Monthly Archives: August 2013

Who am I ?

Abba Poeman said to Abba Joseph, ’Tell me how to become a monk.’ He said, ‘If you want to find rest here below, (earth) and hereafter,(heaven) in all circumstances say, who am I? — and do not judge anyone.’

St. Anthony's Monastery  in Egypt—— sayings of the Desert

Do not judge anyone. That very small statement is one of the most difficult tasks of any follower of Christ. Our very nature is about judging and discerning, and when we act on that nature we can be very harsh toward those who are the recipients of our judgment. The wise old man says, “Who am I?” This a simple and yet very profound statement that has monumental consequences. Evaluated correctly the Abba was saying, I am not God. We all need to accept the simple fact of our own inability to know what is best for the world, and turn to God for His guidance.

Your journey, when it is focused on you and God, can be radically changed. We are no longer threatened by the sin and confusion that surrounds us, but we are strengthened by the spirit that lives within us. A good first step to getting there would be let God judge – NOT YOU!

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Filed under Abba Poeman, Christian Living, contemplative

The Purpose of Traditional Worship

This post states the case in stronger words than I would have chosen, but it makes a good point. Who or what are we worshiping on Sunday?

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Praying with Icons 1

Christ the Saviour (Pantokrator), a 6th-centur...

Christ the Savior, a 6th-century icon from Saint Catherine’s Monastery, Mount Sinai. )

Many of us were taught to close our eyes when we pray. Praying with icons is an ancient prayer practice that involves keeping our eyes wide open, taking into our heart what the image visually communicates. We focus not on what is seen in the icon, but rather on what is seen through it — the love of God expressed through God’s creatures.

This is prayer without words, with a focus on being in God’s presence rather than performing in God’s presence. It is a right-brain experience of touching and feeling what is holy — a divine mystery. Icons are not simply art; they are a way into contemplative prayer, and are therefore one way to let God speak to us. They are doorways into stillness, into closeness with God. If we sit with them long enough, we too can enter into the stillness, into the communion . And if we listen to them closely enough, with our hearts, we just may discern the voice of God.

To begin your prayer, you may want to light a candle nearby. A flame is a metaphor for prayer, inviting us into the presence of Holy God. Look at the icon as you pray. See it as a point of connection with Jesus and the community of saints. Try extending your hands and turning your palms upward, a gesture both of openness to God’s grace and the gift of your hands to God.

Even though you may feel pressured by the demands of the day, try not to pray in a hurry. Better to pray for a short time with quiet attention to each word and each breath than to rush through many prayers. Be aware of your breathing. You are breathing in life itself, breathing in God’s peace. You are breathing out praise and gratitude, breathing out your appeals for help.

As you pray, cultivate an inner attitude of listening. God is not an idea and praying is not an exercise to improve our idea of God. Prayer is the cultivation of the awareness of God’s actual presence. We may speak words to God or just look attentively at the icon and let God speak to us.

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A Monk’s Story Part 3

I had the pleasure of meeting Becket while I was doing some personal soul-searching at St. Joseph Abbey. At the time he was a professing monk who had not taken his final vows. He has since left the monastery to become the personal assistant of the writer Anne Rice. In a recent conversation   has given me permission to reprint his story as he is posting it on Facebook. I hope you find these installments as fascinating as I do. I will be posting these installments on Monday.       Irvin

A Monk’s Story Part 3

by Becket

At the heart of every religious vocation is the call to love. Love one another as we are loved. Sometimes love is prayer. Other times it’s work.

Before I entered the monastery, I don’t think I loved myself. Sure, I had a healthy hope of survival. But that’s not the same as healthy self-love. To be perfectly blunt, I didn’t love myself because I couldn’t. I didn’t know who I was. How could I love someone I didn’t know? This question begged another: If I don’t love myself, how can I love someone else?

Before the monastery, I didn’t fit in. In high school I clique-hopped. Early college too.

I couldn’t do that in the monastery. There were no cliques. There was only a small group of men working everyday to be kind to one another.

So my first year in the monastery was the quintessential pivot-point of my life. It shifted me from self-ambiguity to healthy self-love.

St. Joseph Abbey Church

As a novice I had to have a spiritual director. Usually this is an older or more experienced monk acting as a guide to monastic formation.

One monk in particular I hoped would be my spiritual director, Fr. Ambrose. He was elderly, wore large glasses, and had a long white beard. He was always reading, always quiet. He seemed to have an appealing grandfatherly kindness.

So I was greatly shocked when, upon asking him to be my spiritual director, he said, “No.”

Later I came to know him better. Today I believe he denied my request because all he truly wanted was to diminish before his brothers. That is, he wanted a more hermetic life. Quiet, simple.

A brash novice like myself was a thunderclap in his serenity.

Despite my disappointment, I returned to him twice more.

Finally he consented. I became his spiritual directee.

Quickly I discovered that he and I had different personalities, and that we appreciated different ways of communicating. Nevertheless, he proved to be the best spiritual director I ever had, and one of the best men I’ve ever known.

As my religious brother, he observed me in community, at meals, at recreation, and during prayer and work. As my elder, he called me on many faults. “A monk must let go of the world,” he would tell me. “You’re thinking too much about temporary things on earth and not about the heart of eternal love.”

The greatest fault he caught in me changed me life. He saw my great fault. It wasn’t something that I did consciously. You could say that from my youth I was taught to behave in a particular way. It wasn’t bad behavior. It just wasn’t healthy. Fr. Ambrose saw that how I was was not who I could be. And he said to me in so many words: “Whether you stay a monk or get married, whether you make monastic vows or wedding vows, you can’t give to anyone else something you do not possess. And healthy love is a possession that must by its very nature be given away freely.”

What didn’t I possess, Fr. Ambrose?

“Your self,” he said to me.

The true journey of my monastic vocation began at that moment.

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Filed under Benedict of Nursia, Benedictine Rule, Monasticism

Worship 1

The Rt Revd N T (Tom) Wright delivering the Ja...

“That is what worship is all about. It is the glad shout of praise that arises to God the creator and God the rescuer from the creation that recognizes its maker, the creation that acknowledges the triumph of Jesus the Lamb. That is the worship that is going on in heaven, in God’s dimension, all the time. The question we ought to be asking is how best we might join in.”

———N.T. Wright from Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense

 

Bishop Wright is my favorite New Testament scholar. He constantly challenges us to allow God to manifest Himself in our worship.

 

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Prayer of Boethius

Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius, commonly called Boethius, was a philosopher of the early 6th century. He is venerated by the Roman Catholic Church as a martyr and saint. Boethius was both a Christian and a Hellenist, a truly rare combination. His passion in life was a closer relationship between the empires of Rome and Constantinople, and for that passion, he was jailed and executed. I share this prayer of Boethius.

Woodcut from the Nuremberg Chronicle

Bless me in this life with but peace of my Conscience, command of my affections, the love of Thy self and my dearest friends, and I shall be happy enough to pity Ceasar. These are, O LORD, the humble desires of my most reasonable ambition, and all I dare call happiness on earth; wherein I set no rule or limit to Thy Hand or Providence. Dispose of me according to the wisdom of Thy pleasure: Thy will be done, though in my own undoing.

——- Boethius

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Filed under Christian Journey, Commitment, Devotional Quotes, Prayer

Just Do It

English: Moses speaks to the children of Israe...

“Not at all! The word is very close to you. It is your mouth and in your heart, waiting for you to do it,”

 Deuteronomy 30:14 (Common English Version)

The word is very close to you. This very definitive statement is found in scripture. We often search in many directions for the secret of God. When this statement was first written, Moses was speaking of the law which had been taught to the people of Israel for many years. But there are other sources of the word. God’s creation speaks of His majesty, and never forget, He created you and me in His image. That image is waiting to be born anew as we come to wrap our lives and hearts around His grace and love.

 Jesus came that we have life, and have it more abundantly. Are we neglecting the abundance that we are offered? The children of Israel, who were led by Moses, had the law, yet we have so much more in the incarnation. In Jesus (God with us) there is an unlimited supply of grace and wisdom just waiting to be tapped. The NIKE slogan is “Just do it!”, and God wants you to do it! Trust Him, love Him, and serve Him with all you can muster.

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Evil and Passions

00058_christ_pantocrator_mosaic_hagia_sophia_656x800A disciple of Abba Anthony said, ‘If anyone wants to drive out the demons, he must first subdue the passions; for he will banish the demon of the passion which he has mastered. For example, the devil accompanies anger; so if you control your anger, the devil of anger will be banished. And so it is with each of these passions.’

——–Sayings of the Desert Fathers

Self-control and overcoming the negative forces and habits that drive each of us is a worthy goal. The wise old man attributes every problem very directly to a “demon.” We do not share such a view of good and evil. We do, however, need to acknowledge the presence of supernatural evil in our world. That being said, I want to concentrate on the positive advice of the saying.

Passion is the root of both good and evil. Learn to reap your positive passions, and subdue your negative (sins) ones and you will be on your way to a life of the Spirit. We are advised to master the passions that lead us away from God and our neighbor, thus banishing that obstacle of spiritual attainment from our lives. May each of us take this to heart, and make it a matter of fervent prayer.

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Filed under Antony of Egypt, Ascetics, Desert Fathers, Evil, Mystics

Digging in Christ

Jesus Crucified

“We must dig deeply in Christ. He is like a rich mine with many pockets containing treasures: however deep we dig we will never find their end or their limit. Indeed, in every pocket new seams of fresh riches are discovered on all sides.”

—St. John of the Cross

Through the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ may we treasure the gifts of life which God have given us!

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Filed under Devotional Quotes, John of the Cross, Missional Living, Mystery, Mystics, Spiritual Growth

A Monk’s Story Part 2

I had the pleasure of meeting Becket while I was doing some personal soul-searching at St. Joseph Abbey. At the time he was a professing monk who had not taken his final vows. He has since left the monastery to become the personal assistant of the writer Anne Rice. In a recent conversation   has given me permission to reprint his story as he is posting it on Facebook. I hope you find these installments as fascinating as I do. I will be posting these installments on Monday.       Irvin

A Monk’s Story Part 2

by Becket

I am continually humbled that some of you are interested in my monastic life. Some have asked that I continue with my story. I still feel awkward doing this (forgive me), but I will give it a go.

I left off talking about adjusting to the Gregorian chant. Monastic life was a mystical adjustment altogether.

My first year in the monastery was called the novitiate. I was a novice. (Still am a novice in many ways.)

Daily life was similar to a normal monk in solemn vows. We all worked together. We all prayed together.

In the beginning the work I did was mostly cleaning: Kitchen, bathrooms, church, and abbey. Sweeping, mopping, polishing, the usual sprucing.

I also worked in the bakery two days a week. One of the monastery’s charitable works was baking bread for the inner city of New Orleans, then

Becket, Me, Bede and George after a morning at the bakery.

Becket, Me, Bede and George after a morning at the bakery. (several years ago)

delivering it to soup kitchens. In the summer we awoke at 2 am to bake bread. We finished by noon, before the Louisiana heat struck. We baked over 800 loafs a day.

Fr. Augustine was chief baker. He taught me how to bake all kinds of delicious breads. Sometimes he and I would bake pizza for the monks for lunch, a kind treat for them.

One night a week was special. The monastery had an infirmary, where sick and dying monks ended up. One night a week, I would keep watch over the infirmary, staying up all night, being attentive to the needs of the infirmed.

An old priest was there, Fr. Daniel. He was so gentle, especially toward the end, when he passed away the night before I became a monk. I spent the year of my novitiate trying to make him comfortable. But he didn’t need much. His prayer life had given him faith that he would be in eternal rest.

All our work was not beyond the scope of our prayer life. Everything we did – be it cleaning, baking bread, or watching the infirmary – had to be done with a prayerful spirit. We tried to depend on God’s help for everything, especially the work of our hands.

But not all prayer revolved around work. We also had community prayer.

All the monks would gather into the church five times a day for five routine prayers: Matins, Lauds, Mass, Vespers, and Compline.

Matins is a predawn prayer (5am). Lauds is Morning Prayer (6am). Mass was at noon. Vespers is evening prayer (5pm). Compline is night prayer, right before bed (7pm).

During community prayer, the monks divided into two groups: Choir One and Choir Two. Choir one was on the left side of the church; Choir Two on the right; both groups facing one another.

Then the two choirs of monks would take turns chanting the psalms and other biblical texts, each choir chanting a stanza. We chanted all 150 psalms in a month’s time – like the early monks from the 5th century.

Our day began with prayer. Our day ended with prayer. Chanting biblical words bookended our daily work.

Work and prayer. It was a life of labor and love. It was a life of simplicity.

More to come………..

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Filed under Benedict of Nursia, Benedictine Rule, Monasticism, Prayer