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Archive for March, 2012

Joy of Confession

After much procrastination and struggle, I have finally finished my second and last reflection paper on St. Benedict’s Rule. I’m one step closer to finishing this course I never thought I’d finish! The joy of confession is what resonated in my life as I read the second half of the rule and reflected on my life. It’s hard to speak of confession without speaking honestly 😉 Here are my thoughts.

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In our current society, the topic of sin is rather unpopular. It is easy to water down our wrongdoings and to create excuses that seem to let us off the hook. Yet St. Benedict speaks of the gravity of sin and the need for continual repentance. Moreover, he speaks of the joy that comes from admitting our own faults and weaknesses and finding God’s utter forgiveness. My reflections on the Rule of St. Benedict have impressed upon me the need to make room in my life for confession and repentance.

            In my reflections of St. Benedict and de Waal’s writings and on my own life, I have been pondering the gravity of sin. St. Benedict “sees sin as deep, structural, and pervasive […] It must not be buried and denied, but exposed and lived within terms of repentance and new life” (de Waal, pg. 105). In an individualistic society, it is easy to see my life as my own and my shortcomings as something that affects only myself. Living in community has helped me to see that sin affects so much more than just myself. In my struggle with depression, I have found comfort in ways of coping that worried my housemates. It has been through community that I have come to see this as a struggle with sin and how sin affects not only my life, but also those who love me. When my struggles became known, I was faced with the gravity and depth of my sin.

            St. Benedict reminds us that “the gaze of God is always upon us” (de Waal, pg. 79). It was a powerful experience recently to be confronted by God Almighty with my sin and to stand before Him, knowing that He knows me as I really am with all my darkness. There is freedom and release in facing God and acknowledging my sin. Esther de Waal writes, “This act of acknowledging my own weakness and failure is not a morbid dwelling on sin but a turning in confidence to the God who sees a humble and contrite heart and is there to rescue me just as he has rescued his people in the past” (pg. 79). I was well aware of my own brokenness and stood before God with a contrite heart, but lacked the confidence in a God who forgives. I was plagued with the question of how God could ever forgive me. I remember sitting in the hospital cafeteria, listening to Steve Bell’s beautiful music and simple lyrics from Scripture: Who condemns you now? Neither them nor I. Go and sin no more, go and sin no more. I had this overwhelming sense of God’s love and forgiveness poured over me in a way that I don’t think I have ever experienced before. After this experience, I was struck not only by God’s grace in my life, but in the command to go and sin no more. I have since realized the powerful experience of having God gaze upon our lives and allowing Him to rescue us from our own brokenness and weakness.

            St. Benedict speaks of the need to let Scripture penetrate our hearts and frame our daily lives. Esther de Waal writes, “Daily reading of Scripture is a reminder of the faithfulness of God in his covenant relationship with his chosen people” (pg. 83). Since my powerful experience of God’s forgiveness, I have had a renewed amazement at how reading through Scripture through the lectionary continues to shape my day and my life. I am continually reminded to set my eyes on Christ, and frequently I am moved to confession as I see how I have wandered in my day from the ways of Christ.

            Regular confession is becoming a continual reminder of the cost of Christ’s work on the cross. St. Benedict writes, “God regards our purity of heart and tears of compunction, not our many words” (20.3). I remember a prayer that one of my street-involved friends prayed: “Lord, I have done many wrong things. Please accept me.” It was simple, but profound. The various forms of confessional prayer we use (from silence to written prayers) tend to highlight ways in which I fall short of the glory of God. As commented on earlier, sin is pervasive. Yet, this confessional time is also a poignant reminder of God’s grace and love as I reflect on how Christ took the penalty for my deep and pervasive sin.

            Confession is incomplete without repentance. de Waal writes, “truth demands amputation, the cutting out of the diseased part” (pg. 113). When we are faced with our own sin and acknowledge its gravity, we are faced with the need to change our behaviour and attitudes. Using de Waal’s analogy, sin will continue to spread and wreak havoc if not dealt with seriously. While I am not sure that I agree with some of Benedict’s seemingly harsh reprocussions for brothers who commit grave sins, I have been moved by his writings to take sin seriously and to allow God’s grace in my life to motivate me to changing so that I might live life to the fullest.

            In conclusion, regular confession is a vital component of the Christian life and is a gift to those who partake in it. Regular confession allows one to be face God as she really is and to be surrounded by His love and grace. True confession also moves one to change by the help of God so that they may live life to the fullest.

Stopping to Listen

It’s been awhile since I last wrote. So much has happened and each time I sit down at my computer to write, I find myself not sure of where to even begin. I have been wrestling with depression and in the past few weeks coming out of that. There is so much that I have been learning and experiencing and it will take me awhile to unpack all that has happened in my life. But as a starting place, I thought I’d share a reflection paper that I recently wrote. I am taking a course called “Monastic and missional” which is basically what my community is about. As part of the course we had to read and reflect on St Benedict’s rule using the prayer form Lection Divina. I could have written my paper on all sorts of topics and in fact had a topic picked out. It is amazing how relevant this Rule is. But when I actually went to write the paper, I was inspired once again by the opening words of the rule – “Listen Carefully” and this is what came out of that inspiration.


Listen…

Reflections can never fully be separated from where we are at in our lives. Over the past few months, I have struggled with deep depression. St. Benedict’s Rule and Esther de Waal’s commentary have provided encouragement and challenge for me as I have wrestled with God in the midst of difficult circumstances. There is much to glean from this writings. However, St. Benedict’s opening and simple words, “Listen carefully” have stayed with me during this journey (Prologue, 1). It is these simple words that I feel God has impressed on my heart at this time.

Stopping to Listen

St. Benedict calls us to stop – to stop long enough to listen. It is so easy to go about life without stopping and I tend to fill my time so that there is little room for reflection. When times are tough, I find myself running from one thing to the next in an attempt to flee from my pain and, as I have been discovering, to allow God to speak into that pain. I found myself in the hospital for five weeks that in a sense forced me to stop and to listen.

Listening requires an open heart and open ears. St. Benedict admonishes us to listen carefully. These words carry weight – there is something to which I must pay attention, some message, some charge or something that I am to grasp. In many ways I wonder if those weeks in the hospital were a gift and a chance to rediscover God’s call on my life and to become firmly planted in Christ’s love once again. Maybe I have to stop to listen long enough to realize my rootedness in Christ (de Waal, pg. 7). Maybe in this rootedness, I will find healing and wholeness in my life. This season of my life seems like it is a time of restoration and rescuing. I need to continuously take time to stop so that God can work in my life.

Listening to Love

St. Benedict writes, “See how the Lord in his love shows us the way of life” (Prologue, 20). As I have wrestled with God these past few months, I have doubted His love and His desire for wholeness and peace to reign in my life. God’s persistent love, however, found me and travelled with me even into the depths of my despair – a profound, and life-changing discovery for me. St. Benedict’s speaks of God waiting for us daily (Prologue, 35). I have been discovering God’s abundant patience, waiting day by day for me to turn to Him.

I am often quick to proclaim God’s abundant love for others around me, but slow to claim it for myself. Esther de Waal writes, “What is totally certain is that when I encounter the voice of the father […] it is the voice of love” (de Waal, pg. 7). This is something that I need to let sink into my own heart. In the hospital, I experienced God’s love at a time that I wasn’t expecting. As I was surrounded by God’s unquestionable love, I began to wonder what would happen if I opened my heart fully to God and allowed God’s love to penetrate it. Perhaps de Waal’s words are true – that in the moment I rest in God’s love, I am truly myself. My experience in the hospital taught me that it is in the moment that I face who I am with all my sin and brokenness that God’s love can overflow into my heart and life.

From Listening to Action

Listening carefully requires a response. Listening does not mean to let the words pass over me, rather it is a call to let them penetrate my heart and transform my life. St. Benedict is calling us to give up our will, surrendering it to God’s perfect will (Prologue 3). When caught in the depths of despair, it is easy to lose sight of this. Perhaps in these moments, it is all the more important to cling onto the Love that God lavishes upon us. When one truly listens to this love of God, one cannot live the same – love spurs us on to action. I must translate into action what I am learning. I need to be open to what I hear from God, whether they are words of challenge or comfort (de Waal, pg. 6) and these words must bear fruit in my life.

St. Benedict tells us to not be frightened by the call God has on our lives, for “in faith we shall run on the path of God’s commandments, our hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love” (Prologue 48-49). As I listen to Love’s call to obedience and holiness, God’s love will fill my heart in ways that I cannot expect. I remember fondly a moment in the hospital when I felt utterly loved by God and surrounded with this love that saw me as I really am and welcomed me into His presence. This moment was so powerful that it caused me to look at my life and what needs to change. Change can be frightening and the road to healing is definitely daunting. I see the intentional work that I have ahead of me to stare directly at my past and my present and allow God’s love into those areas of woundedness and brokenness. However, Benedict’s words encourage me that God and His infinite love journeys with me.

Conclusion

In conclusion, my reflection on St. Benedict’s rule has encouraged and challenged me to listen carefully to God, to be open to letting His love penetrate my heart and to be spurred on to a life that is overflowing with God’s inexpressible love. I am encouraged that through being rooted in God’s love, I will find true healing and wholeness in my life amidst the brokenness and pain.

 

Bibliography

de Waal, Esther. A Life-Giving Way: A Commentary on the Rule of St. Benedict. Collegeville Minnesota: The Order of St. Benedict, Inc., 1995.

Fry, Timothy, OSB, ed. The Rule of St. Benedict in English. Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1982.