CONTEMPLATIVE PROFILE: ST. BENEDICT ON THE OBSERVANCE OF LENT

The season of Lent has begun. How do we observe Lent in our lives? Do we give something up? If so, what? When I was growing up, my friend and I gave up Carmex (the medicated lip balm) some years. Strange, but true — and perhaps not the very best way to prepare for the resurrection of Jesus.

Perhaps the ancients of the Church can help us. In his Rule for Monasteries, written in the sixth century, St. Benedict (c. 480-547) includes a chapter entitled, “On the Observance of Lent.” He writes:

***

Although the life of a monk
ought to have about it at all times
the character of a Lenten observance,
yet since few have the virtue for that,
we therefore urge that during the actual days of Lent
the brethren keep their lives most pure
and at the same time wash away during these holy days
all the negligences of other times.
And this will be worthily done
if we restrain ourselves from all vices
and give ourselves up to prayer with tears,
to reading, to compunction of heart and to abstinence.

 

During these days, therefore,
let us increase somewhat the usual burden of our service,
as by private prayers and by abstinence in food and drink.
Thus everyone of his own will may offer God
“with joy of the Holy Spirit” (1 Thess. 1:6)
something above the measure required of him.
From his body, that is,
he may withhold some food, drink, sleep, talking and jesting;
and with the joy of spiritual desire
he may look forward to holy Easter.

***

For his monks, St. Benedict advises the moderate withholding of food, drink, sleep or talking. But more than that, he has suggestions on what to add: prayer with tears, reading, and holy desire.

I especially like how Benedict ends this passage. During Lent, Christians are to look forward to Easter with the “joy of spiritual desire.” We know that Easter brings joy, but so should the darker season of Lent bring a somber and holy kind of joy — that of yearning for Christ, whose resurrection we await. May this unique joy be yours as you prepare for resurrection and renewal in your life.

Source

CONTEMPLATIVE PROFILE: HADEWIJCH OF ANTWERP ON THE WILD LOVE OF GOD

This is our last week exploring the spiritual poetry of the Flemish mystic Hadewijch of Antwerp (13th c.). I’m so taken with how this mystic explores the mysterious and powerful force of love in her poems. Remember that in these poems, love is personified and should be understood as God’s love.

In the first poem, Hadewijch touches on the slow course of love. It reminds us that spiritual maturity is a lifelong process.

Love’s maturity

 

In the beginning Love satisfies us.
When Love first spoke to me of love—
How I laughed at her in return!
But then she made me like the hazel trees,
Which blossom early in the season of darkness,
And bear fruit slowly.

*****

In the second poem for today, Hadewijch marvels at the fact that God’s love is complete in and of itself. I find the last three lines of this poem incredibly moving.

Knowing Love in herself

 

I do not complain of suffering for Love,
It is right that I should always obey her,
For I can know her only as she is in herself,
Whether she commands in storm or in stillness.
This is a marvel beyond my understanding,
Which fills my whole heart
And makes me stray in a wild desert.

God’s love is a wild thing! May we all go on an endless search, even into the desert, to meet it there.

Source.

CONTEMPLATIVE PROFILE: HADEWIJCH OF ANTWERP ON LOVE’S TRUTH

Today I bring you another poem form the medieval mystic Hadewijch of Antwerp. In her spiritual love poetry, Hadewijch expresses both the agony and the beauty of serving love, that is, God’s love.

In this excerpt from Poem 28, Hadewijch wrestles with the power of love, which can both destroy and raise up. She also asks the question, what do you do when you just can’t go on, when you’ve reached the end of the road and you can’t love anymore? Read Hadewijch’s poem for her honest take on God’s love.

****

For this is love’s truth: she joins two in one being, makes sweet sour, strangers neighbors, and the lowly noble.

 

She makes the healthy sick and the sick healthy; she cripples those who are sound of limb and heals the wounded.

 

To the ignorant she reveals the wide roads they must wander in weariness and teaches them all that shall be learned in the school of highest love.

 

Burning desire is taught in the school of highest love.

 

She confounds the experienced, she brings happiness to the wretched, she makes them lords of all over which love herself holds sway.

 

Of this I am certain beyond all doubt.

 

To those who can serve love no more I give this good advice.

 

Let them still beg for her comfort if they falter and serve her with devotion according to her highest counsel.

 

Let them think how great love’s power is, for only those near to death cannot be healed.

 

They have risen high that have received love’s power, and in that power they shall read her judgment over them.

*****

Source

For reflection:

Hadewijch - love's truth

 

CONTEMPLATIVE PROFILE: THE POETRY OF HADEWIJCH OF ANTWERP

A few months ago, we dipped into one of the letters of Hadewijch of Antwerp, a thirteenth-century mystic who was probably a beguine. Hadewijch wrote many letters and is also well known for her spiritual love poetry. In her poems, love is personified and is to be understood as God’s love, which consumes all things and which fills the lover with a terrible and wonderful longing.

Sometimes poetry can help us approach our faith with new eyes. So today, let’s read one of Hadewijch’s poems. In Poem 8 below, Hadewijch speaks of the the “awesome calling” of being in love and also of its responsibilities and rewards.

*****

Poem 8

Born is the new season as the old one that lasted so long is drawing to a close.
Those prepared to do love’s service will receive her rewards: new comfort and new   strength.
If they love her with the vigor of love, they will soon be one with love in love.

To be one with love is an awesome calling and those who long for it should spare no effort.
Beyond all reason they will give their all and go through all.
For love dwells so deep in the womb of the Father that her power will unfold only to those who serve her with utter devotion.

First the lover must learn charity and keep God’s law.
Then he shall be blessed a hundredfold, and he shall do great things without great effort, and bear all pain without suffering.
And so his life will surpass human reason indeed.

Those who long to be one with love achieve great things, and shirk no effort.
They shall be strong and capable of any task that will win them the love of love, to help the sick or the healthy, the blind, the crippled or the wounded.
For this is what the lover owes to love.

He shall help the strangers and give to the poor and soothe the suffering whenever he can.
He shall pay loyal service to God’s friends, to saints and men, with a strength that is not human, by night and by day.
And when his strength seems to falter he will still place his trust in love.

Those who trust in love with all their being shall be given all they need.
For she brings comfort to the sad and guidance to those who cannot read.
Love will be pleased with the lover if he accepts no other comfort and trusts in her alone.

Those who desire to live in love alone with all their might and heart shall so dispose all things that they shall soon possess her all.

Source

For reflection

hadewijch - one with love2

CONTEMPLATIVE PROFILE: PRAYING FOR THE WORLD WITH AELRED OF RIEVAULX

 
Aelred of Rievaulx
Aelred of Rievaulx (c. 1110 – 1167) was an English Cisterician monk and the abbot of Rievaulx Abbey in Yorkshire. In honor of his feast day tomorrow (January 12), I wanted to share with you a beautiful passage in one of Aelred’s works, The Rule for a Recluse. In this passage, Aelred explains to his readers how to pray for a world in need. I think you’ll agree that his thoughts seem especially appropriate in our day and age.

 

 

Praying for the World

What is more useful than prayer? Give it. What is more gracious than pity? Spend it. Hold the whole world in one embrace of love; consider the good to congratulate them, the wicked to grieve over them; behold the afflicted and compassionate the oppressed; call to mind the miseries of the poor, the groans of orphans, the desolation of widows, the sorrows of those who weep, the needs of pilgrims, the vows of virgins, the perils of men on the sea, the temptation of monks, the cares of the clergy, the hardships that soldiers endure. Open your heart to all, spend your tears on them, pour forth your prayers for them.

Source: De Institutione Inclusarum of Ailred of Rievaulx. Ed. C. H. Talbot. Editiones Cistercienses, 1951.

CONTEMPLATIVE PROFILE: AN ADVENT POEM FROM MADELEINE L’ENGLE

Madeleine L’Engle (1918-2007) was a beloved American writer. If you’re like me, her novel A Wrinkle in Time was formative for your young adult years. L’Engle also wrote poetry; today, I invite you to reflect on her beautiful poem about silence, brokenness, and the coming of Jesus.

Ready for Silence

Then hear now the silence
He comes in the silence
in silence he enters
the womb of the bearer
in silence he goes to
the realm of the shadows
redeeming and shriving
in silence he moves from
the grave clothes, the dark tomb
in silence he rises
ascends to the glory
leaving his promise
leaving his comfort
leaving his silence

So come now Lord Jesus
Come in your silence
breaking our noising
laughter of panic
breaking this earth’s time
breaking us breaking us
quickly Lord Jesus
make no long tarrying

When will you come
and how will you come
and will we be ready
for silence
your silence

Source

CONTEMPLATIVE PROFILE: ST. AUGUSTINE ON THE INCARNATION

Today we have a beautiful meditation on the Incarnation from St. Augustine. In this passage from one of his Christmas sermons, Augustine reflects on the many names for Christ and reveals the tension inherent in the Word made flesh. I invite you to read and revel in the paradox of the Ruler of the Stars who nursed at his mother’s breast.

Man’s maker was made man,
that He, Ruler of the stars, might nurse at His mother’s breasts;
that the Bread might be hungry,
the Fountain thirst,
the Light sleep,
the Way be tired from the journey;
that the Truth might be accused by false witness,
the Judge of the living and the dead be judged by a mortal judge,
Justice be sentenced by the unjust,
the Teacher be beaten with whips,
the Vine be crowned with thorns,
the Foundation be suspended on wood;
that Strength might be made weak,
that He who makes well might be wounded;
that Life might die.

 

He was made man to suffer these and similar undeserved things for us, that He might free us who were undeserving . . .

Sermon 191.1 (source)

CONTEMPLATIVE PROFILE: CATHERINE OF SIENA ON THE JOURNEY OF ADVENT

Around 1377/78, the Italian mystic Catherine of Siena (1347-1380) wrote her spiritual treatise, The Dialogue. Throughout this treatise, she emphasizes Christ’s poverty and his humility in choosing to come to earth as a man. Catherine gives examples of Christ’s humility from major events in his life. Her reflection on Christ’s birth provides a wonderful way for us to journey through the Advent season.

In this section of text, God is speaking to the soul (and to us, the reader):

You see this gentle loving Word born in a stable while Mary was on a journey, to show you pilgrims how you should be constantly born anew in the stable of self-knowledge, where by grace you will find me born within your soul. You see him lying among the animals, in such poverty that Mary had nothing to cover him up with. It was winter, and she kept him warm with the animals’ breath and a blanket of hay. He is the fire of charity but he chose to endure the cold in his humanity.

I love the way this text refers to us as pilgrims–as God’s people, we are on a journey through this season of expectation. How is your pilgrimage through Advent going? Are you ready to be born anew?

Read The Dialogue here.

For Reflection:

Catherine of Siena - Advent

 

CONTEMPLATIVE PROFILE: HADEWIJCH OF ANTWERP

Last week, we looked at an extraordinary passage in a letter by the Flemish mystic Hadewijch of Antwerp. In her letter, Hadewijch said that most of us think we should get a reward – from God or from other people – for carrying the cross with Christ:

We do not live with Christ, and we do not carry that cross with the Son of God, but we carry it with Simon who received pay because he carried our Lord’s cross (Matt. 27:32).

This passage really made me think. How often do I say, “Do you see, God, everything that I’m doing for you? Have you noticed how hard I’m working?” How often do I hope that other people notice (just a little bit) how spiritual or helpful or humble I am? Pretty often, it turns out. But if we’re seeking recognition for carrying the cross, we’re not really being crucified with Christ. There’s only one reason to carry the cross, Hadewijch says, and that is for love.

That cross which we must bear with the Son of the living God is the sweet exile that we bear for the sake of veritable Love, during which we must await with longing confidence the festival when Love shall manifest herself and reveal her noble power and rich omnipotence on earth and in heaven. In this she shows herself so unreservedly to him who loves that she makes him beside himself; she robs him of heart and mind, and causes him to die to himself and live in devotion to veritable Love.

Love – and not external rewards – is what makes us willing to suffer with Christ and also to do good works:

And thus we must always persevere with renewed ardor: with hands ever ready for all works in which virtue is practiced, our will ready for all virtues in which Love is honored, without other intention than to render Love her proper place in man, and in all creatures according to their due. This is to be crucified with Christ . . .

Have you been crucified with Christ today?

CONTEMPLATIVE PROFILE: HADEWIJCH OF ANTWERP

Hadewijch of Antwerp was a writer, poet, and mystic of the thirteenth century. Not much is known about her life. She lived in present-day Belgium, wrote in Middle Dutch, and was probably part of a beguine community.

In her works, Hadewijch wrote frequently about love and about Christ’s humanity. But she wasn’t afraid of showing a little fire, too. In a letter addressed (probably) to a woman in a beguine community, she wrote about the God complex so many people have. When we have a God complex, we want God’s glory and divinity but not his humanity. This has grave consequences, for it means we’re not willing to suffer as Christ suffered. Hadewijch writes:

[P]eople wish to live with God in consolations and repose, in wealth and power, and to share the fruition of his glory. We all indeed wish to be God with God, but God knows there are few of us who want to live as men with his Humanity, or want to carry his cross with him, or want to hang on the cross with him and pay humanity’s debt to the full. Indeed we can rightly discern this as regards ourselves, in that we are so little able to hold out against suffering in all respects. An unexpected sorrow, though slight, goes to our heart; or a slander, or a lie that people tell about us; or someone’s robbing us of our honor, or our rest, or our own will: How quickly and deeply any of this wounds us all!

By this we show plainly that we do not live with Christ as he lived; neither do we forsake all as Christ did, nor are we forsaken by all as Christ was . . . We do not live with Christ, and we do not carry that cross with the Son of God, but we carry it with Simon who received pay because he carried our Lord’s cross (Matt. 27:32).

I’m really struck by Hadewijch’s comment that we carry the cross for pay – we’re always looking to get paid, either by earning God’s favor or the regard of other people:

We hold in great esteem what we do or suffer for him, and we never resign ourselves to being left without recompense, or without knowing and feeling that it pleases God; we very quickly accept from him pay in the hand, namely satisfaction and repose; we also accept pay a second time in our self-complacency; and a third time, when we are satisfied that we have pleased others, and we accept commendation, honor, and praise from them.

Did you catch that? We get paid three times for carrying Christ’s cross! That, at least, is the temptation. If we don’t (or, rather, shouldn’t) carry this cross for pay, why should we do it? How do we carry the cross with Christ rather than with Simon? We’ll look at Hadewijch’s answer next week.

Until then, think on what Hadewijch said and reflect on this quesion: what kind of pay have you accepted for carrying Christ’s cross this week?