The Cursing Psalms

We are currently re-reading St Benedict’s chapters on the Divine office, often called the Liturgical Code, which may explain why I am keen to advocate having a good curse from time to time. I don’t mean profanity, but the praying of the so-called cursing psalms, e.g. Psalm 108 (109), which cheerfully asks the Lord to ensure that our adversary’s life should be short, his children wanderers and beggars and his wife a widow, or Psalm 57 (58) which has the splendid prayer, ‘O God, break the teeth in their mouths!’ Why, you may ask, should a normally mild-mannered nun be recommending that I pray such horribly vengeful prayers? It isn’t nice.

My answer is that we aren’t nice ourselves. We can kid ourselves that we are nicer than we are if we don’t own up to the darker, still unredeemed side that we harbour within until our dying breath. We pray the cursing psalms, but not against our enemy, real or imagined, but against all that is violent and troubled within us. We take the un-nice bits of ourselves to God, knowing that he alone can transform them by his grace. I think this is important, especially when we look at the violence convulsing Syria and other parts of the world. We know that for there to be peace outside, there must be peace inside; and we shall never attain that inner peace unless we first acknowledge, then renounce, everything that makes for war and violence in our own hearts. Praying the cursing psalms which, as Christians, we do in union with Christ, is a very good place to start. But there is more, for how could Christ pray those psalms save in union with us? Doesn’t that give pause for thought? Do we dare to be ‘nicer’ than he?

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Lepanto, the Holy Rosary and Us

The feast of the Holy Rosary was instituted to commemorate the Battle of Lepanto, when a significant defeat was inflicted on the Ottoman Turks by the Holy League (a rather optimistic name for the coalition of southern Catholic maritime states that placed themselves under the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary and ascribed their success to her intercession). The Holy League’s victory effectively prevented further Turkish expansion westwards. Today, many Christians, in Africa and the Middle East especially, feel threatened by the rise of a  militant Islam which seeks to exterminate them by every means possible. The West, however, is no longer Christian in any meaningful sense and seems to have no clear idea how it should respond to any perceived threat. We read about Boku Haram murdering children as they sleep and wonder how such intense hatred can exist, conveniently forgetting that drone attacks in Pakistan have also killed children as they slept. I certainly have no answers to any of the questions raised by terrorism or counter-terrorism in the world today.

My Muslim friends and I have often asked ourselves what we, as individuals, can do and the only answer we have been able to come up with is to pray and work for peace where we can. It often doesn’t seem much, but unless we do try to dissolve the old hatreds and antagonisms, we are doomed to go on living them. If you are a rosary pray-er, why not pray a rosary for peace between Christians and Muslims today?

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A Little Blog Housekeeping

Several weeks ago I canvassed readers’ opinions about possible changes to the blog. I think it would be fair to say that the consensus was ‘no change’. However, there were a number of things that needed tidying up, and I hope we have now dealt with most of them:

  • the RSS feed has been emptied of all bloated bits and pieces, so should work more speedily and reliably in future
  • the Facebook link has been redone so that it should post more reliably (it still can’t cope with scheduled posts, for some reason)
  • the sidebar has been re-ordered
  • the Google Translate widget has been made to work as it should (not before time)
  • the Donate Now button takes you to our Charity Choice link (so you can have second thoughts if you wish) rather than simply asking you how  much you want to give (no subtlety there)
  • the Amazon Shopping search bar has been corrected so that if you are in the UK and choose to use it for your online shopping, we get a referral fee
  • there is a tag cloud so you can see at a glance the subjects most often discussed on iBenedictines
  • the link to eBuzzing rankings is now displayed last of all, so you can have fun with it if you want.

There are a few more tweaks to make, but these are enough for now. And if you want a thought for today, how about some fasting and praying for the people of Syria and wherever there is violence? We may think we can do very little, but doing a little is better than doing nothing.

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Anxiety

Anxiety is difficult to live with. The worry, the uncertainty, the general nervousness about an outcome affect us in different ways, but the Latin root of anxiety (anxius from angere, to choke) suggests that tightening of the chest and stomach muscles with which all of us are familiar. Anxiety makes us clench. It is quite the opposite of trust, which opens us out. No wonder that anxiety is a great hindrance to prayer, keeping us centred on self, or if not self, then on the concerns that occupy our waking hours. It is so wearing!

There is only one remedy I know of: a deliberate, willed surrender to the Father of every hope and fear, a surrender we need to make again and again. Every night at Compline we sing, ‘Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.’ That echo of Jesus’ last words on the Cross is not accidental. The Benedictine motto, pax or ‘peace’, is always surrounded by a crown of thorns. Only through union with Christ can we attain a peace the world does not give. It doesn’t make our worries any less; it doesn’t produce magic solutions to our problems; but it does give us the strength to bear them — not our strength but his. The trouble is, most of us are not really convinced of that. We want to deal with things our way, so we go on worrying and fretting and digging deeper holes for ourselves, feeling more and more of a ‘failure’ as we go on. When that happens, there really is only one way out: to call God down to the depth of our need. ‘The Everlasting God is your dwelling-place and underneath are the everlasting arms.’ Trust him.

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Rioting in Tottenham

It was a shock to awake to scenes of violence in London. Somehow, the sight of Tottenham out of control delivered a wound to the psyche. We are not accustomed to seeing such naked anger and wanton destruction here in England. We are aware, in the usual cerebral way of those who dwell in the Shires, that the police are not universally trusted or, sadly, trustworthy; that drug crime is intimately connected with gang violence; that racial tensions continue to simmer beneath the surface of our national life; but seeing the night sky lit up with flames and young men throwing petrol bombs and looting shops brings home the reality of the riot in Tottenham.

Over the next few days, the causes of that riot will be picked over. Those caught up in the violence will give their account of what happened; those who were injured or who lost property will begin to count the cost as the official investigations get under way. There will be accusations and counter-accusations. A great deal of money will be spent; a great deal of tidying up will be done. But what is likely to be the net result? Would it be cynical to say, insurance premiums will go up, property prices will go down and confrontation will become more common?

Tottenham is home to many churches and Christian organizations. I expect that the priests and pastors will be doing their bit to try to bring calm to a volatile situation. We too must do our bit and pray for peace on the streets of London. More than that, we must be peace-makers wherever we are, for we cannot pray for others to become what we ourselves have no desire to be. We too must renounce every form of violence.

 

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Of God and Geeks

Many people use this blog as their first point of reference for our other sites so here is a little round-up of domestic news. iBenedictines itself has been optimized for use on mobile devices using wp-touch. As far as I can see, that has worked well. There is no such instant solution for a conventional web site, so we have built a new version of our monastery web site just for small screen mobile devices. It has its own domain, http://www.benedictinenuns.net, and you can, in fact, view it using a desktop or laptop. It doesn’t have all the content of the main site, but since we have recently added more material, it should keep you usefully occupied as you travel the Northern line (or is it the District, I forget). Finally, just in time for Lent, our online retreat service should be going live on http://www.catholicretreats.org.uk and http://www.benedictinesonline.org.uk. The actual launch date will be announced once our beta-testers have finished telling us everything they don’t like about the way we have set things up.

This is, of course, pretty low-grade geekiness by today’s standards, but it does have one redeeming feature, in our eyes, at least. It is all done out of love for God and in the hope of allowing his love to reach people who would never be seen inside a church, as well as those who who are already committed to him. It is an expression of Benedictine hospitality, twenty-first century style. If you look at the Future section of our web site, you’ll see that we don’t believe in substituting virtual for real encounters, but we’ve made a start on trying to find a way to offer an experience of monastic peace to those in search of it. Please pray that, if it be pleasing to God, our venture of faith may be blessed.

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A Brave Beginning

Our Lady of Perpetual Succour
Our Lady of Perpetual Succour

January: the door of the year, the month that looks both ways, a hinge between two worlds; in the most literal sense, a critical time. How will 2011 be for any of us? The one certain thing is that we shall all change in the course of it.

For the godly-minded, today is also the oldest Marian feast in the calendar, that of Mary the Mother of God, and the Church’s World Day of Prayer for Peace. A connection between the two may be found in the fact that today is also the Octave Day of Christmas, the day when Christ was circumcised and, as St Paul says, “in his own flesh made the two one”. Catholic tradition has long seen in the blood shed at the circumcision a type of the blood shed on the Cross to redeem us. Mary gave us the Prince of Peace to be our Saviour, stood beside his Cross as he was dying and became mother of the Church (i.e. us) when the Beloved Disciple took her to his home. It seems fitting that the first day of the new year should be placed under her protection.

And for the rest? No doubt there will be rejoicing and merriment, and some valiant attempts at self-improvement in the form of New Year Resolutions. January is indeed a critical time and as we get older we know better than to prophesy or announce our plans. Let us just begin bravely. The outcome we can safely leave to God.

May you have a very happy New Year!

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