In today’s Gospel reading (Mark 4:1-20), Jesus talks about four different conditions in which a sower’s seed falls along a path. In the first condition, the seed is immediately devoured by the fowls of the air. In the second, it springs up and dies shortly thereafter in rocky soil. In case three, the seed is choked by the thorns. And finally, the seed is sown in fertile soil and yielded good grain. Today I want to parallel this parable to finding God’s purpose for our lives.

As college students, we are at a point in our lives in which we are basically planning out the rest of our lives. We are discussing graduate schools, internships, MCATs, LSATs, Teach for America, spiritual discernment and a plethora of other post-graduate opportunities. We are constantly looking at deadlines and benefits and rankings and starting salaries. We want to become the best of the best of the very best. We are striving to live into the expectations of our friends, family and colleagues. We are seeking advice from our parents, advisors, spiritual leaders, even best friends. But do we ever ask God what purpose God has for our lives? How do we know that we are planting our seeds in fertile soil?

To answer this question we must first know what type of seed it is that we are planting. We are all blessed by God with our own “seeds of life.” These seeds represent the potential within us to continue to do whatever it is that God has planned for us to do. Because we are all individuals, we are each gifted with different seeds that produce different fruits. How, then, do we know what type of fruit it is that we as individuals are to yield? The answer comes by spending time doing inner work, especially during this Lenten season. God speaks to us all differently, for different reasons. Therefore, we cannot listen to what God is saying to others to determine what God is saying to ourselves. We each need to have a personal relationship with God to “germinate” these “seeds of life.” The best way to find God’s presence is to look for it within ourselves. We must go to our quiet space and search within ourselves to find what God is saying to us. We need to go into our dark rooms in solitude and allow God’s presence to show itself to us and engender growth within us through introspective prayer and meditation. Once we have sparked that relationship of growth with God, then we can begin to determine what type of soil is best for us to sow our seeds for prosperity.

Observation is the key when it comes to beginning a new chapter in life. We need to be cognizant of the conditions that surround us. We need to be aware of the company we keep, the false institutions of security we give ourselves, and the worldly ideals and expectations we find ourselves lost and trapped in. Note that in the Gospel reading these seeds weren’t intentionally planted, but fell along the path. Just like the birds in today’s Gospel, there are outside forces in our lives that try to come in and devour our seed before it even hits the ground. To fulfill God’s purpose for your life, the most important thing to do is to cherish it and not take it for granted. The moment someone sees a door of opportunity that you did not walk through, they will not only walk through it themselves but they will also close and lock the door. You don’t need to do too much active searching to look for those outside forces that will try to devour your seed. If you just sit back and observe the conditions that surround you, these outside forces have a funny way of showing themselves to you. Just silently become knowledgeable of your surroundings before making hasty decisions and your enemy, who or whatever it may be, will show itself to you. Once you have seen your adversaries and obstacles, you will be able to use the tools that God has given you through your solitude to choose and fight your battles wisely.

We also need to be mindful of the false sense of security that we give ourselves when we want things to go a certain way. We get so caught up in the illusion of our desires that we fail to realize how much patience and hard work is required to bear our fruits. We try to find easy outlets and 1-2-3 plans for success when, in actuality, it takes great time and care to fulfill God’s purpose in our lives. We cannot base our success on the fact that things seem to be going well initially. Our zeal for success cannot blind us from the fact that we may be planting our seeds in rocky soil. We must realize that there is a process for everything. There must be a plan. There must be some experimentation. There must be some follow through. Just as depicted in the parable, the seed may seem to be growing rapidly, but it will surely wither and die as soon as it sprouted without proper time and care. Usually, if it is as easy as 1-2-3, it’s not meant to be.

Lastly, we need to make sure that we don’t get smothered by the standards and expectations of the world. In America, we are exposed to so many images of what the standard for success should be. We feel like if we don’t have the nice suburban house or the loft in the downtown high rise then we have not established ourselves. Through personal experience I have found that the only reason a lot of college students are even in college is to get the 6-figure salary job. We get so bogged down on personal appearances and personal beliefs and personal practices that we have come to a point where we expect everyone to maintain the same standards as ourselves. The reality is that God doesn’t measure success by public acceptance. If you don’t necessarily fit the mold of what success looks like in our society, that doesn’t mean you aren’t successful. Often times people end up buckling under the pressures of the world by trying to fit into this model for success when all the while God had a different purpose. God’s purpose for your life probably will not fit into the worldly idea of success. You probably won’t have the husband or wife, the 2.5 kids, the two story house, or the luxury vehicle. We have to realize that our personal desires for success may not be in line with God’s. So in order to keep the thorns of society from smothering our success and growth, we need to constantly remind ourselves of the purpose God has for our lives. Continue to look within and maintain that strong personal relationship with God and realize that God’s will is not necessarily what the rest of the world would have you do. However, it is the only way to produce the best fruit possible.

As you go out into the world, I ask you all to think about the things I’ve discussed this evening. Look within to find what God has planned for you. Be aware of the outside forces trying to block you from success. Don’t try to find the easy way out, but be patient and steadfast in your work. Continually listen to God’s will and don’t get pressured by the standards of society. If you use these suggestions while continuing your journey through life along with constant prayer, success is sure to come your way in due time. God’s Peace…

Br. Ashton J. Reynolds, Secretary

Order of St. Anthony, Ordo Precis Contemplativae (Order of Contemplative Prayer)

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Jonah has a very simple story. God asks Jonah to warn the people of Nineveh of their wrongdoing. Jonah tries to run away from God. God shows God’s power by sending a storm Jonah’s way and has him swallowed by a fish. Three day’s later, Jonah reconciles with God. He fulfills God’s wish and warns the people of Nineveh. They then reconcile with God. That’s about it. This short and seemingly trivial story illustrates the most powerful and important aspect of our faith as Christians: reconciliation.

In reading this story, there were three significant points that stood out to me about reconciliation. The first point is that you must reconcile with God yourself before you can bring someone else into reconciliation with God. All too often, we look at others and tell them what we feel they should change to get right with God without looking at ourselves and doing the same thing. For example:

“He needs to stop all that smoking. Doesn’t he know his body is a temple?”

When we go to MacDonald’s and KFC at least three times a week. Or:

“She uses too many curse words. Doesn’t she know it is what comes out of her mouth that defiles her?”

When we lied to the last five homeless people that asked if we could spare some change. While we are so focused on the shortcomings of others, we are running away from God in our own lives and are in the midst of a tempestuous sea of troubles. Before you know it we are tossed from our ships of security and are swallowed whole in the belly of solitude. Sadly, for some of us, this is the only way we are able to pay attention to God in our own lives. I know for myself I had to be stripped of everything in order to recognize that in the absence of everything, God is still there. If we channel the energy we are putting into noticing the faults of others towards our own faults, then we can be reconciled with God and have the strength to not accuse or look down on others, but help them gain reconciliation for themselves.

The second point that stood out to me was the fact that reconciliation does not come by simply changing your habits. Just because you stop smoking or stop drinking or stop cursing or start exercising or start eating right doesn’t mean you have necessarily reconciled with God. That just makes you a health conscious person. On the same note, going to church every week, crossing yourself, putting on ashes, fasting or even wearing a habit doesn’t reconcile you to God. Reconciliation is internal. It is personal. It is a change in your focus, a wake-up call in your spirit. Reconciliation is the moment of epiphany when you reroute your spiritual journey in order to walk with Christ in the direction of the Father. It is when you recognize that the Holy Spirit is tapping you on the shoulder, telling you it is time for a change. Changes in habits are simply outward expressions of an internal change. Jonah 3.10 says, “When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God repented of the evil which he had said he would do to them; and he did not do it.” It didn’t say “when God saw how they fasted” or “put on sackcloth” or “sat in ashes.” God doesn’t look at external actions. God’s focus is on the internal change. Once a person makes a spiritual change, their actions and habits will naturally exemplify that change. Breaking bad habits is an after-effect of the internal spiritual change, not the other way around.

Now, we know that we need to reconcile with God and we know that it is an internal change. But the challenge comes in when we don’t know how to reconcile with God. We all have our own concept of an ideal Christian life. We think we know what God wants us to do, but it is often difficult to know how to come into reconciliation with God. The answer to that question, “How,” is the third thing that stood out to me in Jonah’s story. Jonah 3.5 says, “And the people of Nineveh believed God…” That’s it: just believe. Believe that God is omniscient. Know that God knows what you have done, what you are doing and what you will do. God knows your strengths and weakness. God knows where you are confident and where you are insecure. God knows what you think of yourself and what you think of others. Therefore, it is futile to think that you can run away from the all-knowing presence of God. God knows where you will end up before you even decide to start running. If you accept that God is the quintessential know-it-all, God will share that mystical knowledge with you as you grow closer to God.

Believe that God is omnipotent. Understand that God possesses the power to change every facet of your life. God can throw you in a desert to give you a wake-up call and can place you at an oasis to show you God’s grace. God can overthrow your world and reorder it so that God’s will can be fulfilled in your life. God can remove the bad, restore the broken and replenish the good in your life. God’s power is infinite and eternal. When you truly believe in God’s power, you will realize that God’s power is within you and you will be able to not only know what God wants but you will possess the power to change in order to reconcile and live righteously.

Most importantly, believe that God is all-loving and all-forgiving. Know that there is nothing you can think, say or do that God will not be able to forgive. Realize that all of our sins have been nailed to the cross with Jesus. God knows our faults and shortcomings, that’s why God sent the Savior. We have already been forgiven. God’s love has saved us. When you truly start to believe that God’s love forgives all, a spirit of humility will overwhelm you and you will want nothing else but to thank God in your thoughts, words and deeds. You will know as God knows, possess the strength of God, and have the humility to be thankful for God’s grace in spite of your unworthiness. You will be able to not only fully accept yourself and forgive yourself, but you will be able to forgive everyone around you.

Believing in God’s wonder can unlock and open so many doors that reconciliation will happen without forcing it. You will reconcile because you want to, not because you have to. Believing in God despite the obstacles of reality is the key to sincere and complete reconciliation with not only God but with yourself and with others.

So, these were the things that stood out to me: focus on yourself before looking at others, reconcile inwardly and let your actions be the after-effect of reconciliation and believe that God is God in all of God’s wonder. I encourage you to go back and read Jonah for yourself. When a word or a phrase jumps out at you, stop and meditate on it. Follow the Holy Spirit and find your own message in the text. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

During this Lenten Season I have had numerous opportunities to educate people about contemplative spirituality. I have encountered all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds with all kinds of questions. In my teaching, I have learned a very important lesson: It’s not about what you pray. It’s not even about who you pray to, one would argue. The important thing is that you pray.

I have spoken to Episcopalians, AMEs, Baptists, Catholics, Sikhs, people that practice Kabbalah, Yoruba, Astrology and people with no particular religious affiliation. The common thread that holds true is that one must recognize that there is a higher power and one’s life should be dedicated to reconnecting to that power by love and compassion. The ultimate goal of the universe is to reconnect completely with that higher power. We achieve that by connecting our divine essence with those around us, thus strengthening the divinity of God.

We can facilitate these divine connections by spending time in prayer. Not necessarily prayer in the traditional sense, but in spending time simply being in the presence of the Divine. The more time we spend resting in God’s Presence the more able we are to recognize what that Presence feels like. We then can be able to notice that Presence in others and can connect the Divinity within us to that Presence. Every connection we make is another step closer the universe is to achieving its ultimate goal.

Simply put, the more time we spend recognizing God’s presence (whatever we call it) and loving one another unconditionally, the more fulfillment we will gain for our own lives and the closer we are to the ultimate goal of the universe. So the next time you pray, brothers and sisters, don’t say anything. Simply listen to God and recognize what that feels like. Carry that feeling with you and spread it into everyone you encounter.

God’s Peace…

Br. Ashton J. Reynolds, OPC

Over the last week, I have been reading Bishop Carlton Pearson’s The Gospel of Inclusion. He argues, quite eloquently, the fact that there is no need to “get saved” because the world has already been saved through the work of Jesus Christ in his crucifixion and resurrection. Needless to say, the majority of the Christian community (especially in the African American community) has labeled him a heretic and has shunned him.

As an African American, I am baffled. I would think that our community, whose ancestors knew not of freedom and salvation, would rejoice in this logic. Instead, we have refused it and have chosen this “woe is me, I’m a horrible sinner” theology. In my meditations, I asked why any African American Christian would not embrace this message of liberation. I began to think back on my days growing up in the Missionary Baptist Church and I realized why we don’t like Bishop Pearson’s message. It’s because we have been preaching the same “feel good” sermon since slavery. When Christianity was introduced to us as slaves, it was meant to keep us in line. We weren’t encouraged to study the history of Christianity or explore our individual spirituality. We were given a mind-numbing, watered-down version of the Christ Principle and it has changed very little in the last 400 years.

This deeply saddens me, brothers and sisters. In this day, we have more opportunities than any generation ever has. We MUST take advantage! We need to know the history of the religion we practice if we want to fully appreciate it. We must approach scripture with an opened mind and an opened heart. We must faithfully listen to God and openly accept God’s evolving creation. One of the most profound, yet saddening, points Bishop Pearson makes is that Christians would rather make a deal with God instead of simply accepting the free Gift of Salvation.

We are no longer slaves, beloved… we are FREE! Free to live eternally with the knowledge that the work of Christ is finished. There is no sign-up. There are no conditions. There is just salvation.

Now, people of God, take this Gospel of Freedom and rejoice! Embrace it and explore the benefits of God’s grace, such that you may be able to exhibit the same love and compassion to those that you encounter. God’s Peace…

Br. Ashton J. Reynolds, OPC

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Along with the rest of America, I am deeply saddened by the horrifying events that took place at Virginia Tech. It would be quite difficult for one to not feel such an abrupt and tremendous loss. As a college student, as an American and, most importantly, as a Christian, there are several things that disturbed me about this massacre.

As a student, I am very concerned about the safety of our campuses. I don’t understand how it was possible for one man to be able to kill so many people and no one stopped him. He shouldn’t have been able to make it on the campus with those weapons in the first place. During my time at Morehouse College, I heard far too many stories of robberies, shootings and killings in the Atlanta University Center area. Just a few weeks ago there was an incident at Xavier University in Louisiana in which a campus security officer pulled a gun out on a student and one of the deans advised some students who reported it to “forget what they saw.” There has been a ridiculous history of bashings, hate crimes and irrational acts of violence on our college campuses. We need to stand up and demand more security at our schools. Our primary focus should be our education. We shouldn’t have to worry about the risk of losing our lives by simply going to class, or to a study session or even to a friend’s dorm room. We need to question our administrations and challenge them to come up with better standards for our security.

As an American, I am disappointed in our media. I do understand the necessity to keep the American people knowledgeable of the most recent information about this tragedy. However, this “around-the-clock” coverage seems to be more about capturing ratings than providing pertinent information. I have seen countless interviews of people who were in no way related to the incident, but are in some way considered “experts.” This insensitive form of capitalism is not what those who were victimized deserve. This over-sensationalism is desensitizing the American people. The more we are fed this “breaking news” or “exclusive coverage,” the less we are focused on the lives lost and the families hurt. We are becoming too intrigued by the “untold story” and the “never before seen footage.” This happens all too often when America is faced with tragedy. If we continue in this pattern, soon we will be unfazed by stories such as this and that eventuality is frightening.

As a Christian, specifically as a follower of the Christ Principle of unconditional love, I am saddened by the neglect we exhibit to one another. This travesty could have possibly been avoided if we spent more time loving one another and expressing genuine concern for each other. It has become too common for one to respond to another person’s concerns by giving their own problems and concerns, as if theirs are more valid or important. We have this idea that we are the only person in the world with struggle and we ignore the struggle of others. Interestingly enough, we all hate to be ignored. This selfishness is not the example we were called to follow. Never once did Jesus say, “Well, I have my own problems. I’m facing death on a cross, so I don’t know what to tell you, blind man.” He unselfishly looked into the hearts of others and became an exemplary inspiration for the disenfranchised. When we shun the broken-spirited, they will need some way to express their pain. Unfortunately, these expressions are usually hurtful and harmful. It is our responsibility as spreaders of the Good News to live into the example set for us by Christ. We must show compassion and love for one another. We need to be cognizant when one of our fellow humans are in distress and aid them whenever and however we can. When we show compassion to others, they will be inclined to express that same compassion to those that come to them in need. If we continue in this cycle of compassion then we would have far less to fear or worry about.

As you continue on your life journey, remember that you are not alone. There are others here to build you up, and you have the same responsibility to build them up. We must be there for one another and do our best to preserve the safety of our communities. We must be more sympathetic of the grief that comes from tragedy. Prayerfully, there will be a time when we won’t have to suffer these types of losses, but not before we come together in unity with the spirit of love.

God’s Peace…

Br. Ashton J. Reynolds, OPC