Tag Archives: contemplation

St. Bernard (1090-1153)

St. Bernard, Perugina, 18th century

August 20th we remember St. Bernard, a spiritual teacher who never goes out of date.

The image of Jesus communing with Bernard from 16th century Florence captures the spirituality of the saint. Bernard was attracted to the humanity of Christ, especially his love shown on Calvary. In this scene, Jesus bends down to Bernard to embrace him. The nails cannot hold him from loving the one kneeling before him. Christ’s love is stronger than the images of death, pictured beneath the cross. That has to be Florence in the background. Christ’s love in never confined to one age or place.

Bernard lived in “an age of love”, which saw Jesus reaching out to humanity, not primarily humanity crippled by sin, but humanity that is his beloved. It’s not surprising that Bernard’s sermons on “The Song of Songs” is considered his greatest work. “The Bridegroom’s love, or rather the love which is the Bridegroom, asks in return nothing but faithful love. Let the beloved, then, love in return. Should not a bride love, and above all, Love’s bride? Could it be that Love not be loved?… It is true that the creature loves less because she is less. But if she loves with her whole being, nothing is lacking where everything is given.”

Bernard was a leader in the Cistercian reform of Benedictine monasticism which emphasized simplicity of life and devotion to the humanity of Christ. He became a monk at the monastery of Clairvaux in 1112, and then its abbot. By the time of his death in 1153 the order numbered 339 monasteries throughout Europe.

Bernard played an important part in the events of his time as an advisor to popes, bishops and secular leaders. He was a powerful voice promoting the Crusades.

Here is his summary of the way we approach God::

“The first involves humbling ourselves before God: “Heal me, Lord, and I shall be healed; save me and I shall be saved. And again, Lord, have mercy on me; heal my soul because I have sinned against you.

Then, leaving sorrow and ourselves behind, it’s time to “abide rather in the Spirit of God with great delight. No longer do we consider what is the will of God for us, but rather what it is in itself.

Under the guidance of the Spirit who gazes into the deep things of God, let us reflect how gracious the Lord is and how good he is in himself. Let us join the Prophet in praying that we may see the Lord’s will and frequent not our own hearts but the Lord’s temple; and let us also say, My soul is humbled within me, therefore I shall be mindful of you.

These two stages sum up the whole of the spiritual life: when we contemplate ourselves we are troubled, but our sadness saves us and brings us to contemplate God. That contemplation in turn gives us the consolation of the joy of the Holy Spirit.

Contemplating ourselves brings fear and humility; contemplating God brings us hope and love.”

“Jesus, what made you so small? Love.”

Lord God,  you made Saint Bernard burn with zeal for your house,  and gave him grace to enkindle and enlighten others in your Church.Grant that by his prayer  we may be filled with the same spirit  and always live as children of the light.Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,  who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,  one God, for ever and ever.Amen.

Some audio readings of St Bernard’s works: https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/21152

Jesus, who made you so small? Love

Created for Paradise

Icon of Lazarus, Jesus, Mary and Martha

27th Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday (Year II)

Luke 10:38-42

Jesus entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary who sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. 

Mary sat enraptured at the Lord’s feet, absorbing every word like pure gold. Past and future were forgotten. Only the present moment with Eternity Incarnate mattered. Mary didn’t intend to neglect the duties of hospitality, but she didn’t want to lose a single moment to soak in his wisdom. 

Martha wanted to make Jesus’ stay as comfortable and welcoming as possible. Perhaps the guest list had also grown (see Martha Revisited). She spoke to Jesus as to a brother by not hesitating to complain to him about her sister. 

Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”

Martha’s mind and heart were scattered in many directions as she worried about preparing the meal and getting the house ready. “There is need of only one thing,” Jesus said: to give him undivided attention and to receive divine nourishment. A tranquil mind (even in the midst of activity) is the condition of paradise. Contemplative union is primordial to our original nature. 

St. John of Damascus writes in his chapter on Paradise in The Orthodox Faith (Book II, Chapter 21):

“For our Creator, God, did not intend us to be burdened with care and troubled about many things, nor to take thought about, or make provision for, our own life… Yea, He meant us further to be free from care and to have but one work to perform, to sing as do the angels, without ceasing or intermission, the praises of the Creator, and to delight in contemplation of Him and to cast all our care on Him. This is what the Prophet David proclaimed to us when He said, Cast your burden on the Lord, and He will sustain you. And, again, in the Gospels, Christ taught His disciples saying, Take no thought for your life what you shall eat, nor for your body what you shall put on (Matthew 6:25). And further, Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you. And to Martha He said, Martha, Martha, you are careful and troubled about many things: but one thing is needful: and Mary has chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her (Luke 10:41-42), meaning, clearly, sitting at His feet and listening to His words.”

Paradise begins within by sitting at the Lord’s feet and allowing the Holy Spirit to breathe in us to the Father.

-GMC 

An Immense Sea

View_of_Cliffs_of_Moher
Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

Did St. Gregory of Nyssa ever stand at a place like this? He must have:

“The feelings that come as one stands on a high mountain peak and looks down onto some immense sea are the same feelings that come to me when I look out from the high mountain peak of the Lord’s words into the incomprehensible depths of his thoughts.

“When you look at mountains that stand next to the sea, you will often find that they seem to have been cut in half, so that on the side nearest the sea there is a sheer drop and something dropped from the summit will fall straight into the depths. Someone who looks down from such a peak will become dizzy, and so too I become dizzy when I look down from the high peak of these words of the Lord: Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
“These words offer the sight of God to those whose hearts have been purified and purged. But look: St John says No-one has seen God. The Apostle Paul’s sublime mind goes further still: What no man has seen and no man can see. This is the slippery and crumbling rock that seems to give the mind no support in the heights. Even the teaching of Moses declared God to be a rock that was so inaccessible that our minds could not even approach it: No-one can see the Lord and live.
“To see God is to have eternal life – and yet the pillars of our faith, John and Paul and Moses, say that God cannot be seen. Can you understand the dizziness of a soul that contemplates their words? If God is life, whoever does not see God does not see life. If the prophets and the Apostle, inspired by the Holy Spirit, attest that God cannot be seen, does this not wreck all the hopes of man?
 “It is the Lord who sustains our floundering hope, just as he sustained Peter when he was floundering in the water, and made the waters firm beneath his feet. If the hand of the Word stretches out to us as well, and sets us firm in a new understanding when these speculations have made us lose our balance, we shall be safe from fear, held safe in the guiding hand of the Word. Blessed, he says, are those who possess a pure heart, for they shall see God.”

The Yet Empty Stable

by Howard Hain

There’s a little stable not too far from here.

It sits in a church that has seen better days.

The parish is poor and the people seem to disappear.

But a few persistent peasants won’t stay away.

I love it there.

The priest is wonderfully uncertain.

He is afraid of God.

He instinctively bows his head at the mention of the name.

He knows how little he is in front of the great star.

I imagine he was involved in setting the stable.

It is a good size, on the relative little-stable scale.

It is surrounded by ever-green branches.

Probably snipped from the few Douglas Firs placed around the altar and yet to be trimmed.

The stable itself is composed of wood.

A little wooden railing crosses half the front.

A single string of clear lights threads through the branches laid upon the miniature roof.

They are yet to be lit.

I love it there.

I kneel before the empty scene.

For as of yet, not a creature or prop is present.

Not an ox or a goat, not a piece of hay or plank of fencing.

Not even a feeding trough that is to be turned into a crib.

No visible sign of Joseph and Mary, nor a distant “hee-haw” of a very tired donkey.

I wonder if I could get involved.

Perhaps I could slip into the scene.

There’s a darkened corner on the lower left.

In the back, against the wall.

I could hide myself within the stable.

Before anyone else arrives.

I don’t think they would mind.

I’d only be there to adore.

To pay homage to the new born king.

I might even help keep the animals in line.

Yes, a stagehand, that’s what I can be!

I know there’s no curtain to pull.

That’s to be torn in a much later scene.

But to watch the Incarnation unfold from within!

That’s what I dream.

To see each player take his and her place.

To see the great light locate the babe.

To watch the kings and shepherds stumble onto the scene.

Hark! To hear the herald angels sing!

O the joy of being a simple farmhand.

Of being in the right place at always the right time.

Of course though I wouldn’t be alone.

In that darkened corner, also awaiting the entire affair, there are many others.

Most I don’t know by name.

Too many in fact to even count.

But a few I know for sure.

For certain, present are those few persistent peasants who won’t stay away.

And of course there’s that wonderful anonymous parish priest.

The one who helped set into place this yet empty but very expectant stable.

The one whose fear of God is so clearly the beginning of wisdom.


(Dec/16/2016)

Howard Hain is a contemplative layman, husband, and father. He blogs at http://www.howardhain.com

Thoughts Upon The Cross: Doxa. Doxa. Doxa.

by Howard Hain

.

And we have seen his glory,

the glory of an only Son coming from the Father,

filled with enduring love.

—John 1:14


.

The power of God.

A tiny leaf caught between two worlds

Suspended by invisible threads

Dancing to the still small voice.

Deeper and deeper

Into the person

The Son of Man

Who is God.

Glory.

And Might.

Power.

And Majesty.

Fully Alive.

Beautifully Human.

Walking Wisdom.

The Lightness of Fullness.

The Heaviness of Simplicity.

Doxa. Doxa. Doxa.

Honor.

Adoration.

And Praise.

Doxa. Doxa. Doxa.

Beyond praise.

The Power of One.

He Is.

We’re not.

He stands.

We fall down.

He dies.

We live.

Doxa to the Father.

Doxa to the Son.

Doxa to the Holy Spirit.

Doxa. Doxa. Doxa.

Between two worlds.

Is a man.

Who says “I AM”.

A tiny leaf suspended.

He is Lord.

He is God.

Invisible threads.

He Is.

And so now are we.

Dancing.

Still.

Small.

Voice.

The Word.

The Depth.

Beyond the signs.

To the Person Himself.

The Person of Jesus.

Deeper.

And deeper.

Into His flesh.

Into His Glory.

Doxa is Thy Name.

Dwelling among us.

Abiding within us.

Still small leaves caught between two worlds.

Suspended by invisible threads.

Dancing to the breath of God.

From deep to deep.

Depth to depth.

It never ends.

Doxa. Doxa. Doxa.

Doxa in the highest.


.

(May 6, 2017)

The Most Common Occurrence

by Howard Hain

 

Christ lives in the Eucharistic Prayer.

He listens carefully.

The Father listens too.

We listen with Them.

The Holy Spirit speaks.

He speaks a great silence.

He listens to the listeners.

We collectively hear.

God.

Three Persons.

His Entire People.

All Creation.

The Sound of One Breathing.

The Sound of Life.

Communion.

Amen.

 

(Jan/4/18)

Posture of Prayer

by Howard Hain

el_greco_st_dominic_in_prayer-1595

El Greco, “St. Dominic Praying”, c. 1588

Sometimes just showing up is all we can do.

To put ourselves in position to pray and worship—at least physically, even if we just cannot seem to get there spiritually—is an act of prayer and worship in itself. And quite often, it is the best we have to offer.

By confessing our aridity through physical obedience alone, we approach God’s altar with humility, for we come to God in our “nothingness”.

The bowing of head, the placement of knees, and the closing of eyes return us to the dark warmth of the womb. It is no coincidence that the posture of prayer and the fetal position bear great semblance.

It is in the womb that we are closest to God, furthest from the corruption of the world, and possess the least of what our “flesh” considers of value—our “brilliant” ideas, our “magnificent” plans, our “heroic” acts—our self-aggrandizement.

It is in the womb that we find ourselves in complete dependence. We receive all we need without knowing, without speaking, without cost.

In that sense, being in the womb is much the same as being in the world—for in the world we are still completely dependent—it is just that without the obvious reminder of the umbilical cord, we so easily forget our total and complete dependence on God, our Creator, our Sustainer, and our Ultimate End.

Hence we find ourselves “knowing,” “telling,” and “paying a price.” When in reality, the only thing that we can somewhat even come close to taking credit for is being physically present to receive His Word, His Wisdom, and His Will. All of which come free of charge, His Son having already paid the price.

———

“Lord, let me place my knees to the earth. Let me feel the foot of the cross against the caps of my knees. Let me close my eyes and bow my head. Let my brow lay upon your bloodied feet. Let me humbly raise my eyes to gaze upon your battered body. Oh my Lord and my God, let your blood and water rain down upon me.”

Amen.


 

Howard Hain is a contemplative layman, husband, and father. He blogs at http://www.howardhain.com

Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardDHain

twitter.com/HowardDHain

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Walking Into Heaven

by Howard Hain

Rembrandt_-_The_Philosopher_in_Meditation

Rembrandt, “Philosopher in Meditation”, 1632, (Musée du Louvre)


Dream big.

Think small.

Step by step.

Real growth is incremental.

Reaching toward a glory beyond our reckoning.


 

 

Arriving in Hope

by Howard Hain

 

camille-pissarro-entree-du-village-de-voisins-1872.jpg

Camille Pissarro, “Entrée du village de Voisins”, 1872 (Musée d’Orsay)

 

Waiting and waiting, for exactly what I’m not sure.

The sun to rise.

The day to end.

The water to boil.

Mass to begin.

The cock to crow.

Christ to return.

———

A new day is here.

———

Father, thank You.

Jesus, I love You.

Holy Spirit, have Your way.


 

Howard Hain is a contemplative layman, husband, and father. He blogs at http://www.howardhain.com

Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardDHain

twitter.com/HowardDHain

If you enjoyed this post, please consider “liking” it, adding a comment, becoming an email subscriber, or passing it along via the social-media links below. Your support is greatly appreciated. Step by step. All for God’s glory.

Where I Want To Be

by Howard Hain

 

Martin Schongauer Bust of a Man in a Hat Gazing Upward ca 1480-90 The Met

Martin Schongauer, “Bust of a Man in a Hat Gazing Upward”, ca. 1480-90 (The Met)

 

J.M.J.

 

There’s only one place I want to be.

On the Cross with my good Christ.

Strange. Odd. Uncomfortable to admit.

The Cross is where I want to be.

The Cross is where I feel free.

 

The thought of being lifted up high.

The chance to be in pain.

With Him Whom I still don’t know.

To want it to never stop.

To not understand a single thing.

To be burned alive.

I can only call it love.

 

Yes. So be it. It’s Your command.

 

The Cross is where I want to be.

The Cross is where I am free.

The Cross is where I encounter love.

 

Yes, Lord Jesus.

Let me hang with You.

If only for a while.

My sins and those of all the world.

Added to the funeral pile.


 

Howard Hain is a contemplative layman, husband, and father. He blogs at http://www.howardhain.com

Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardDHain

twitter.com/HowardDHain

If you enjoyed this post, please consider “liking” it, adding a comment, becoming an email subscriber, or passing it along via the social-media links below. Your support is greatly appreciated. Step by step. All for God’s glory.


Web Link: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Martin Schongauer, “Bust of a Man in a Hat Gazing Upward”, ca. 1480-90