Exercising with Augustine

By Open Eyes

Recently we had a reading at Lauds from a Commentary of Augustine. His words: “The entire life of a good Christian is in fact an exercise of holy desire. You do not yet see what you long for, but the very act of desiring prepares you, so that when he comes, you may see and be utterly satisfied…. Simply by making us wait, he increases our desire, which in turn enlarges the capacity of our soul, making it able to receive what is to be given to us.”

I found the word “desire” running around in my head for a while after hearing this reading. What is it I desire in my life, and how can I increase my desire for a deep relationship with my God? Returning to Augustine’s words I heard the word “exercise” in a different light. Learning to desire God in every part of my life requires training, repeated exercise, gaining strength with each choice I make to put him first in my life, in the things I pay most attention to.

Physical training and exercise require stretching. Augustine talks about the spiritual stretching of “the sack” or “wineskin” to increase our capacity. Life often feels like a “stretching” that I don’t always appreciate. Perhaps though the stretching is what increases my desire for more of God.

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Listen, my child

Listen, my child. I want you to place the ear of your heart on the solid ground of the Master’s wisdom (what I received, I’m passing on to you). This advice is from a spiritual father who loves you and gives you the sort of counsel that will shape your whole life. Listening is hard work, but it’s the essential work. It opens you up to the God that you’ve rejected when you have only listened to yourselves. If you’re ready to give up your addiction to yourself, this message is for you: to listen is to equip yourself with the best resources available to serve the real Master, Christ the Lord.

For starters, begin every good work with this prayer: “Lord, bring it to completion.” Since God is full of goodness and has already called us his children, we shouldn’t grieve him by doing wrong. Instead, we should take advantage of the good gifts God has given us and become good listeners. This way we won’t make God into an “angry father” or a “harsh task master” who punishes us for not following him to glory.

So, let’s go! The Scriptures are stirring us, like fire in our bones: It is high time now for you to wake from sleep (Romans 13:11b). Let’s open our eyes wide to the light that shines out from God, and open our ears to the voice from heaven that shouts out every day: O that today you would hearken to his voice! (Psalm 95:7b). And, again: You who have ears to hear, listen to what the Spirit says to the churches (Revelation 2:7). What does the Spirit say? Come, children, listen to me, I will teach you the fear of the Lord (Psalm 34:11). Run while you have the light of life, lest the darkness [of death] overtake you ( John 12:35).

A Contemporary Paraphrase of the Rule of St. Benedict by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove (Paraclete Press)

Gregorian Chant: The Eternal Song

By Sr. Fidelis

The Reading for Lauds at the Community of Jesus this morning was from an Epistle of Clement I. The last paragraph read, “Even the Creator and Lord of the universe rejoices in his works.  By his supreme power he set the heavens in their place; by his infinite wisdom he gave them their order.  He separated the land from the waters surrounding it and made his own will its firm foundation.  By his command he brought to life the beasts that roam the earth.  He created the sea and all its living creatures, and then by his power set bounds to it.  Finally, he formed humanity, the highest and most intelligent of his creatures, the copy of his own image.  We must recognize, therefore, that all who are upright have been graced by good works, and that even the Lord himself took delight in the glory his works gave them.”

This seemed like a summary of the beautiful Vespers hymns we’ve been looking at these past weeks with themes of the various days of creation!  The Friday hymn is the last in the set, with text mostly likely attributed to Saint Gregory the Great. Here is as description of true Paradise on earth.

O God, shaper of man, you who, alone, ordaining all things, order the earth to produce species of creeping and wild beasts;

You, who gave the great bodies of creatures, made alive by a word of command that they might serve in their place subduing them to mankind:

Drive away from your servants, whatsoever, by uncleanness, either suggests itself by customs, or insinuates itself by actions.

Give the rewards of joys, grant the gifts of graces; dissolve the chains of quarrelling, bind fast the agreements of peace.

Grant this, O most loving Father, and you, the only One equal to the Father, with the Spirit, the Paraclete, who reigns through every age.  Amen.

The Community of Jesus

 

God is God

By Melodious Monk

God is God

…should we forget our Savior’s praise, the stones them-selves would sing!

As we finished the final stanza of James Montgomery’s hymn on Sunday, I turned to the person next to me to point out the humor and multiplicity of meanings to this last line. I was chuckling at the literal picture of a singing stone, and two other aspects as well: firstly, how it puts us in our place; and secondly, how it shows the bottomless depth’s of God’s love for us. Let me explain.

How quickly I forget that God is God. God loves us — but he doesn’t need us. I’m reminded of a conversation I had earlier this week were I was discussing how disappointed I feel with myself when I so often turn bitter and angry in certain situations. I fall again and again into the same trap of accusation and self-pity. It feels pathetic, and I assume God surely feels the same way about me. Or does he? A wise friend suggested to me that since God continually seems to be calling each of us to move  on with him, maybe He doesn’t care about my failings the same way I do.

Which brings me back to the stones. Why does God even bother to care for us? After all, he has the stones, or the ability to just create someone else who would be better at praising him! But God hasn’t given up on me, even though I give up on myself all the time – and I don’t know why, I just know he hasn’t. God calls us to life. The remembrances of Holy Week, especially, remind us of how much God wants each of us to live our lives to their fullest potential.

The Community of Jesus

 

Gems From A Little Red Book

By Melodious Monk

Tonight I was inspired to pick up my small copy of the Rule of St. Benedict. While looking for a 3-ring binder, this little red glossy cover buried in a stack of books caught my attention, so I placed it in my coat pocket for later reading. Just before bed, I remembered the little book.

Today was a difficult day for me. It was the type of day when nothing seemed to work out – at least on the surface. I found myself in several arguments, which eventually got settled, but left me somewhat disquieted.

So at the end of the day, opening the little red book, I was more than drawn into its words, surprised to discover that St. Benedict’s pen was addressing me directly.

Listen carefully, my son… this is advice from a father who loves you… First of all, every time you begin a good work… You must pray for him most earnestly to bring it to perfection… for the Scripture arouses us when they say: It is high time for us to arise from sleep. (Rom 13:11)… If you hear his voice today, do not harden your hearts (Ps 94:8) Come and listen to me and I will teach you the fear of the Lord (Ps 33:12) Keep your tongue free from vicious talk… Let peace be your peace and aim… Once you have done this, my eyes will be upon you and my ears will listen to your prayers.” (Isa 58.9)

(Excerpts from Prologue to Rule of St. Benedict. 1980. Edited Timothy Fry)

What a treasure of wisdom. If you haven’t read St. Benedict’s Rule, I recommend it.  It’s full of so many rich gems. There’s good reason why fifteen hundred years later so many people still follow his teachings.

The Community of Jesus

 

An Ecounter With Joy

By Sr. Nun Other

If I were to write a musical, I would juxtapose two hymns that are beautifully simple, and simply beautiful. Our Communion hymn for last week was the 18th. century Shaker hymn, Simple Gifts.  I stood near the altar during the singing of it, surrounded by delightful mosaic tile flowers, insects, butterflies, mammals, and sea creatures. They swirled and flourished beneath my feet with enviable freedom and energy, content to be as God created them. Mind and imagination took over, and I added my own (non auditory!) touch as we sang: ‘Tis the gift to be simple,’tis the gift to be free…all things bright and beautiful…’tis the gift to come down where we ought to be…all creatures great and small…in the place just right….all things wise and wonderful…in the valley of love and delight… the Lord God made us all!  Creation interrupts our busy, sometimes chaotic lives, to teach simplicity of heart, humbleness of spirit, and unfailing trust in God.

The Community of Jesus

 

The Greatest Commandment

By Melodious Monk

Recently I’ve come across a few writings of Father Alfred Delp, a Jesuit priest executed by the Nazi’s for his outspoken faith and opposition to the regime. He seems to have been a bold man, with a very ecumenical heart. Something in his writing reverberates inside me, not with a sense of full comprehension, but with the sense that I’m being brought through a door that offers layers of wisdom and discovery. He wrote:


“A person can be rigid in many ways. He can have a one-track mind like the rich young man in the Gospel….This paralysis in the realm of things, this fixation about property, riches, gold, jewels, art, and good living was characteristic of the last century…..Even more dangerous is that inner paralysis which induces us to betray the fundamental laws of our existence. No longer “living to all truth, to all goodness” we pull up short, set ourselves apart, rest on our laurels, and lead the life of a pensioner. We no longer strain with all our might to achieve ideals, reaching for the stars. The command to love God with all one’s heart, with all one’s mind, and with all one’s strength no longer has any meaning for us; we treat it as something handed down like a legend, something that has served its turn and can be thrown aside. All the truths have already been discovered, we think — no need to go to the trouble of looking for any more. The world has grown dumb–we no longer hear the underground rumblings as the secret forces collect their strength for the great fulfillment which can only be brought about by humanity’s conscious recognition and decision.”


If we wish, God has much more for us in life than, as Father Delp puts is, a retired “pensioner.” I hope I can discover some of the ways I’m rigid, and awake my spirit and heart to the “underground rumblings” of the Holy Spirit.

 

The Community of Jesus

 

 

 

Work

By Melodious Monk

Too much to do and not enough time. This seems to be modus operandi of much of our culture. We create gadgets to be more efficient, and we still find ourselves running out of time!  I find myself often bemoaning the fact that I can’t get all the “things” I’m responsible for done — the list never seems to end. It seems to grow the harder I try! The list feels like some of those trick birthday candles that never blow out no matter how much air you blow at the flame!

Do you ever ask yourself why God gives us work?  M. Basil Pennington puts forth this idea about how St. Benedict uses work to teach us lessons about God.(1) He says that having too much to do is actually a gift from God.  When we get to the end of the day, we realize we weren’t able to accomplish everything we might have wished.  And we are reminded that we are not God.  We are weak, needy people, in need of help.

Often I just get angry that I couldn’t finish everything I wanted to in the day. I try to plan better to find out how I can improve tomorrow.  But again this is a dead end.  In my own strength, I’ll still come up short. In his wisdom, Pennington is reminding me that coming up short is okay, and in fact a very good thing, even a gift from a loving God.  Why? Because it forces me to remember who God is, and allows me to choose to live in his strength, and by his grace.

[(1)  from Listen with your Heart, by M. Basil Pennigton, Ch 14]

The Community of Jesus

Simplicity

By Sr. Nun Other

Springtime is a season of wordless beauty. It’s quiet response to God’s will gives witness to His love and faithfulness. When open and aware, mind clutter disappears, my unruly spirit subdued without a word being spoken.

II Corinthians 1:12 For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with earthly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have our conversation in the world.

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Gregorian Chant: The Eternal Song

The Song of Prayer
 
Dom Eugene Cardine, Benedictine monk and famed musicologist who lived and worked in the Abbey of St. Peter of Solesmes, left a document that he entitled his “last will and testament.” That, in itself, is not so unusual. However, rather than writing a document that bequeathed physical belongings to those closest to him, he wrote a letter leaving all of us his final thoughts about all he had learned about chant and what he had learned from it.
 
I have read Dom Cardine’s letter several times, and each time I am struck by one particular thought that he offers: any chant — its actual sound — is “drawn out” of the essence of the text which it is designed to serve. Ponder that statement for a minute and remember that the vast majority of chanted texts are quotes from scripture.
 
There is a long and cherished tradition and history of actually praying the words of scripture. So, it comes as no surprise that chant has come to be know as ‘the song of prayer.”  As we move into the summer months during which many of us will attend workshops to increase our skills with chant, let’s remember to increase and deepen our prayers as we exercise the privilege of praying through the chant.