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Darkness and books

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Death and silence

Eve of All Saints (All Hallows Eve)
4th Sunday before Advent

Yes, I do follow the age old custom in the Christian community (and a tip of the hat to our Jewish forefathers) to treat Saturday night as the beginning of Sunday. So “Reformation Day” (Oct 31) ended about 2 hours ago when the sun set and the darkness arrived.

And this year is somewhat special as All Saints/All Hallows is on a Sunday. Meaning that this year is somewhat special for a solemnity such as All Saints Day to fall on a Sunday.

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iMonk has a very good article, part 20 on his series on the Evangelical Liturgy on the subject of silence in the service. I don’t know why but most churches I have been to don’t tend to like silence (with the exception of the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches I have been to). It is filled up instead with some music. But silence is a critical part of services. The Lord asks us to “Be still and know that I am God”. That stillness, to my own experience, cannot be truly achieved in a time of corporate worship where no silence is present in the service/liturgy.

Are we all too scared of silence? Are we scared at what the silence reveals to us about ourselves? Or have we been conditioned by our environment to accept that as much background noise as possible is the “norm”? Go take a read and think for yourself.

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With the last week, I have been more snappy, bitter, judgmental, smartass-ish than usual. It’s a bad thing. Along with that has come regular thoughts about death.

So if I happen to die in the near future, please try and find me a casket like this:

Monastic Casket - Poplar with natural finish

+ 2022hrs

Sleep

3rd Tuesday in Eastertide

I’m a big fan of public broadcasting. Heck, if we had PBS here in Australia, I’d be watching that more often than I’d be watching NBC, CBS and ABC combined.

We however have the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) and SBS (Special Broadcasting Service).

I’m a big fan of SBS. Huge fan. One, because they show Top Gear UK and Top Gear Australia (can’t wait for series 2 of TGA beginning May 11!) Secondly, they show possibly the best current affairs/news discussion program in Australia, Insight (well, next to Dateline, Foreign Correspondent, The 7:30 Report and Four Corners). Last week was all about work and the reinvention of ourselves during this economic downturn.

This week, Jenny Brockie and the team were talking about the issue of sleep. And why we all get less of it than we should. It’s a pertinent issue for myself of late given that I have been having disrupted sleep at nights (i.e. waking up and then not going back to sleep for a few hours) or my sleep is of a low quality (I’m more fitful than restful). And I know that if I keep this up, I will get sick more often this year (influenza vaccination notwithstanding). Plus be more grumpy than I usually am and lose my temper far too often.

I’m guilty of not setting myself more of a routine for my sleep. Given the lay Benedictine commitment I have made, the concept of balancing work, rest and prayer should feature more prominently. A lay Benedictine commitment comes with a responsibility of adapting the monastic work day to my life in the secular world. But it comes with a great deal of difficulty, though it is not such an impossible task.

I find that I go to sleep with far too much on my mind (like I will tonight as I have some work documents to read and edit before I hit the sack tonight). I can lay in bed for an hour waiting to drift off into slumberland, but I am restless. Why on earth I don’t actually get up and pray compline or vigils during that time for some contemplation and rest bewilders even myself.

All it does show is that I am not living out that lay monastic commitment as fully as I should be. And that if I am ever to be a priest, my work will suffer for it as my own self-discipline and askesis in these matters is lacking. Not for a lack of full commitment (be the half-assed commitment it is currently), but ultimately for a lack of love for God.

My lack of sleep always keeps bringing up in the back of my mind that little saying by St. Paul that our bodies are the temple of God and how we should not destroy God’s temple unless we want God to destroy us (1 Cor 3:16-18). Although primarily directed at the Corinthian church at the time (the “you” in the verse is plural after all), there is a great deal of application in these verses if we take the you to mean the individual person too (even though it is only a secondary meaning and interpretation).

The entire point of the Benedictine approach to life and faith is one of balance and harmony. Finding balance and harmony between the works of God and the works of man. In Chinese terms, to balance yin and yang. God help me.

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It was rather good to catch up yesterday with my old high school principal, Fr. Paul for lunch in the city. Caught up on each other’s work, hobbies and my questioning him about life as an Anglican priest. I had forgotten that he likes reading Japanese literature, so his recommendations for some books are in the back of my mind as I head overseas in a few weeks time. KLCC Kinokuniya, here I come.

I will be hunting down a copy of Shūsaku Endō’s (遠藤 周作) Silence. And some stuff by Graham Greene too – like The End of the Affair and The Power and the Glory. And maybe to see if I can find somewhere online those brief sermons of Kierkegaard he mentioned were good too (unless he is talking about Kierkegaard’s parables, of which I have a copy of in my library). This was after I mentioned to Fr. Paul that the Christian existentialist view on despair and sorrow that finds its expression in Kierkegaard’s The Sickness Unto Death has been a formative influence on how I view and handle the despair, sorrow and sadness that resides within me.

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In other things, please pray for the priest on duty today at St. John’s (Fr. John) as we had to stop the lunchtime Mass just before the prayers because he wasn’t feeling too well. I’m hoping that he didn’t suffer a mini heart attack or mini stroke there. In the end Fr. Rupert finished Mass for the small congregation present, but we all were hoping and praying for Fr. John to be well soon.

+ bf 2112hrs

Apocryphal nature

Lent 3 – Saturday
Solemnity of the Transitus of St. Benedict

[ now playing? ] Ben Cantelon “For Your Glory (We Will Dance)” from COMPLETE: Live Worship from Soul Survivor 2008

It’s the solemnity of St. Benedict’s death (i.e. transit from life into [eternal] life) today. Rather weird that it’s also on the same day as the state election this year, but meh.

A few collects for today that I have prayed.

Lord our God,
you filled the blessed abbot Benedict
with the spirit of your Son
and made him a master in the way of perfection.
As we celebrate his entrance into glory,
may we attain that love which surpasses all understanding.
This we ask of you through Christ.
Amen.

Raise up, O Lord, in your church,
the spirit wherewith our holy father
Benedict the abbot was animated,
that filled with the same spirit,
we may learn to love what he loved
and to practice what he taught.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Dear Lord,
You chose St. Benedict to follow You
and made him the founder of a great religious family in your Church.
Help me, through his intercession and Yours,
to choose the vocation You have destined for me
and to follow it with generosity, steadfastness and courage
all the days of my life.
May the same spirit that led & guided St. Benedict
inspire me to prefer nothing to You,
to lead a life of prayer,
to form myself on Your Word
and to labor for the salvation of all people.
Through Christ our Lord.
Amen.

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Is it just me or are the Soul Survivor live albums better than what comes out from Hillsong these days? I mean, even Soul Survivor’s live versions of Hillsong-authored tracks are better musically to my ear (case in point “Your Name High” on the 2008 live album). Must be all of that chanting that goes on in at the football in the UK. WOOOOOOO-AAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH! (<— ok, you won’t get that WOAH bit unless you’ve heard the track).

Having said that, the last couple of SS albums have been almost Hillsong cover albums. Ever since Tim Hughes and Matt Redman have come off the main roster of worship/song leaders for Soul Survivor, the list of original tracks on them look like slim-pickings. And I’m very happy that Soul Survivor Watford (SSW) still remains the body that underpins the conferences, and that SSW are a part of the Church of England (a missionary congregation within the Diocese of St. Albans).

On the other hand, I’ve been most impressed with what has been coming out of Hillsong these days song-wise. Much better depth than what was there before (like “For All You’ve Done” which sounded like a random stream of consciousness to my ears and mind). Joel Houston is finally blossoming into one helluva songwriter (both lyrically and in arrangements).

But after all that, I still prefer the ye olde hymns over the contemporary stuff (but only marginally, by like 55% hymns, 45% contemporary).

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I must have been one of the few Protestants/Methodists (at the time) when I was younger to actually enjoy reading the Apocrypha. For years I have preferred using a Bible with the apocryphal books included (hence why NIV/TNIV isn’t usually my preferred translation these days). But now that I’m quite at home with being an Anglican who worships in a Methodist church, reading the Apocrypha doesn’t feel like such a guilty pleasure anymore.

Why you may ask? There’s some stuff in it that may be objectionable on dogmatic grounds (but which may be privately held as a “pious thelogical opinion”, like the opaque reference to purgatory in 2 Maccabees 12:39-42, 44-45) but the vast majority is quite good. And one of my favorite works in the Apocryphal canon is The Prayer of Manasseh. This book appears to be accepted only by our brethren in the Eastern Orthodox communion, but which appears in the appendix to the Vulgate (of course, [most] Protestants think it’s a load of crap but Anglicans do have it included within the Apocrypha in the KJV).

It’s possibly the prayer made by Manasseh, king of Judah that is briefly alluded to in 2 Chronicles 33:18-19 but which isn’t recorded in it and in it has overtones of one of the most recognized Psalms, Psalm 51 (or Psalm 50 in Catholic and Orthodox psalters). Scholarly opinion reckons it was composed in the late first century B.C. in Greek before making its way into Latin and Syriac.

Its very tone is penitential and most appropriate for Lent. Which is why I was rather quite surprised (but pleased) to see it in the Church of England’s Common Worship series of liturgical materials as the Old Testament Canticle for Morning Prayer in Lent. I leave it with you all to read over and think over for yourself. For me however, it remains as a pattern of prayer for me during Lent when I realize how screwed up I am and how much I am in need of God’s mercy and grace.

The following is taken from the Revised English Bible (REB), which at the moment is my reading Bible of choice during the Divine Office for me.

The Prayer of Manasseh (REB)

Repentance

Almighty Lord, God of our fathers, of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and of their righteous posterity, who made heaven and earth in their manifold array, who fettered the ocean by your word of command, who closed the abyss and sealed it with your fearful and glorious name—before your power all things quake and tremble. The majesty of your glory is more than can be borne; none can endure the threat of your wrath against sinners.

Your promised mercy is beyond measure and none can fathom it; for you are Lord Most High, compassionate, patient, and of great mercy, relenting when men suffer for their sins. For our of your great goodness, Lord, you have promised repentance and remission to those who have sinned against you, and in your boundless mercy you have appointed repentance for sinners as the way to salvation. Therefore, Lord God of the righteous, you appointed repentance not for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who were righteous and did not sin against you, but for me, whose sins outnumber the sands of the sea. My transgressions abound, Lord, my transgressions abound, and, because of the multitude of my wrongdoings, I am not worthy to look up and gaze at the height of heaven. Bowed down with many an iron chain, I grieve over my sins and find no relief, because I have provoked your anger and done what is wrong in your eyes, setting up idols and so multiplying offences.

Now my heart submits to you, imploring your great goodness. I have sinned, Lord, I have sinned, and I acknowledge my transgressions. I beg and beseech you, spare me, Lord, spare me; destroy me not with my transgressions on my head, do not be angry with me forever, or store up punishment for me. Do not condemn me to the depths of the earth, for you, Lord, are the God of the penitent. You will show your goodness towards me, for, unworthy as I am, you will save me in your great mercy; and I shall praise you continually all the days of my life. The whole host of heaven sings your praise, and yours is the glory for ever. Amen.

+ bf 2000hrs

Paradox

Ordinary Time 6/Epiphany 6
Holy Innocents Day (alternative date in the Australian Anglican Calendar)

To the guys and gals from EMP MYF who read this: after Monday night, you are all in my prayers. God be with you all.

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Christian life is a paradox at times. After recent events like flood, bushfires and the ever present battle in Gaza, at times I do question why on earth God lets this all happen.

How in the face of poverty around the world and in Australia, can I still call God “good”? In the death of innocent civillians and innocent children from war, poverty, disease, human greed and whatever else anyone can think of (of which today at Mass we were reminded of given today is the alternative date for Holy Innocents Day in the 2009 Anglican Calendar).

With all of the crap that is going on in the world caused by us pesky humans, why oh why does God still let all of this happen? I am faced with doubt each time similar events happen. I pass through it eventually, but each time I get a glimpse as to why non-Christians say that they can’t believe in a God (if one exists) who would allow these things to happen and yet still call such a God “good”.

I’m worse than Job in that respect. At least he never did wrong by cursing or questioning God to the extent that I do. This paradox of Christian living and existence will continue to haunt me the rest of my life. It is (with apologies to St. John of the Cross), my own personal dark night of the soul. But I know that faith is strengthened in times of doubt and adversity (even though I doubt that at times too!). When the tether seems like it is about to snap, somehow it doesn’t.

To paraphrase Scripture: O God I believe; help my unbelief! (cf. Mk 9:24)

 

“At All Times” – Vicky Beeching
from the album Painting the Invisible 

In the summer of life, in the laughter and light;
I will love you, I will trust you.
When I’m weary and dry, in the soul’s darkest night;
I will love you, I will trust you.

You are my strength and my song
Always giving me hope to go on.

And at all times, I will sing of your greatness.
At all times, I will sing of your love.
And at all times, I will say you are faithful,
For your goodness remains, and your love is the same
At all times.

On the mountain of joy where the view is so clear;
I will love you, I will trust you.
When I feel all alone in the valley of tears;
I will love you, I will trust you.

Whatever life brings, still I will sing
You are good, you are good, you are good
Whatever life brings, still I will sing
You are good, you are good, you are good
Whatever life brings, still I will sing
You are good, you are good, you are good

And at all times, I will sing of your greatness.
At all times, I will sing of your love.
And at all times, I will say you are faithful,
For your goodness remains, and your love is the same.

And at all times, I will sing of your greatness.
At all times, I will sing of your love.
And at all times, I will say you are faithful,
For your goodness remains, and your love is the same
At all times.

Rule of St. Benedict
Chapter 4 “Guidelines for Christian and monastic good practice”

Keep the reality of death always before your eyes,
have a care about how you act every hour of your life
and be sure that God is present everywhere
and that he certainly sees and understands what you are about. — RB 4:47-49

+ bf 2112hrs

Burning out

Ordinary Time 28/Pentecost 22 – Sunday

[ now playing? ] Michael Buble – “A Foggy Day (In London Town)” | Tony Bennett – “Smile” | Jamie Cullum – “Blame It On My Youth” | Karrin Allison – “West Coast Blues” | Jamie Cullum – “Next Year” | Nat King Cole – “Quizas, Quizas, Quizas (Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps)” | Tony Bennett & James Taylor – “Put On A Happy Face”

Good reading: Bishop N.T. Wright – 30 Sept 2008 at Westminster Abbey “Wisdom in a Troubled Time”

I seem to have picked up a bug from somewhere. Because I missed church this morning feeling rather tired and woozy. And I’m sitting here now typing this blog entry up with a nose that seems to have a never ending flow of clear mucous coming out of it (I wouldn’t be surprised if tomorrow it begins to turn the lovely yellow/green that indicates that I have an infection of some sort).

Continue reading Burning out