedom. The pandemic, the economic crisis, the worsening ecological situation all point to the fact that this freedom we desire can’t only be a personal, individual freedom.

It has also to be a communal freedom, a freedom that is willing to sacrifice individual freedoms for the common good. It has to be a freedom that is willing to put the needs of others before our own. In chapter 72 of the Rule St Benedict tells us that Christ brings us “all together” to everlasting life. It seems to me the same is true of the freedom Christ offers us, we accept it for each other as much as for ourselves.

What would enable you to accept the freedom Christ offers this Advent?

Advent Benedictine Spirituality Divine Office Lectio Divina Monastic Life O Antiphons Prayer Scripture Uncategorized Vespers

Rooted in Christ

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From the archive for the third O antiphon:

The third O antiphon, O Radix Jesse, O root of Jesse, takes up the image of the root of Jesse that stands as a “signal” to the nations.

“O Root of Jesse, who stands as a signal for the peoples, before whom kings will be silent, to whom the nations shall pray: come to free us, delay no longer.”

For me it speaks of Christ, the root of our being, grounding us and nurturing us so that we will bear ” fruit that will last”. In these challenging and uncertain times is easy to feel uprooted and disconnected.

Many of the things we thought were certain have become very unsteady. So much that we thought we could rely on has proved less solid that we hoped. The ground we thought was solid under our feet has turned out to be shifting sands. In that situation the thought of being rooted in Christ, and Christ being rooted in our hearts is especially consoling and hopeful.

In these uncertain times what helps you to stay rooted in Christ?

Advent Benedictine Spirituality Divine Office Lectio Divina Monastic Life O Antiphons Prayer Scripture Uncategorized Vespers

Holy Ground

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This evening at Vespers we’ll sing the second of the O antiphons, O Adonai, O Lord God.

“O Lord God, leader of the house of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the burning bush and gave him the Law on Sinai: come to redeem us with outstretched arm.”

It takes us back to one of the passages of Scripture that touches me most deeply, Moses’ encounter with God at the burning bush. Moses is engaged in the most ordinary of daily activities, looking after his father-in-law’s herds. Then God breaks into his life in its ordinariness, messiness and uncertainty in a completely unexpected way.

Curiosity compels Moses to turn aside when he sees the bush aflame, and he is drawn into an encounter with God which is challenging and life changing beyond anything he could have imagined.

In the uncertain times we face yet again this antiphon has a very particular message. It tells us that the God of love who came to Moses and the burning bush can also break into the ordinariness and uncertainty of our daily lives and set us aflame. Facing another hard and challenging year it’s good to remember that the God of love who reached out to Moses because of the cries suffering people also hears our cries and comes to redeem us.

As we move through Advent where do you need the redeeming touch of God in your life?

Advent Benedictine Spirituality O Antiphons Scripture Uncategorized Vespers

The coming of wisdom

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Something from the archives as we begin the O Antiphons. These prayers developed by the early church call on Christ to come and save us. They never directly used the name of Christ, but take up the titles used for the Messiah in the Old Testament. They change the whole tone of Advent, increasing the sense of anticipation and expectation.

The first one is O Sapientia, O Wisdom:

“O Wisdom, who came forth from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from one end of creation to the other, strongly and sweetly ordering all things, come to teach us the way of prudence.”

This antiphon always takes me back to the Creation, to the Spirit hovering over the waters as God brings new life out of chaos. I’m always especially drawn to the especially to the image from Proverbs of Wisdom playing and delighting in God’s presence at the Creation.

If anything the chaos of the past few years seems to be increasing and encroaching on areas we thought would never succumb to it. This leaves us with a very strong sense of our vulnerability and powerlessness. Our need for the hovering Spirit to draw new life and hope out of these chaotic times is clear. By recalling our beginnings O Sapientia reminds us that our beginnings are in the heart of God. However chaotic and disturbing our present might be we are created and held in the love of God.

As we move through Advent where is wisdom drawing you back into the love of God?

Advent Benedictine Spirituality Divine Office Lectio Divina Prayer Psalms Scripture Uncategorized Vespers

Noticing God’s presence

Sometimes I like to spend some time with the antiphons from our Sunday Vespers. They always have a particular nuance and highlight things I might otherwise miss.

The antiphons for week 2 of Advent always speak to me of noticing…Of actively looking out for God’s presence in the hurly burly of daily life.

Where are you noticing Christ’s presence this week?