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Lectio Divina

Holy Darkness: An Advent Meditation

As a child, the Advent season was musically frustrating for me. With so many beautiful Christmas carols and hymns, I just could not fathom any reason why Catholics must wait until Christmas Eve to sing them. Every department store was playing Christmas songs. Television stations were showing Christmas movies and special programs.

Why wait?  

I prefer not to wait in many situations. For example, I would rather get to the destination of a planned vacation immediately than endure the hours it takes to drive or make the airline transfers needed to get there. I much preferred nursing my infant daughter, playing with her and watching her sleep to the nine months of back-aching pregnancy. When I want to write or create, I often need to wait for the inspiration to strike. Waiting can be an inconvenience, even excruciating, but there is no denying that we must wait for many good things in life.

I understand now why we wait to sing Christmas carols.  We are meant to recognize and practice waiting because, well, life is full of it. Advent teaches us that it is okay not to always get what we want or to get it immediately. Likely God has something for us to learn in the waiting. 

The origins of the word “advent” indicate that there is an impending arrival—that something or someone is to come.

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We could make a meditation of the origin and synonyms of Advent—

Christ is coming.

Christ emerges.

Christ makes an appearance.

We experience an occurrence of Christ.

Jesus Christ is born.

Christ will rise.

During Advent, we practice waiting in darkness for the light of Christmas Day. As we journey through the weeks, we circle around the Advent wreath lighting a new candle each week. Each candle is a reminder that we are getting closer,  that our waiting will end, that what we are waiting for will, indeed, come.

desire for christ

The Advent wreath symbolizes the coming of the birth of Jesus, the light of Christmas drawing near and the anticipation of the Christ-light breaking into our life and world. With each passing week, the candle represents our hope that light will dispel the darkness. So it is with our own becoming. We circle around the same issues, questions and problems in our lives, struggling with the dark and light within us and around us. And we pray that God breaks in, that the light will prevail. We wait in faith. We wait with hope.

Advent is the hope-filled longing for our Creator to be incarnated in the most perfect way. Advent embodies the concept of “vorfreude”, a German word meaning “anticipatory joy.” It captures that bursting-with-excitement, overflowing-with-enthusiasm, I-can-hardly-wait feeling. The Germans have a saying, “Vorfreude ist die schönste Freude!” which means “The greatest joy lies in the anticipation.” This is exactly how a child might look forward to Christmas Day—the waiting is both suspenseful and exciting.

But waiting is not always filled with “vorfreude.” Sometimes we wait in darkness—wondering when it will be over, worrying that it may never be or, even, giving up hope. It is the ritual of the Advent wreath that reminds us that darkness has an end. As we light the candles of the Advent we make our way around the circle, knowing that there is completion, that there is fullness in Christ. Advent is about hope even in the darkness.

darkness

A waiting person is a patient person. The word “patience” means the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us. Impatient people are always expecting the real thing to happen somewhere else and therefore want to go elsewhere….Waiting, then, is not passive. It involves nurturing the moment, as a mother nurtures the child that is growing in her womb.  Henri Nouwen, Eternal Seasons

Consider practicing lectio divina with the song “Holy Darkness”, composed by Dan Schutte (1988), inspired by St. John of the Cross (1542-1591) and sung by Susay Valdez. Meditate on the lyrics while listening. Allow the questions for reflection to guide your journaling or creativity.

“In the barren soil of your loneliness, there I will plant my seed.” 

“When the silence stills your spirit, will my riches fill your soul.”

“Holy darkness, blessed night, heaven’s answer hidden from our sight. As we await you, O God of silence, we embrace your holy night.”

  1. Holy Darkness is often a song at funerals. It speaks of desolation, grief, darkness. What needs to die in your life? What needs to be grieved?
  2. What is growing within you? What seed planted within is growing despite your affliction, grief or loneliness? How do you know God is still there in the darkness?
  3. What images in nature give you the blessed assurance of God?
  4. What do you consider God’s wealth or riches? What do you want you soul filled with?
  5. What image comes to mind when you consider resting in God, waiting during the darkness for the light to come?
  6. Read and reflect on other posts about darkness.

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Listen to Holy Darkness 

“When we come to understand that everything in our world, including its darker aspects, derives from God, we begin to realize that much of what we perceive as “bad” is, from the divine perspective, simply another piece of the sacred whole…that which appears as darkness to us may very well be the beacon to our redemption.” -Niles Elliot Goldstein, God at the Edge

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Flood the World with Love

Weekend mornings are made for slowing down—for sipping coffee crowned in frothy milk, catching up on reading, and listening to some of my favorite music. This morning my meditation consisted of listening countless times to “I Heard an Owl” by Carrie Newcomer, much-loved folk singer and spiritual teacher, and accidentally reading 1 Corinthians 13:4-6.

Both song and scripture are a meditation of love, peace and courage—and a good reminder of how to be a living light in the world. As the antidote to confusion, fear, hatred, and darkness, we must flood the world with love.

flood the world with love

I practice lectio divina, contemplating the words of the song—

I heard an owl call last night
Homeless and confused
I stood naked and bewildered
By the evil people do

Up upon a hill there is a terrible sign
That tells the story of what darkness waits
When we leave the light behind.

Don’t tell me hate is ever right or God’s will
Those are the wheels we put in motion ourselves
The whole world weeps and is weeping still
Though shaken I still believe
The best of what we all can be
The only peace this world will know
Can only come from love.

I am a voice calling out
Across the great divide
I am only one person
That feels they have to try
The questions fall like trees or dust
Rise like prayers above
But the only word is “Courage”
And the only answer “Love”

Light every candle that you can
For we need some light to see
In the face of deepest loss,
Treat each other tenderly
The arms of God will gather in
Every sparrow that falls
And makes no separation
Just fiercely loves us all.

(Carrie Newcomer, The Gathering of Spirits, 2001)

My heart is heavy with the darkness of the world, of “the evil people do” in the name of our own opinion, religion, political party, racial or economic privilege. Our collective anxiety, fear, anger, and hostility have led to so much division and violence—in our spirits and in relationships. We experience discriminating language and behavior; we watch public opinion, policy, and executive orders further victimize our most vulnerable; and we witness “the face of deepest loss” in the profound suffering and death of those close to us and in one tragedy after another. I stand confused and bewildered by what we say and do to each other—“The whole world weeps and is weeping still.”

I read, “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.” 

love is patient.jpg

Have I chosen love? I admit I can be impatient. I have been unkind, rude and short-tempered. I much prefer to have my own way and can be irritable and resentful when that doesn’t happen. Sometimes I choose darkness, not light. Lately, I have let disappointment and anger overcome me, rather than practicing or resting in love. Surely, “darkness waits” if I fail to practice keeping the light in front of me, if I “leave the light behind.” Choosing love and light must be an intentional decision, a part of my spiritual practice, even when it isn’t easy.

The only peace this world will know can only come from love.” I’m beginning to believe that love is the antidote for all that ails us (perhaps, I’m catching up with what all the great spiritual traditions teach), that only love can bring us peace. With so much darkness, “the best of what we all can be” is to flood the world with love.

love newcomer

I read about the Jewish trauma nurse, Ari Mahler, RN, treating the suspect who killed eleven worshippers in the Tree of Life massacre, who yelled, “Death to all Jews,” as he was wheeled into the hospital. People wonder about how he could have treated this man. He writes, “Love. That’s why I did it. Love as an action is more powerful than words, and love in the face of evil gives others hope. It demonstrates humanity. It reaffirms why we’re all here. The meaning of life is to give meaning to life, and love is the ultimate force that connects all living beings. I could care less what Robert Bowers thinks, but you, the person reading this, love is the only message I wish (to) instill in you. If my actions mean anything, love means everything.”

Yes, love means everything. In my deepest self, I want to flood the world with love, to “fiercely love,” to build others up, to “treat each other tenderly,” to ease another’s suffering, to remind others of their divine spark, to err on the side of compassion. I want to be a light in this world. We are creators, too—with our thoughts, actions, and energy. We can either live in love or live in fear. Mother Teresa said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten we belong to each other.” 

peace st. ben

St. Benedict instructs, “Let peace be your quest and aim.” (RB, Prologue 18) We cannot accept hate as the new normal. It can feel overwhelming at times—“I am only one person,” but we must, at least, try. We must “light every candle” that we can. I draw strength and courage from Mahler and so many who face unfathomable suffering and pain at the hands of hatred, and yet choose love. Ann Frank writes, “Look at how a single candle can both defy and define darkness.” We must call upon our inner light to defy, not define, the darkness.

The only word is “Courage”/ And the only answer “Love.” I cannot deny my feelings—hurt, disappointment, anger—or my beliefs, or my opinions about the wounds of the world, but I place alongside these feelings, hope. I pray for the courage to bring more light and less darkness in the world. And as I wait for the ultimate display of love that “The arms of God will gather in / Every sparrow that falls / And makes no separation / Just fiercely loves us all”,  I choose, in all my imperfection, to flood the world with love.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that.”—Martin Luther King, Jr.

Light and Rumi

 

O God, Who Are Moved By Acts of Humility

February 2017 Oblate Lectio Divina and Discussion

Topic: Lent and Humility

humility

“O God, who are moved by acts of humility and respond with forgiveness to works of penance, lend your merciful ear to our prayers.” These lines in the Catholic Prayer for Blessing and Distribution of Ashes resonated with me during Ash Wednesday Mass, especially after a recent oblate discussion.

This prayer suggests our Creator is moved by what we do, by our acts of humility. The Latin word for “are moved” is flectaris, meaning to bend down. God bends down to us, moves to us, is moved by us. In our humility, we become vulnerable and open ourselves for a deeper connection with God. Continue reading “O God, Who Are Moved By Acts of Humility”

An Advent Call of Humility: Mary and Zechariah

December 2017 Oblate Lectio Divina and Discussion

Topic: Advent and Humility

The value of lectio divina is that how we read and understand Scripture is influenced by what is happening in our life. The richness of these stories can breathe new life into us and bring new thoughts for us to consider again and again.

sacred reading

The second week of Advent: We are to prepare for his coming here and now. We read two Gospels—Luke 1:5-25 and Luck 1: 26-38. In light of these stories of Zechariah and Mary, how do we receive the call with humility, in our decisions, choices, and way of life? What is the role of humility in these two stories? Continue reading “An Advent Call of Humility: Mary and Zechariah”

The Lord is Our Shepherd: New Meaning, Ancient Words

May 2017 Oblate Reflections and Lectio Divina

Topic:  Psalm 23, God is Our Shepherd and Guide

Psalm 23 is the most commonly known Psalm—simple, familiar and full of richness. In lectio divina we ask, “What does this Psalm mean for me?”  We dwell in the words to make personal the promises of God to the people of Israel–promises of renewal, healing, peace, protection, encouragement, and guidance.

The Lord is my shepherd,
I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.
He restores my soul;
He guides me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You have anointed my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

After reading through the text together and then quietly, we share the words and phrases that come to mind. These words should ultimately lead to personal prayer.

Psalm 23 lectio

Oblates share the words that have settled on their hearts, continuing to listen deeply to what God is saying.

“I remind myself every morning that no matter what the day may bring, I gather strength from God. If I forget this, then other thoughts come into my mind and the day doesn’t go very well.”

“I realize that I lack nothing.  When I pray the “Our Father”, I am praying for my daily bread, not for yesterday or for tomorrow or when I retire, but for my daily bread.  When I realize I lack for nothing in this present moment, my cup overflows. Even when it’s cold, rainy, dreary, or my coworkers are a pain, my cup still overflows. I need to remember the gifts rather than the stuff going on around me.”

psalm 23b

“It can be comforting to substitute the name of a loved one who has died when reading Psalm 23. The Lord is John’s shepherd, He shall not want. He makes John lie down in green pastures; he leads him beside still waters; he restores his soul.

“In grief and hard times, we can believe that our happiness will return soon and our spirit will be renewed. If you substitute happiness for spirit, the Psalm can read as prayer and affirmation. Lord, renew my spirit.” Continue reading “The Lord is Our Shepherd: New Meaning, Ancient Words”

Praying the Psalms ~ Psalm 22

April 2017 Oblate Reflections and Lectio Divina

Topic: Praying the Psalms

We can read the Psalms with three layers in mind: what the Psalm meant the first time it was prayed in history; how the Psalm hints at the life of Christ in the New Testament and how Jesus would have prayed it; and, finally, how it applies to our own lives and  how we can pray the Psalms now. We pray Psalms 22: 1-32.

my god why have you forsaken me

In practicing Lectio Divina, after reading the Scripture out loud, we contemplate, consider and reflect on what we have heard. The Scripture is read again. After some time of silence, we are welcomed to share a word or phrase that speaks to us.

All night long I call and cannot rest, my soul will live for you.      They never trusted you in vain.     Do not stand aside trouble is near.       They trusted and you rescued them.     If God is your friend let God rescue you.        Rescue my soul from the sword.           More worm than human.        My heart is like wax melting inside me.  

One participant said the images of wild beasts in the desert environment was overwhelming—she had no words.  We rest in silence, some speak, a few sniffles, a sigh. The verses and words in this Psalm touch each of us in a unique way.

What resonates with you from reading Psalms 22?  This is what resonated with us:

So many feelings are expressed in this Psalm—complaint, fear, desperation, anguish, hopelessness. We tend to think that we should feel in a certain way, that trust is the superior action or emotion, but it is human to feel all of the desperate feelings mentioned. We can accept all of our emotions because God lets us feel all of those things and desires that we express them. Continue reading “Praying the Psalms ~ Psalm 22”

Begin Everything in Prayer

February 2017 Oblate Reflections and Lectio Divina

Topic—Prayer; Rule of St. Benedict, Chapters 8-20, 52.

The Divine Presence is Everywhere, RB 19:1 We believe that the divine presence is divine-presence
everywhere
and that in every place the eyes of the Lord are watching the good and the wicked. (Prov 15:3). 2. But beyond the least doubt we should believe this to be especially true when we celebrate the divine office.

“It is also held that even work can be prayer. Any occupation undertaken through obedience, offered to God and accompanied with short invocations frequently renewed would in itself be prayer. Thus, only by sanctifying one’s daily actions can one pray without ceasing.” – Maria-Thomas Beil

Lectio and Discussion

Scripture for Lectio Divina: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

After reading the Scripture out loud, we contemplate, consider and reflect on what we have heard. The Scripture is read again. After some time of silence, we are welcomed to share a word or phrase that speaks to us. What I love most about practicing lectio divina with a group is what resonates with each of us is so different. We bring to the table a variety of ways to understand what we’ve read; we learn from each other.

Inner room.      Deliver.     Do not babble.    So that others may see them.    Received they reward.      Sees in secret.          Thy will.         Us.          Forgive.           Your Father knows what you need. 

 What resonates with you from this reading?  This is what resonated with us:

prayer-fr-volker

There’s more to prayer than making words. Continue reading “Begin Everything in Prayer”

BENEDICTINE OBLATE ENJOYS MONASTIC WAY OF LIFE

Experiencing a taste of the monastic life while living in the secular world.betty_b

That’s a benefit that Betty Bohaty enjoys as an oblate of the Missionary Benedictines of Christ the King Priory in Schuyler.

An oblate since 2004 and a member of Divine Mercy Parish in Schuyler with her husband, Don, Bohaty and up to 50 other oblates meet with the monks and study the 1,500-year-old Rule of St. Benedict, which gives guidelines for the spiritual and monastic life – incorporating obedience, silence, prayer, humility and work.

Learning that even the littlest actions of daily life can be a prayer if done for love of God is one aspect of monastic spirituality that rings true for Bohaty. “It gives me an awareness that I am praying always,” she said. Continue reading “BENEDICTINE OBLATE ENJOYS MONASTIC WAY OF LIFE”

Our Life is a Balance

January 2017 Oblate Reflections and Lectio Divina
Balance: Our life is a balance between stability and openness to change

Invitation to Discussion by Fr. Volker Futter: The aim of Benedictine spirituality is the Fr. Volker Futter, OSB Subprior, Benedictine Retreat Center andconversion of the whole person. “Benedictine spirituality wants no sector of life to be isolated from God’s presence; work becomes a means through which we can know and love God more deeply…God is present and accessible in every moment and in every activity.”

Balance, proportion, harmony, moderation are central.  They so underpin everything else in the Rule, that without them the whole Benedictine approach to the individual and to the community loses its keystone. Continue reading “Our Life is a Balance”

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