Tag Archives: Christ

Meditatio House: The WCCM and the Skete

By the end of the fourth century AD northern Egypt was the epicentre of a Sprit-lead Christian experiment in salvation. Men and woman with a longing for God sought the desert of Egypt, Sinai, and Southern Palestine in an effort to be free enough from external distraction so that the internal life might be experienced, struggled with, and transformed (in the struggle) by grace. These people were the Desert Mothers and Fathers.

In the desert they experienced acutely the ways in which we all fall short as we seek to live love and compassion. Their own inner landscape lay stark before them like the desert itself. Soon they came to realise a deep human and Christian truth: we cannot save ourselves. In the acceptance of this truth they embraced their own inner poverty. In this embrace they saw poverty as a way of humility. And they experienced humility as the condition through which the Divine Life could save, heal, divinise them. In this desert they lived the essence of the Gospel: the time has come, let your mind be transformed, live in love.

Benedicta Ward, in the introduction to her book The Wisdom of the Desert Fathers, outlines for us “three main types of monastic experiment” that had developed in Egypt up to that fifth century. In Lower Egypt lived hermits, or eremites. These monastics lived in seclusion using the life and example of St. Anthony as their guide. In the Verba Senorium St. Anthony has been recorded as saying:

Just as fish die if they remain on dry land so monks, remaining away from their cells, or dwelling with men [sic] of the world, lose their determination to persevere in solitary prayer. Therefore, just as the fish should go back to the sea, so we must return to our cells, lest remaining outside we forget to watch over ourselves interiorly (1).

A second type of monastic settled in Upper Egypt. These monastics, inspired by St. Pachomius, formed themselves into common communities. These communities were the proto-type monasteries. Monastics who lived this way were the first coenobites. St Benedict’s Rule was later written for them. They lived together having gathered around a chosen spiritual elder whom they trusted to guide them to Christ. St. Pachomius was the first such elder. He has been reported to have said of these communities that they be

the model for all those who wish to gather together souls according to God, in order to help them until they become perfect [whole] (2).

Between Upper and Lower Egypt, between what Ward calls the “two extremes of eremitic and coenobitic life”, were the Lavra or Skete. Ward describes these monastics as

small groups living near a spiritual father [sic] and probably near a church where they could meet at weekends for the liturgy; these groups were found most of all in Nitria [west of The Nile Delta] (3).

The skete was physically a looser arrangement than the monastery. Rather than a kind of ‘halfway house’ for monastics who could neither be eremites or coenobites, the skete can be seen as a middle way between communal aloneness in isolation and aloneness in the one common community.

It could be argued that the history of the WCCM has seen it grow more along the lines of the skete. In suburbs, towns, and regions, all across the globe, meditation groups have formed as places in which meditators can meditate together and be taught about meditation. The current digital age makes access to teaching, WCCM elders, and fellow meditators easier.

The WCCM today sees meditators living alone, with partners, and with family as they earn their own living in the world. Once a week they go to their meditation groups and perhaps their local liturgies. The monastery without walls that is the WCCM is its own balance between the community experience of relationship, family, and group and the alone experience that any contemplative practice asks us to embrace.

Is the WCCM a contemporary movement of the Spirit within which the legacy of the skete is being somehow renewed? Is this skete legacy being renewed anywhere else?

In the book New Monasticism as Fresh Expression of Church, Philip Roderick describes a way in which the monastic skete can be applicable today

In essence, the word ‘skete’ describes a cluster of people, drawn to commit to the way of Christ. They will experience their preference to live as individuals or as individual couples, not so much in community houses but rather in separate but invisibly linked homes – cabins, caravans, houses, homesteads, flats or farms. Each person in the skete and in the ‘enclosure’ of their own heart and home, will be hungry and thirsty to live the mystery of life in Christ. Participants in the skete will choose to pattern their lifestyles to allow a high degree of aloneness and yet also a real sense of interconnectedness and common cause on the spiritual journey (4).

Roderick has used the skete example in the development of the Hidden Houses of Prayer network within parts of the UK.

The mission statement of the WCCM is: ‘to communicate and nurture meditation as passed on through the teaching of John Main in the Christian tradition in the spirit of serving the unity of all.’ A question is, is the formation of sketes within the WCCM consistent with this mission statement? I would see that it is. How might this happen?

Roderick’s words give us a kind of blueprint. Perhaps there are among the WCCM people who are drawn to this way of Christian and contemplative living? Perhaps it is happening unrecognised already. The skete ‘cluster’ may be a way through which dedicated contemplatives within the WCCM can support each other as they grow into Christ through meditation and as they teach meditation. WCCM oblates, as living the desert monastic tradition within the WCCM, would seem to be an obvious and suitable fit for this potential skete renewal.

Desert spirituality today is not about moving physically to a desert. It is about discovering, exploring, and living in the desert that is always with us. Like silence, the inner desert lives on within each of us. We just cover it up. To experience this desert is to experience our own radical simplicity before ourselves, life, and God. In this simplicity is the freedom, the peace, the inner stability which is longed for today – now more than ever. Into this longing, and into the middle of suburbia, the WCCM could help place the skete.

(1) In Thomas Merton (trans) The Wisdom of the Desert (1960, 1997), 32.
(2) Merton (trans) The Wisdom of the Desert, 108.
(3) Benedicta Ward (trans) The Wisdom of the Desert Fathers (1975, 1986), ix.
(4) Philip D. Roderick ‘Connected Solitude: Re-Imagining the Skete’, in New Monasticism as Fresh Expression of Church (2010), 102.

Meditatio House: Contemporary and Contemplative

At Meditatio House we have just completed what we call a Study Week. During this week people come to the house to spend some time (up to a week) living with us. During this time our guests join in the rhythm of the house, experiencing our explorations in what the Christian tradition has come to call the contemplative life.

It needs to be noted here that the contemplative life is not some form of spiritual specialization. To be contemplative is to be, not only Christian, contemplative is to be human. Christian spirituality can use the word contemplative to describe any human life that is prioritizing and living contact with the human spirit. The human spirit is “our lifeline with the Spirit of God” (John Main). The human spirit is in constant union with the divine life. This spirit and divinity pervade soul and body. The contemplative life lives and promotes a life of integration and communion with divinity – where ever and however this may be authentically found.

During Study Week we have four times of meditation a day, as well as praying with the psalms and scriptures (Hebrew and Christian Testaments). We practice silence after Night Prayer until breakfast the next day. One day during the week is a silent day.

During the week we have morning workshops. This week we learnt a little bit about what St. Benedict had to say about silence, as well as what St. Augustine (of Hippo) had to say about contemplative prayer.

Another of the workshops we conducted discussed what it might mean to be contemporary and contemplative. What is it like to prioritize and live spiritually today?

It could be said that we live in a Western culture that is principally ‘post-modern’. Modernity was about making rationalism the dominant approach to life. Post modernity, however, rejects the modern tendency to see life through just the one rational lense. Instead it values diversity, equity, and a plurality of approaches to life and living, while being deeply suspicious of anything and anyone who asserts a ‘universal truth’. Tina Beattie describes it as

…the world-view which asserts that there is no world-view, paradoxically laying claim to the universal truth that there is no universal truth.

This time in Western history can also be named as secular. We could view secular in one of two different ways. A secular consciousness can be one that cannot or refuses “to acknowledge some reality beyond or transcendent to” the human (Sarah Bachelard). In other words, there is no God. Another way to look at a secular worldview is to see it as embracing “the collapse of the distinction between sacred and profane” (Bachelard). In other words, God is everywhere and not just in church or in the heart of a ‘believer’.

A contemporary contemplative could be someone who experiences and embraces divinity as in the all of life, not just in their church community and church activities. The Christian contemplative experiences Christ as really present not just in the tabernacle. Christ is really present in our hearts, our relationships, in all the mess and glory of the human journey. To be Christian and contemplative today is to be a secular Christian in the sense of living all of life as sacred.

To be Christian and contemplative is also to risk making universal truth claims. These claims will be based in our understanding of the Christian story and how this understanding combines with our contemporary and contemplative experience. Perhaps the universal truth claim that we can make (in all sincerity and humility) is one about love:

Love is uncreated, divine. This Love created and creates life. This Love is profoundly personal and intimate to all of life. This Love values human freedom. This Love wants humanity to be love. We are made for Love and to be love. We can be love now and will be in Love after death. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ reveals this to us and empowers us for it.

This would seem to be the post-modern testimony of many secular and contemporary Christians who are living into their human contemplative-ness.

How do we become love? The contemplative tradition of Christianity (like all of Christianity) tells us how by witnessing to one of the basic dynamics of human life: we are growing in love when we have forgotten ourselves enough to love.

What can we practically do to become love? Christianity asserts that we love God, love ourselves, and love our neighbour. In these practical acts of loving, the Love we love with loves us into love.

The contemplative heart of Christianity says that we need to be regularly and faithfully still and quiet in this Love. Doing this empowers us for a life of loving ourselves and others. Doing this allows divine love to love us.

One practical act of loving is contemplative prayer. Contemplative prayer invites us to practice a letting go, a losing of what could be the greatest gift that life has given us: our self-consciousness.

The giving and re-giving of attention to a mantra as it sounds deep in us is one practical and inner action that helps us to grow in the forgetting of  self-consciousness. As we do this what is given us is the ability to live life in a fully conscious way. We live life growing in a deep intuition and Love that our self-conscious, rather than getting in the way of, integrates with.

So what role does Meditatio House have in all of this?  Meditatio House is an experiment in a ‘new’ or ‘evolving’ Christian contemplative community. It is in the world, in dialogue with the human needs of a post-modern and secular age. As Christians in this dialogue we encounter Christ afresh, living the fruits of this encounter for and with others. The Study Week is one way we do this living. Meditation and the Rule of Benedict are what we commit to in this experiment, this investigation with grace.


Meditatio House: What Comes Up on the Way

John Main describes the first task of the mantra as “to bring those surface areas of the mind into harmony with the deeper peacefulness within.” (Awakening 1)*. There is always a deep peace within us. The more we live with our attention at the surface of consciousness (our self-consciousness) the more out of touch we can be with this deep peace. How long this first task of the mantra takes is not important. What is important is that we meditate with a growing faithfulness, steadily growing in our attendance to the mantra. The fruits of our attending grow in us and in our lives as we journey into this harmony between the surface and the deep.

As this harmony grows, what John Main describes as “the second task of the mantra” begins to take place: the mantra can begin to stir what lies in our psyches’ shadow. The energy we have used for years to repress fears, guilt, and painful memories begins to shift. What was in the dark of us begins to move into the light of our awareness. It is not uncommon for meditators to feel in these times feelings that they have not felt for some time (years, perhaps going back into childhood), or perhaps to feel more intensely feelings that they have been feeling for some time (anxiety, for example).

For many, this shadow experience is part of the meditation pilgrimage into a conscious awareness of the union we all share with the Divine. If we are to consciously experience in the ordinary of our lives this union, then what is in the shadows must come to light, be named, and in this way be integrated. The ‘oneing’ of our psyche with the Divine life cannot happen without this integration of consciousness. In fact, in a very real way, the oneing is this integration.

As this integration happens awareness of the Divinity within us becomes a conscious experience. The words of St. Paul come alive: ‘It is not I who lives, it is Christ who lives in me.’ We experience the mystery of who we most deeply are as we lose self-consciousness more and more in the light of Christ consciousness as it rises though our shadow’s fading dark. Our consciousness, in time, becomes Christ consciousness. This becoming is a work of God that in no way compromises our uniqueness.

As this process happens energy is released from the project of repression that is the cause of the shadow in us. This energy then becomes available for life and for loving. It becomes easier to be and participate in love. We discover a new normal, that is, we encounter our original normal.

This second task of the mantra can take decades. It can never end.

As this integration is happening we continue to say the mantra. It is the mantra that facilitates the integration. It helps us to experience and name what is coming up for us. Sometimes this is done in and with peace, sometimes not.

Attending to the mantra may be a challenge at times, especially if we are encountering strong feelings and painful memories. Compassion for ourselves may require that we stop meditating as these feelings and memories come up. It may even mean that we seek psycho-therapeutic help and/or assistance from a wise spiritual companion.  What is important for the meditator is that we ultimately remain faithful to what grace is doing in us through a gentle re-giving of attention to the mantra sooner rather than later.

In the words of Fr. John

Just say the mantra and keep saying the mantra. This is what will free you from the bondage that prevents the majority of people from praying with absolute freedom. It will free you from the chains of your own repressed fears and anxieties that are the principal cause of those surface distractions. That is why this form of prayer is of such immense importance, because it frees you from those compulsions and the chains of guilt and fear. (John Main, Awakening 1).

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This is an important point: the “principle cause” of our surface distractions are our own “repressed fears and anxieties”.

What is happening during this second task of the mantra is the eradication of the deep inner roots of our distractions. As this happens the noise, bustle, and hyperactivity of the external world loses its hold on us. The external world’s ‘points of purchase’ in us fade because our repressed fears and anxieties are fading in the light of Christ and our growing integration. We are experiencing Jesus as the ‘divine therapist’ (to use the description used by Thomas Keating).

What is happening here is nothing less than the transformation (or salvation) of the whole of our psyche. For this transformation to be ongoing what is required from us is a growth in the giving of the whole of us to this ongoing transformation. Divinity has given everything, God’s whole life, to this transformation of us and all creation. To be a full flowering of this divinely inspired transformation we too must give our all to it. In this giving is our greatest happiness because we are made to be  conscious manifestations of Divine Love in creation. Our attending to the mantra is the giving of ourselves to this process of transformation.

However, as we attempt to give ourselves to this process of transformation, we soon discover that we cannot do it ourselves. We need God to help us give ourselves to God. We come to experience our own inner poverty in the form of ego fear, stubbornness, and pride. In time though attending to the mantra becomes not only our practice of giving ourselves to God, it also becomes our practice of dependency on God.

As this giving and dependency grows we discover a God of unconditional love restoring to us our birthright: a life of free, loving, and creative adventure. The trust we grow in enables God to restore us to ourselves.

This is the inner pilgrimage of meditation that happens as a stable practice grows. The community at Meditatio House is committed to assisting the establishment of this stability in every meditator who meditates with us. We know and are coming to know these stages of the mantra from and in our own experience.

* The full transcript of Awakening 1 is available here from the WCCM website (2014).

Thank U: Alanis Morissette. Human Life as Transformation Into Love

Here’s an idea:

How about seeing Christianity as a pilgrimage of transformation, as a way into a true experience of the divine life at the heart of all creation? How about seeing Christianity as less about a moral checklist and more about experiencing the wonder of who we can be? How about Christianity as an experience of liberating love, not as an experience of fear that ultimately constricts?

So what does this involve?

The spiritual wisdom at the heart of Christianity advises the following: it involves learning to let go so that we might jump off into deeper life. So what’s that about?

Perhaps it’s about walking through life shedding what stops us from being vulnerable before each other and before the One we call God. It’s a bit like being naked. Naked in this sense is not about no clothes, it’s about humbly seeing and addressing what stops us from being our loving selves with each other. After all, growing in love requires vulnerability or an inner nakedness. This could be something of what Alanis Morissette is saying in this song and video.

What are some of these things that we are invited to face and let go as part of a growing into inner naked vulnerability?

Perhaps I’m grumpy and aloof because it’s the best way I have learnt to protect a core of hurt, the best way that I have learnt to survive in a world that demands too much self-reliance.

Perhaps I harbour prejudices against people too different from myself. To question these prejudices would be to somehow ask myself to see difference as too much the same, as too much like me.

Maybe I have ideas about how the world should be; ideas that leave no room for other ideas that would complement the ones I have long held too close.

All these things – personality traits, prejudices, ideologies, and more – can fuse to us like barnacles to the hull of a boat. We identify so strongly with them that if life somehow threatens them fear and anxiety can mobilize within us to ward off the assumed threat.

Often this kind of threat betrays an ego caught in its own wounds and insecurity.

This ego would have us wear these psychological clothes, to keep the barnacles fused and ego protected from any chance of change.

But the grace of Christ is about something else. This grace is about healing and transformation. It is about freedom from this egoism so that we might express more of the self deep in the heart of us, a mysterious self, created in love and wanting to be expressed as love-alive in the full gamut of us.

This deeper, truer self is the real essence of us. Our unique and valuable ego is at its best when growing in a willingness to be an instrument of this essence, this love in the Being of Love.

But we cannot do this transformation. Only grace can. And grace must invite our participation in this transformation if ego itself is to change.

Christian Meditation, with its encouragement to give more and more of our attention to the mantra, is a way in which we can participate in this graced transformation away from ego-centredness and into a human life growing in the naked vulnerability of love.

And in Christ we already have a full yes to grace within us. To meditate is to experience, participate, and grow in this yes. As this happens, tenderly and lovingly we are drawn home to our deepest self.

With the mantra we gently shed egoism and fall into the yes of Christ. There is nothing to fear. The yes of Christ becomes our yes and life becomes more alive. It is in this way that Christian Meditation prepares us to say yes to the rest of life. As this happens our inner yes becomes an outer yes to life and all that it holds.

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