Feastday of Blessed James DeKoven,
Vigeat Radix Hermitage, Santa Anna, TX
Br. Richard-Thomas, SD
Collect: Almighty and everlasting God, the source and perfection of all virtues, who inspired your servant James de Koven to do what is right and to preach what is true: Grant that all ministers and stewards of your mysteries may impart to your faithful people, by word and example, the knowledge of your grace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
Throughout all ages, thousands of men and women have sought after God in quiet places. One of my most favorite accounts of this is the story of the Prophet Elijah, found in 1st Kings, chapter 19, verses 11 and 12.
He said to him, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’ Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire the sound of sheer silence.
It was in that silence that Elijah heard the voice of God, where he received counsel and direction to do the work that God had given him to do.
Blessed James DeKoven knew the benefits of prayerful quiet and solitude, despite his very busy and active life. One might say that his total devotion to the will of God accompanied by personal prayer, quiet and periods of solitude became the Christ-centered foundation from which he so readily gave himself to others.
In his memorial sermon for Fr. DeKoven, the Rev. Dr. Locke recalls:
"Do you not feel anxious?" I said, on the eve of his election to this episcopate. "Not at all," he said "I have tried to submit every act of my life since I was a conscious agent to the will of God; and thanks to His holy name, I am able to do so, and it is a wonderful relief in any time of trial. I accept every turn of fortune as the will of God." These were his express words, and, when a man can say them as he did, beyond suspicion of hypocrisy, they betoken a very far advancement along the road to holiness. Several times every day it was his wont to retire and commune in prayer with his God. Devotional reading, holy meditation, occupied him greatly.
I believe that this account illustrates the kind of love that Jesus often talks about to his friends and followers. The kind of love that causes someone to put aside their own wants and needs for the betterment or comfort of another. This same love, inspired by God can not be contained and put on the back burner, but beckons to be responded to and incorporated into every part of our lives, from the mundane to the extraordinary.
Like Elijah, Fr. DeKoven was drawn to contemplation and quiet by a zeal for God that can only be inspired by love. Inspired by this same love, many people have been moved to a zeal for God that Fr. Locke recounted seeing in Blessed James DeKoven, in which they offer their entire lives to the living out of God’s will. For some, that will lead them down the path of a consecrated life of solitude and silence.
How many of us have been in a place to quiet that all you can hear is your own heartbeat? Or how many of us have spent time meditating? Did you ever notice your internal chatterbox? That part of your brain spilling the beans about everything from the minute to the grand, on a continuous reel of sputtering thoughts, weather you want it or not?
At first glance, the life of a hermit might seem a little odd to some people. Many would much rather spend a night out at the movies with friends, or watching the game on TV rather than spending the day in silence, marking the passing hours with prayer, work, study, and meditation. Doing the same thing day after day can be downright boring, not to mention the loneliness that is bound come around from time to time.
When life is this quiet, that continuous chattering in our heads can become very loud. It is said that in this kind silence, we truly encounter ourselves with all of our strengths and weaknesses. This can be a very frightening thing, and it can also be a very enlightening, spiritual thing.
Part of the vocation to the eremitic life is the conforming of one’s self to the image and will of God. This could mean a number of things for each person, but ultimately, it is the consent to being open to the continuous process of change in order to be the person that God has intended.
In the words of today’s Epistle, we, like Blessed James DeKoven are to:
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.
While this is never easy, it is a major part of the vocation of each and every Christian soul. Jesus himself, in every aspect of his teaching calls us to repentance, which comes from the Greek word meaning to change one’s mind.
How can we, as faithful Christians live more fully into our shared vocation of changing our minds? What can each one of us do to conform ourselves more fully into the person that God had in mind when we were created? Certainly, becoming a hermit is not the vocation of every living being. How then, can we respond to God’s call while continuing about our everyday lives?
Remember for a moment the Great Commandment given to us by Jesus:
The greatest commandment is this: Love your God with all your heart, all you mind, and all your strength, and the second is like unto it, to love your neighbor as yourself.”
I can think of few people who have lived into this commandment as seriously as Blessed James DeKoven, who knew both the love of God and the love of others. He loved God with every inch of his being, and at the same time, gave whatever he had to help others. While this is no easy task, we can be assured that God’s love will always be ready to provide us with the grace, the strength, and the courage to come through every adversity.
Likewise, this same love will provide us with the tools necessary to help bring Christ’s love to others in their time of need. This is the great and powerful witness that Blessed James DeKoven gave with his entire being; that there is no greater love than that of God.
Praying with Scripture
An ancient Christian art is the technique known as lectio divina - a slow,
contemplative praying of the Scriptures which enables the words of Scripture
to become a means of union with God. This ancient practice has been kept
alive in the Christian monastic tradition, and is one of the precious
treasures of the monastic/ eremitic life. Together with the divine office,
and daily manual labor, time set aside in a special way for lectio divina
enables us to discover in our daily life an underlying spiritual rhythm.
Entering this rhythm allows us to offer more of ourselves and our
relationships to God, and to accept the embrace that God is continuously
extending to us in the person of his Son Jesus Christ.
CHOOSE a text of the Scriptures that you wish to pray. Many Christians use in their daily lectio divina one of the readings from the Church lectionary for the day; others prefer to slowly work through a particular book of the Bible. It makes no difference which text is chosen, as long as one has no set goal of "covering" a certain amount of text: the amount of text "covered" is in God's hands, not yours.
PLACE YOURSELF in a comfortable position and allow yourself to become silent. Some Christians focus for a few moments on their breathing; other have a beloved "prayer word" or "prayer phrase" they gently recite in order to become interiorly silent. For some the practice known as "centering prayer" makes a good, brief introduction to lectio divina. Use whatever method is best for you and allow yourself to enjoy silence for a few moments.
THEN TURN to the text and read it slowly, gently. Savor each portion of the reading, constantly listening for the "still, small voice" of a word or phrase that somehow says, "I am for you today." Do not expect lightening or ecstasies. In lectio divina God is teaching us to listen to Him, to seek Him in silence. He does not reach out and grab us; rather, He softly, gently invites us ever more deeply into His presence. It may be helpful to read a certain text several times, listening with the heart for a word or phrase that catches your attention.
NEXT TAKE the word or phrase into yourself. You might want to jot it down in a notebook used just for lectio divina. Slowly repeat the phrase to yourself, allowing it to interact with your inner world of concerns, memories and ideas. Do not be afraid of "distractions." Memories or thoughts are simply parts of yourself which, when they rise up during lectio divina, are asking to be given to God along with the rest of your inner self. Allow this inner pondering, this rumination, to invite you into dialogue with God.
THEN, SPEAK to God. Whether you use words or ideas or images or all three is not important. Interact with God as you would with one who you know loves and accepts you. And give to Him what you have discovered in yourself during your experience of meditatio. Experience yourself as the priest that you are. Experience God using the word or phrase that He has given you as a means of blessing, of transforming the ideas and memories, which your pondering on His word has awakened. Give to God what you have found within your heart.
FINALLY, SIMPLY rest in God's embrace. And when He invites you to return to your pondering of His word or to your inner dialogue with Him, do so. Learn to use words when words are helpful, and to let go of words when they no longer are necessary. Rejoice in the knowledge that God is with you in both words and silence, in spiritual activity and inner receptivity.
CONCLUDE your time of lectio divina with the Lord’s Prayer or some other suitable prayer.
SOMETIMES IN LECTIO DIVINA one will return several times to the printed
text, either to savor the literary context of the word or phrase that God
has given, or to seek a new word or phrase to ponder. At other times only a
single word or phrase will fill the whole time set aside for lectio divina.
It is not necessary to anxiously assess the quality of one's lectio divina
as if one were "performing" or seeking some goal: lectio divina has no goal
other than that of being in the presence of God by praying the Scriptures.