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With Gentle Strength

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“Blessed are the gentle, they shall inherit the earth.”
In many ways this sums up all of the Beatitudes, and the whole gospel message. At its heart is the call to love as Jesus did, without distinction or discrimination, not asking if the love is deserved, acknowledge or even recognised.

Gentleness is not a fashionable attribute. In times like ours that value assertiveness and individualism it can be dismissed as weakness. In this beatitude, and in the gospel as a whole, Jesus shows us another way. He openly proclaims that he is gentle saying:

“Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

His gentleness is apparent throughout the gospel in the loving service he offers to those around him. From the wedding at Cana to the post resurrection breakfast he cooks on the shore, his life is marked by a real desire to care for those around him. We see it when he refuses to turn the crowds away hungry even though his disciples tell him that the don’t have enough food. It’s apparent as he weeps over Jerusalem, and as he comforts his mother and beloved disciple from the cross.

This gentleness is very far from being weakness. It has a strength that can build and maintain communities and relationships even in the toughest of circumstances. Imitating the gentleness of Christ leads us to those daily acts of kindness that renew and sustain our neighbours and our communities. It calls us to a myriad of actions that, while they may seem small, can make people feel valued, cared for and safe.

How are you being called to learn gentleness today?

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Holistic living

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My third #Benedictine word is one of the most challenging, HUMILITY. In a culture that values self-esteem and that encourages us to be positive about our achievements humility can seem at best unhelpful and at worst downright dangerous.

Yet Benedict sees it differently. He thinks humility is so essential that he devotes a whole chapter of the Rule to it. Uncomfortable as it can be that makes me think that it is a concept worth revisiting. The first thing I notice is that Benedict’s approach to humility is completely holistic. Basing his approach on the image of a ladder he writes:

“We may call our body and soul the sides of this ladder, into which our divine vocation has fitted the various steps of humility and discipline as we ascend.”

His words remind me that the heart of humility is to accept ourselves as we really are. It’s a call embrace our whole reality, body and soul, mind and spirit, strengths and weaknesses.

The practice of humility does not allow us to push aside any aspect of who we are. It calls us to bring our whole selves to our encounters and engagements. We are generally all too aware that it requires us to acknowledge our weaknesses and failings, that is only part of its invitation. It is also a call to recognise our unique gifts and strengths, to rejoice in them, to give thanks for them and to use them well in serving others.

How are you being called to practice humility today?

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Poor in Spirit

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“Blessed are the poor in spirit, the kingdom of heaven is theirs.”

Like the rest of this sermon on the Mount the Beatitudes can suffer from overfamiliarity. They are some of the best-known and most quoted part of Scripture. This can shield us from the true impact of the message that turns all our reasoning on its head.

From the very first one, blessed are the poor in spirit, the Beatitudes call all our human values into question. In our hearts we recognise the poverty that this Beatitude speaks of. We know we are limited creatures, reliant on God for life and unable to meet our own needs, dependent on others physically, emotionally and spiritually. We spend a lot of our lives running away from this knowledge, covering it up, hiding it from ourselves and from others.

When Jesus says:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
He invites us to turn away from the very human drive to self-sufficiency, from that beguiling call to be in control and to have everything sorted. He tells us that the first step in building the kingdom is to acknowledge our poverty, admit our neediness and see honestly and openly that we can’t do everything.

He promises that when we have the humility to acknowledge our dependence on God then we have already inherited his kingdom. It seems to me that to be able to accept this gift of the kingdom we need to put down the great burden of self-sufficiency.

Where are you finding opportunities to admit your reliance on God today?

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Benedictine Spirituality Uncategorized

Yearning for life.

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My second Benedictine word is CHRIST. From its beginning to its end the Rule of St Benedict is completely Christocentric. It begins with a call to obedient service of “Christ, the true true King” and ends with chapter 72 telling us that we should “prefer absolutely nothing to Christ.”

Everything else in the Rule shows us how to discover Christ’s presence and to imitate his example, that is what it means to be focused on Christ. Just as Christ called the disciples from seashore and tax office he calls us to leave everything and follow him:

“Seeking his workers in a multitude of people the Lord calls out to them and lifts his voice again: is there anyone here who yearns for life and desires to see good days?”

St Benedict really couldn’t be any clearer, the way to “see good days” is to give ourselves whole heartedly to following Christ. We can’t be sure exactly what that will mean or where it will lead us. It will almost certainly not mean imitating either the daily lives of the disciples or of Benedict’s monks.

Instead Benedict advises us to “take the gospel as our guide and discover the ways in which we are called to imitate Christ in the complexity and challenges of our times. We are called to learn how to treat others by looking at the example of Jesus, and to model our lives on his love, acceptance, openness and compassion.

How are you learning to be Christ-like today?

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God’s generous love.

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The sermon on the Mount is central to the gospel. It lays out Jesus’ vision of the kingdom and it calls us to join him in making it a reality. Connecting it to the promise of heaven and eternal life we can see it as something for the future rather than the present. True and beautiful as this future vision is, by itself it is not enough.

In the sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 – 7) Jesus is calling us to become people of the kingdom here and now. We are called to make the kingdom a reality in daily life. In the midst of the challenges and messiness of our times we are to base our interactions on the values of the sermon on the Mount. That’s a prospect that brims with hope and promise, yet it also presents many challenges. Maybe the first of those is to discern what we mean by “the kingdom”. Much has been written on this through the centuries. I’m particularly drawn to this description by the American Jesuit Father Andrew Greeley. In his book, “The Jesus myth”, he writes:

“The kingdom is the intervention in our lives of the insane generosity of God’s love.”

The first step in becoming people of the kingdom is to recognise this love in our lives and to allow it to shape and transform us.

How is the insane generosity of God’s love transforming you today?

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Attentive Listening.

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There are several keywords that come to mind every time I think about Benedictine spirituality. Taken together they sum up the essence of Benedict’s teaching. Over the next few weeks I’m going to reflect on some of those words.

The first word is Listen. It’s the word that opens the Rule and sets the tone everything that follows it. It is the basis of everything we think of as Benedictine spirituality. From the outset St Benedict tells us this is a spirituality of listening:

“Listen carefully… And attend with the ear of your heart.”

I’ve always found that a compelling opening for the Rule. Listening seems such an ordinary thing. It’s one of those things we take for granted, we tend to think on it as being as natural and effortless as breathing. St Benedict calls us to pause look beyond that understanding, inviting us to find a new way of listening. The listening he calls us to is both action and stillness. It requires that we find space to be silent and to stand still.

Yet, it is also a call to action, to consciously and actively give our whole attention to whatever we are engaged in. It’s not only a call to listen with the ear of our hearts in prayer, though that is essential. It’s a call to bring that attitude of attentive listening to every situation, every encounter, every activity, every conversation.

It’s a practice that takes a lifetime to learn and develop. It involves listening attentively both to what goes on within us and to what is going on around us. It requires that we open our hearts to the possibility of discovering God’s presence in every circumstance.

Where are you being called to listen with the ear of your heart today?

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Time Out

During July and August I’m taking a break from posting daily meditations. This is partly to have a rest and partly to work on some other projects. I will begin again in September. Thank you all for your support and encouragement.

We are continuing to live stream Vespers each day, at 5.45 PM on weekdays and 5.30 PM on Sunday. You’re welcome to join us for that or to access it later. Here is the link: https://www.turveyabbey.org.uk/chapel/live-streaming/

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Turned inside out.

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Today’s gospel presents a challenge that is a bit surprising. Arriving in the country of the Gadarenes Jesus cures two demoniacs who approach him out of the tombs. They were well known in the district and frightening figures. People were afraid to go through the area because of them. I’ve been especially struck today by the response of the people to the cure. When they heard the story of how Jesus had commanded the demons to leave the men and go into a herd of pigs they were deeply disturbed. Matthew’s tells us:
“As soon as they saw him they implored him to leave the neighbourhood.”

At first glance that’s not the sort of response we might expect to such a life changing miracle. We might expect people to be awestruck, delighted, grateful… But in this case it seems to label Jesus as someone to be suspicious of, someone who’s definitely a bit dodgy at the very least, someone it might be safer not to engage with if we are looking for a quiet and easy life.

It can be very tempting to dismiss their response and to assure ourselves that we would never respond to Jesus in that way. But if we are completely honest with ourselves we have to acknowledge that we too hold Jesus at a distance, letting him affect our lives only up to a point. Unlike the demoniacs we’re not always brave enough, or desperate enough to really give Jesus the power to turn our lives on their heads.

Where is Jesus inviting you to allow him to turn your life inside out today?

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Recognising Christ

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Today we’re celebrating the feast of St Peter and Paul. The day’s gospel shows Peter at his most impulsive, direct and courageous. Having been asked by Jesus:
“Who do you say I am?”

Peter’s answer to one of the central questions of our faith is swift and direct, bringing us back to basics, back to the heart of the gospels, that Jesus is:
“the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

It’s a question that Jesus put to each one of us as he does to Peter. We, like Peter, each have to answer it from the depths of our heats and our experience. It’s a question that seems more pressing given the uncertainties and frailties that have been exposed in the pandemic.

As we face the prospect of restrictions easing we’re called to recognise and acknowledge Christ with us. Taking heart from Peter’s courage we too can take the risk of answering Jesus’ question and allowing it to shape our lives.

As we celebrate the feast of St Peter and Paul who do you say Jesus is in your life?

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Stepping into the unknown.

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The call to follow Christ is dynamic and challenging. As with any new venture we can start off full of enthusiasm. Like the scribe in today’s gospel we are generous and confident that we are ready to let go of everything for Christ’s sake. Jesus’ response to the scribe suggests that he is looking for more than good will and enthusiasm:
“Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

His response can seem like a dampener, none of us like to have our enthusiasm tempered by someone else we expect to match it with their own. But Jesus is less interested in the initial response than in the deeper motivation.

Jesus’ response to the scribe seeks to take us beyond that initial enthusiasm that doesn’t stay the course when things get tough. He wants his to look deep into their hearts to and be sure that they are truly prepared to leave everything for his sake.

In his call there’s no space for half heartedness or for holding back. It’s a call to let go of everything we possess and to step out into the unknown with him. It’s a call to trust that however the path twists and turns he will be with us, supporting and leading us.

Where are you being called follow Christ into the unknown today?