Tag Archives: contemplative experience

The Shed: Be, In Time

As time goes on here at the shed I find that I am adapting to the rhythms of nature around me. This has affected the way I move through the day. It’s wonderful to feel a part of the life around me, to be with the trees as they move, the birds as they fly, the possums as they screech at night (so far they haven’t kept me awake).

The shed, because of its position, and its large front window and sliding door, gets a lot of sun (or passive solar). Consequently, I have also become more conscious of the sunlight and the way it moves within the shed’s modest living and working space.

The best time to start work is around 8:30am. At this time the light is starting to come in behind me (as I sit at the desk). I have got into the habit of keeping half of the front curtain drawn at this time so that the sun doesn’t fade the sofa bed. As the morning goes on the light moves from the sofa bed towards the desk; as this happens I can fully open the curtains. The space within becomes illuminated.

Around 11 I can feel the sun starting to warm my shoulders. Half an hour later it’s onto the desk and not too far from the computer screen. Now it’s time to stop for the morning, time for meditation then lunch.

In the early afternoon the birds of the morning return to the back yard trees. If I’m still enough, Wattle Birds will join me for lunch, searching for pollen on a nearby bush. Finches sweep up and back in the air eating insects they see in the sunlight.

Around 1 or so I’ll go for a walk, perhaps to a nearby beach or the river, or the ocean head.

By 2pm the sun has moved enough from the desk and it’s time to begin again. The morning’s brightness has given away to an afternoon’s glow. At this time of year the afternoon’s temperature is pleasant. It becomes easier to get lost in the work (except when the birds start to use a nearby birdbath).

In attending to life now, being in time, the divine presence in life can come alive in us. This is what contemplative practice does.

Life is meant to be contemplative. To experience the gift of divinity within as we attend to creation is a fruit of contemplative practice. We are better able to sense and let go into the God-life as it is in all of creation. Without a regular practice that draws attention into the heart we can forget to attend with the heart in life. In this forgetting we lose out, not only to experiencing divine love now, but also to the experience of being who we truly are. To be here now is to live in the unity that is Being and being – God and us – together.

To be contemplative in life also requires a certain degree of integrated thinking. For too long now life in the West has been dominated by ‘left brained’ thought. The human brain has two hemispheres linked by the corpus callosum.

The left hemisphere deals with the world in abstract ways. It has a narrow focus so as to serve day-to-day activity and function. Left on its own it will calculate and manipulate the world without a sense of its own limitation. It will become ridged in its ideas, ideologically fixed.

The right hemisphere deals more in metaphors. It is the explorer rather than the dissector. It sees the bigger picture of interconnection and relationships. It is about what is unique to the particular, not the particular’s generalisation. It is that part of reasoning that knows the limits of reason. It is the backdrop and frame of balanced function. It provides meaning and context to the day-to-day.

We need both hemispheres operating together if we are to function in a holistic way. Both are needed for healthy reasoning and a healthy emotional life. Consciousness in harmony is about both working together. As the neuroscientist Iain McGilchrist says in The Divided Brain and the Search for Meaning

What we call our consciousness moves back and forth between them [the hemispheres] seamlessly, drawing on each as required, and often very rapidly.

Living life contemplatively is about living life with both hemispheres engaged together in attending to life. Healthy attention sees the particular (that bird in the tree) in its context (the web of connection that is the birds and the trees – and everything else). Seeing here is a ‘heart seeing’, a seeing that includes what our eyes see and what our intuition senses.

This kind of whole attending opens us to the possibility of sensing the divine in life. It opens us to revering life as a precious event of fullness and mystery. We become more naturally able to revere each other, even when we seem very different from each other.

Meditation, as a practice of attention for life, helps to integrate the hemispheres so that the experience of life may become contemplative. Life then becomes more and more about not expecting anything, but simply about being here now. That is enough.

 

Phil Keaggy, ‘Be In Time’

Further reading:

Iain McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World (2009).

Iain McGilchrist, The Divided Brain and the Search for Meaning (2012). This is an ebook available via Kindle. It is a good summary of the key themes of The Master and His Emissary.


Meditatio House: Stability, Growth, and Change

As some of you may already know, Meditatio House has moved. We have moved from Hamilton Road, Ealing (West London) to Cloudesley Square, Islington (Central London) – Zone 3 to Zone 1 for people familiar with the London Tube zones.

Suburban life is now somewhat more cosmopolitan. Down the road is the well-known Chapel Market (one of London’s famous street markets), and all the cafés and trend that is Upper Street, Islington. Angel Tube Station is not far away.

The first room set up at Cloudesley Square was the meditation room. It is somewhat smaller than the one at Ealing. It was important that this room be up and running as soon as possible. The prayer life of the community and our meditation together is central. The meditation room is the heart of the house. As we unpacked the rest of the house meditating together in the meditation room helped to maintain a sense of stability.

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We all need some kind of stability. As our world becomes increasingly mobile and fast changing, for many of us we can no longer rely on our physical circumstance to provide enough stability. I think of my own life here as an example of this: here I am on the other side of the world from Australia (the country of my birth). And in Australia I don’t really have a ‘place’ of my own. I have a hometown, but not a physical home.

For many, stability of environment helps them with the human experience of growth and change. A lack of external stability can make the inner experience of growth and change difficult.

It is said that the internal of the spiritual life is about pitching tents rather than building houses. Growing in the divine life within us means growth and change becomes not only necessary, but expected and eventually welcomed. It is this growth and change that helps to integrate our self-consciousness with its forgotten roots: God and the mystery of our deepest self. To build a house is to settle down within us at one ‘place’ on this journey back into Love. At some point we may decide that we have had enough of change and just want to stay in the one spot, the one place of growth that we have come to.

Pitching a tent is about settling with the knowledge that, at some point, we will be on the move again. Eventually, the God of love and change will entice us to move on, deeper into forgetting ourselves and being re-membered into love. The extent to which we are responsive to this enticement is the extent to which we have embraced inner tent living.

This reality of inner growth and change can make external stability more important. A marriage, a family, a community, a monastery – all of these have been attempts to make the external stable and supple enough to be a support for growth and change. But what can we do if the external is in flux, no longer providing enough support? Alternatively, what can we do if the external has become too rigid, too fixed in its patterns and ways and no longer at the service of growth?

If we somehow lose touch with the divine life in and around us (the initiator of growth) and our attention is too much on our self-consciousness (without a contemplative balance), the danger is that we will become too fixed, rigid, within ourselves as we over-identify with self-consciousness. As this happens, in time, our living environments can begin to reflect this inner fixedness and become, instead, a distraction away from change and growth. A too stiff personality becomes the foundation of living rather than our being in God.

Alternatively, if our external environment is too unstable the danger is that we can become (again) too fixed, hard within ourselves in response to this instability.

Meditation can help. Practicing it is a commitment to tent living. And when a couple, a family, a community practices meditation together it ensures that the external – the physical and relational circumstances of our lives – are to some degree a reflection of our tent living, supple enough to embrace growth and change.

The moving of the Meditatio House community to Cloudesley Square is a reflection of the change that can happen due to the uncertainty of life. It is also an acceptance of the invitation to have the external of life supple enough to nurture our growth together into the Divine Life.

The commitment to meditation, and to meditating together, gives us a stable practice amid internal and external change.

The paradox is that meditation, as a contemplative practice, not only encourages in us growth and change, it also deepens us in the experience of an ultimate stability in God. As we pitch and re-pitch our tents, we carry the home that is the cell of our heart everywhere we go. Home is where the heart is. The heart is the home of divinity and our true selves. Everywhere we go our heart goes too.

Cloudesley Square:


Lazarus: David Bowie. In Death We Become Alive

This is part two of our David Bowie feature.

The Gospel story of the raising of Lazarus was written, like all the Gospels were, through the prism of the human experience of Jesus risen from the dead. After Jesus’ death those who were close to him during his earthly life experienced him as alive to them in a powerful and deeply intimate way. Free from the limits of physicality, Jesus exploded into their hearts – that place of pure experience at the centre of us where we and divinity are one, communing in spirit. The Gospels were written after this experience and during it.

What the story of Lazarus tells us is that death has no hold on life; that life is of such a force and nature that nothing can contain it. Life is of the spirit and life embodies (enlivens) all physicality. Death is a material reality, not ultimate Reality.

“Look up here, I’m in heaven.” The Lazarus that is David Bowie is now no longer limited by the physical. The scars of a human life and the drama of ‘below’ that were his have now been transcended. In this transcending, this going beyond, Bowie bursts into the fullness of life, a life that is in everything and everyone.

In the Gospel story eternal life courses into the dead Lazarus revealing to us that we will emerge into eternal life after death. This eternal life can be experienced here and now as it heals and transforms our human lives.

“I’ve got nothing left to lose…Dropped my cell phone down below.” As Bowie sings these words he floats between worlds. It seems that only his bed clothes are preventing him from floating away. Perhaps his experience of death is shedding him of what is ultimately unimportant: such things as opinions and judgements, our fears and anxieties, notions of success and failure, pride and competition, and all those things in our personalities that would stop us from living in the fullness of life already given to us. The cell phone is dropped – attachment to temporal intrigues and involvements is gone.

He asked, “Where have you laid him?” They replied, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. Thus the people who had come to mourn said, “Look how much he loved him!” But some of them said, “This is the man who caused the blind man to see! Couldn’t he have done something to keep Lazarus from dying?” Jesus, intensely moved again, came to the tomb. (Now it was a cave, and a stone was placed across it.) Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the deceased, replied, “Lord, by this time the body will have a bad smell, because he has been buried four days.” Jesus responded, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believe, you would see the glory of God?”  So they took away the stone. Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you that you have listened to me. I knew that you always listen to me, but I said this for the sake of the crowd standing around here, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he shouted in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The one who had died came out, his feet and hands tied up with strips of cloth, and a cloth wrapped around his face. Jesus said to them, “Unwrap him and let him go.” (John 11:34-44)

Jesus was close to Lazarus, he loved him. We can see this as Jesus weeps and is “intensely moved”. In raising Lazarus Jesus shows us that our relationships also transcend death. The depth of closeness with someone experienced on earth can continue after their death. And not only this: the closeness can deepen. Those tensions of character and personality that may have come between us and our loved ones are no more. Our ego has nothing to rub against. All that is left is the truth of who our loved ones are. At our depths and in Truth this truth is free to commune with the truth of who we are. There is no fear in Truth.

During meditation we practice attention off the ego. As we deepen in this practice we encounter and live into the truth of who we are and the truth of life.

The gift of this song and video from David Bowie could be seen as a participation in the spiritual reality of communion at the heart of relationship. Bowie lives on not only in his music, but in the relationship that his music fosters between us and him and especially in the relationship he has with those who were closest to him. Just like those Bluebirds he is free, free to be in the freedom given to us all; free from fear and free to be.

The cupboard in this video is the tomb of the Lazarus story. But who is it that comes out of the cupboard at the beginning of this video; that reaches out from under the bed enabling Bowie to float; hiding under the desk, touching and empowering him in his final moments? His muse; an angel; an embodiment of the Divine; a variation on the Grim Reaper? And what is Bowie writing? Is creativity bursting from him in his final moments?

Later, as Bowie dances and sings in front of his ‘tomb cupboard’ we can see the bandages of Lazarus in the white lines on Bowie’s black clothing. The final scene seems to have Bowie doing a ‘Lazarus in reverse’. While the Gospel Lazarus comes back to earthly life from death, Bowie seems to reverse into death from earthly life. His entry into the ‘tomb cupboard’ is a reverse replay of a ‘tomb cupboard’ exiting. He exits and enters the tomb at the same time. Death and life, at least on this earthly plane, are a part of each other. And if we can embrace death, be unafraid of it, we discover in our hearts that death is the way to into life, both temporal and eternal. Christians call this ‘dying and rising in Christ’.


Changes: David Bowie. Change as Growth into Self-Expression

In this early song from David Bowie (1971, and performed here around 2002) there is restlessness, not for fame and riches, more a restlessness for purpose and expression. For this to happen, Bowie accepts that there needs to be some changes, that he’s “Just gonna have to be a different man.” What is around him, what he has done so far, who he is so far, all this is not as sweet as expected. Expectations about life and living have not yet been satisfied.

“So I turned myself to face me.” At such times of restlessness we can turn to questions about who we are. What we do and what we strive for can, after all, be a reflection of what we value and who we are. If what we are doing and valuing is not good enough to satisfy, what does this say about the person we are? What does it say about the person we want to become?

The ‘not enough’ of life can draw us into honesty. Honesty, however, must be practiced. It seems that Bowie has been practicing something else. He is struggling to catch a glimpse of “the faker” he assumes others are seeing. He knows that he wants to be different, somehow a better man, and yet he also seems to be caught in a role that he has, up to this point, been performing.

If we don’t know enough of who we are we can become lost in the roles we perform, whether these roles are on stage, at work, in our relationships, in our homes. We can come to identify ourselves with what we do rather than with who we more deeply are. When this happens, in our more lucid moments, we may catch ourselves in our own pretending and ask the question “who am I?”

Perhaps Ziggy Stardust and the Thin White Duke of later years were all a part of the search for identity and true expression that this song seems to allude to.

Our true or deeper self is not someone we can think up, or create with a role. This self is already fully given and cannot be fashioned with imagined definition. It is through the experience of this self that we can grow in awareness of it and become stable in it. As this awareness and stability grows, our roles can instead become ways of expressing self. With the existential pressure off, we can then relax into our roles in life.

Our roles are temporary, merely a part of the “stream of warm impermanence”. It is the deeper self that gives them life and energy. Healthy and regular spiritual practice helps us to keep our attention on this self so that we do not forget it and get lost in roles. Attention on self helps us to both experience and express self.

Keeping our attention on self is the contemplative necessity at the heart of any true self-expression. Regular meditation is the practice of ongoing attention on this self. In meditation we experience and stabilise in ourselves. We can then take this experience and stability into our roles and self-express through them.

As we experience ourselves in meditation we also experience ourselves becoming infused with divine life. Why is this? It is because self experience and divine experience are of a union. Attention on self is attention on God.

With this infusion God can be in our human changing helping us to be true to who we are: unique images of divine love. Self is this image of divinity within us. God simply wants our whole humanity to be consistent with who we most deeply are; at our deepest, so do we.

“Changes are taking the pace I’m going through.” The pace of change is an experience and a rhythm of life that we cannot control. Fear of living wants to control change because to change is to live. This fear wants us to opt out of anything that might cause change. To follow this fear is a decision against the inevitability of change. Rather than live life, we live death because we refuse to live the change that life is.

As we grow in a choice for life, we learn that if we are to experience the richness of life and self we must allow the changing circumstances of life to change us. Within this allowing of change divine love can work for the good of us and the world.

The divine life, as energy for life and change, acts in our choices for life, helping us to act courageously and truly. Implicitly or explicitly, whether we are aware of it or not, divinity in life is always moving in support of our choices for life and change.

But what is it, who is it, that we consult about life and change? What were we taught? Were we told that we must leave childhood behind if we are to grow and live? Why is it, then, that spiritual masters like Jesus invite us to become like little children? The innocence of childhood never leaves us. We bury it. Spiritual practice and human healing is about integrating this original innocence into the living of life. As children, before the trauma of life set in, we lived naturally as ourselves.

A tragedy of life is that we have forgotten this ‘original innocence’. Sometimes it is in the experience of the strange – the ‘stranger’ and the ‘strange events’ of life – that we remember our forgotten selves, forgotten selves that may themselves seem strange.

In turning to “face the strange” within himself and life, Bowie modelled for us the courage needed to discover, re-member, and express ourselves.


Meditatio House: (Stay Awake) and Do What is Appropriate (Part 2)

…and do what is appropriate.

What is the appropriate thing to do in any given moment? How do we know that it is appropriate?

The more attention we give to the moment and the longer we can simply be in the moment with this attention (that is, to stay awake), then the more we learn (through experience) about the now of the moment. We learn what it is about the experience of the now that invites appropriate action.

Zen and Christian spirituality (along with their own meditation practices) are both ways to practice being in the present moment and to develop the necessary sensitivity to live and act in the present moment, the now.

The Christian spiritual master Meister Eckhart has said

The most important hour is always the present. The most significant person is precisely the one sitting across from you right now. The most necessary work is always love.

Love can only happen now.

Christianity teaches that God’s will, in all its manifestations, is simply loving attention in action now. The Divine Life, as love, gives its attention fully to each moment. Our task is to learn to live attentively in this attention, being and acting more and more with and in it.

As I walked out the café gate I saw an older lady looking at a chalk board that was hung on the gate. “Oh, it’s closed” she said. “I was hoping for a coffee.” I looked at the board; on it was written ‘Closed’. I found myself saying “They’re still serving. I’m sure you could go in and get maybe a takeaway.”

Contemplative practice seeks to live the heart of Christian spirituality: living life open, attentive, and responsive to what the Divine Life in the moment is being attentive to. We simply grow in learning to love in the circumstances of the moment – whatever those circumstances might be.

The morning air was crisp and fresh. Attention, at least for now, was not caught in the compulsions that have it chasing thoughts and being lost in imaginings. The calling birds sung into clam. From deep within me came a soothing. It rose, welling, and enticing. In this silence of the morning an invitation came: “give yourself some loving attention. Be with me while you can.” Time to be, time to be in love – time to have attention turn (in)to Love. I gave Love attention as best as I could. Now, in the moment, attention became the way God loved me, the way I loved God, and the way we loved together.

Another way to practice staying in the present moment is to give attention to our bodily senses in the everyday. Using our senses in this way we can give attention to such things as the feel of a t-shirt on the body or the sensation of feet on the ground while walking. Smells and sounds can also ground us in the now, as can everyday practices such as brushing our teeth, washing up, and ironing. Giving and re-giving attention to these things is a spiritual and human practice that, when done regularly, helps ground us in the now where God is and where our attention can be re-claimed by a Love that wants to act through us.

As well as using our external senses to practice staying awake in the moment, attention can also be turned internally to observe thoughts, emotions, feelings, and imaginings. We can grow, for example, in the practice of observing our everyday reactions to events and people. Reactivity can be like a momentary release of repression revealing to us hidden wounds and attitude we would prefer to forget. In time, as we grow in a gentle, non-judging attention to these rich flashes of the deep of us (something that meditation helps us with), Love in the present moment heals and shapes us. Soon we find enough courage to see and grow in the acceptance of that within us that does not want to love.

Strangers broke into affection in front of me. Straight away I began to feel uncomfortable. “Why do people insist on treating public spaces like a living room?” Then they began to speak in intimacies: ‘I know life’s been a struggle, but I’m here for you.’ ‘Please call me if you need to.’ Their bodies clogged the space. Spontaneity and concern had them lost in their own familial world. Rather than soften, I cursed them for the inconvenience.

The more our senses can stay in the present moment, the more our attention can be shaped by the always present love-life of God. Living attentively in the moment leaves us exposed to a divine dynamic that would have us slowly forgetting ourselves for love’s sake.

The more time I spent in the palliative care room with mum and my family, the more I sensed that the most important thing to do was to be in the moment with mum and her experience of dying. Any time that I found myself away, distracted, or doing something else, these were the times when God and conscience invited me to come back and be present in these last physical moments with her. As I did this I experienced the challenge of my own experience of mum’s death. In the moment with mum was the invitation to simply be in love with her. The more I could be in the moment with mum, the more I was in love with her and my family. The more time spent in this moment meant less regret later.

Life in the present moment is where divinity has the chance to shine in us and through us. The Zen Master Robert Kennedy, while teaching us that evening at the Meditatio Centre*, passionately cried out: ‘Burn bright, breath by breath!’ Our everyday practices of attention now – meditation and attending to the people and everyday things of life – can enliven us and have us burning bright with other-centred loving attention.

Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. (Luke12:35-36).

* See ‘Meditatio House: (Stay Awake) and Do What is Appropriate (Part One)’.


Meditatio House: Silent Haiku Walking Still

Last week I went on a 7 day silent retreat. It was wonderful. It seems that the more I am able to practice meditation and take the time to stare at the trees, then the more silence is becoming my default.

On the retreat we practiced something called ‘contemplative walking’. Walking contemplatively is the simple practice of walking with attention focused on the act of walking. The walking itself is slow and gentle, though still quite natural. We would walk together in a line that snaked around a garden path. We would walk between meditation sessions or just prior to sessions.

It was hoped that the stillness we would experience in our bodies as we sat to meditate would be taken into the walking. We could then maintain and experience this inner stillness in our bodies as we gently walked. Ideally the walking would act as a ‘kind of bridge’ (as our retreat leader termed it) that would help us to take the stillness of meditation into our each day of general movement.

The movement of the body need not be a distraction to living in stillness. As a meditation practice deepens and we grow in being grounded and attentive to the stillness within us, it becomes quite natural to ‘carry’ this sense of stillness into the movement of each day – no matter what the day might bring. The reality of inner stillness, along with the silence and the peace that can accompany it, can then become more and more palpable to others through us. It’s a stillness we don’t own or possess, of course. We simply live in it more and more without claiming it as our own.

Something else some of us did on this silent retreat was to write haikus. A haiku is a form of simple poetry. First done in Japan, the poem consists of only three lines. The first line contains 5 syllables, the second 7, and the third is back to 5 syllables. This form of writing is about using as few words as possible. In this way the haiku can describe the essence of an experience without having the words get in the way of the description. The writing itself is a way of training attention primarily on the experience of something rather than on the words. Perhaps then something of this experiential essence can be relayed to the reader.

Here is one haiku I wrote about the experience of stillness and contemplative walking on the retreat:

Contemplative walk
Silent still moving body
Tappy tap tap-tap

We would meditate, walk, and then meditate all before breakfast. What I noticed at breakfast was that, although nobody spoke, there was still noise. The ‘tappy tap tap-tap’ is the sound of metal spoons on crockery as we ate our breakfast cereals. The sound was quite noticeable, even intrusive on occasions.

At the time of the experience the haiku is describing, it occurred to me that we had not yet made the connection between the silence and stillness of meditation and the same silence and stillness that we could be present to while we ate breakfast. Noise, noise that we could regulate if enough were aware of it, was covering (for me) the silence and the stillness. The contemplative walk had not been a bridge between meditation and breakfast (at least not that morning). Meditation, the morning contemplative walk, and breakfast were being lived as separate; and a noise as everyday as spoons on crockery was enough to distract my attention.

We can all live out the human tendency to separate noise and silence, stillness and movement. The quiet of a 5am start is soon lost in the 8:30am traffic; silence is experienced as being shattered by a car alarm; a gentle care between couples can appear to vanish as their children begin to scream and shout.

There can be a duality in our experience of stillness and the activity of life. One of our great spiritual and human challenges is to nurture a deep attentiveness to inner stillness and silence that can be lived in the activity and circumstance of each day. Stillness and activity, silence and noise need not be in opposition to each other. A regular meditation practice, one done in and with the ordinariness of each day, is vital to the harmonising of stillness and activity, silence and noise.

I notice this phenomenon of duality at Meditatio House. We can, after meditation, rumble about the hallway and kitchen quickly forgetting what we have just been a part of and, indeed, continue to be a part of after we leave the meditation room: silent stillness, still silence. This is not to say that noise should not be a part of life in the house, or that fun should be silent – far from it.

And yet, at Meditatio House we are invited to be a part of the cultivation of the contemplative life – a life which has at its heart silence and stillness even in the mist of noise and movement.

Meditation is about growing in the ability to live quietly amid noise and to be still while moving. Noise need not stop the experience of quiet; stillness can still be the ground of attention as we move. If this both/and is to be lived, then a connection between meditation as silent stillness and the rest of our lived lives needs to be made and deepened. As this connection grows the ‘someone who meditates’ can become, over time, the ‘contemplative who meditates’.

As the Desert Fathers and Mothers have said:

How we live is how we pray,
how we pray is how we live.


Hospitality, Community, and the Centrality of Prayer

The below was preached as a sermon to the community Benedictus Contemplative Church on July 18, 2015.

Mark chapter 6, verses 30 to 34, 53 to 57.

The Greek word used in verse 34 by Mark, translated as compassion is splagchnizomai (splangkh-nid’-zom-ahee). It means something like to be moved deeply in the guts. Here is a deep visceral reaction in Jesus, one without thought, a reaction of human and divine solidarity with the sick, the powerless, the suffering. In this reaction is the revelation that the divine life is completely, fully committed to the human experience – with us, healing, saving, and empowering us to live a life in the simple freedom of the loving present moment.

In this Gospel story struggling humanity experiences, in Jesus, the God life. And this is how it is with us today. In our contemplative practice we too experience God in Jesus. We experience Christ consciousness.

In this experience, in ways mysterious, the struggles of our inward human lives are healed, saved, transformed.

We experience in Christ an ontological union, or a union of being between human and divine life, the same union of being that Mark has Jesus acting from in tonight’s Gospel.

In the risen Jesus human and divine life are fully present to, and alive in each other. Christian prayer is about learning to be more and more present, more and more attentive, to this union of being within us.

To give attention to this union requires solitude. The Gospel for today has Jesus going with his disciples to a deserted place to rest, a place of solitude. The more we practice prayer the more we discover that this solitude, this deserted place of rest, is within us, within our own hearts. On the way into this deserted place we experience our inner struggles, those things within that, like the crowd in the Gospel, can demand our attention on this journey into solitude. And just like in the Gospel, these struggles – be they struggles with distractions or struggles with deeper psychological wounds (wounds that can sometimes be at the root of our distraction) – when these struggles come into contact with the divine life they are (over time) healed.

It is very difficult to go on this journey into solitude alone. The disciples, in the Gospel, did it together, with Jesus.  Thankfully, it is possible to experience our own unique solitude in God together. In this experience we also experience our struggles and healing together.

This together into solitude and struggle, so that healing happens and Christ may be lived and experienced, is just one part of the dynamic of Christian community.

In the decision to be together and to embrace our solitude together, in the experience of a practical giving and receiving of love for each other, and in the commitment to a common prayer life which transcends egocentricity so that we may be more in love together – it is in the practice of these things together where Christian community is born and lived.

I experienced this threefold dynamic at Mediatio House.

This dynamic can be, at times, an uncomfortable, even painful experience. And it’s also an experience that has within it great purpose, meaning, and fulfilment.

A couple of examples of this dynamic in action from my experience at Meditatio House:

Hospitality

The commitment to hospitality at Mediatio House is a very practical way in which we, at the house, grow in other centred loving. People come to the house all the time: to pray with the community, for day activities, for lunch, meetings, accommodation. Our challenge is to be and become people of welcome, to be present to the people who come to the house, to give them our attention.

The Community

People from all over the globe come to the house to live. This can be for a few weeks, to 6 months, to 12 months and beyond. In this experience there are cultural challenges as well as challenges of personality and temperament.

Parker J. Palmer writes

…community always means the collision of egos. It is less like utopia than like a crucible or a refiner’s fire. In this process God wants us to learn something about ourselves, our limits, our need for others. In this process is the pain of not getting our way, but the promise of finding the Way.

There have been times in the last 12 months where I have experienced this collision of my ego and other egos. I have been involved in heated discussions around how I and others have been living with each other. I have witnessed the struggle of fellow members as they discover through experience the deep seated ways in which the human reaction of self-preservation via isolation can flare.

I have discovered myself sitting in judgement of another’s controlling and anxious ways only to discover that under my judgement is a denial of the ways I tend towards the control of others so that I may not experience anxiety.

I have experienced the ebb and flow, the back and forth, of humility and pride.

My pride says ‘I can do this myself’, it says ‘I don’t require relationship’. It develops in isolation, both physical and psychological. It often grows subtly, quietly. Or it can spring up in reaction to someone’s critique about the way I am living, or not living. Unchecked it grows into arrogance. When I am in the midst of it I am caught in the illusion that God is absent.

There comes a point in all of this when the experience of isolation becomes prominent enough for me to be honest about it – with myself, with God, with others. In the eventual turn back to community and relationship is the turn back to grace and the realisation that I need God and that community (where ever I am experiencing it) is a vital part of the way to God. In this realisation humility grows its roots a little deeper. My time at Meditatio House has been a humbling experience. Humility is pride’s antidote. Only a life growing in humility can truly grow in God.

The Centrality of Prayer  

At the centre of all of this was (and is) the three times a day of prayer and meditation. At these times we gathered together as a community with whatever was going on within and between us.

At these times we practiced attention off any struggles that were going on and attention on the divine life within. We were like the crowd in Mark’s Gospel – focusing on the presence Christ. Looking back, during these times I experienced the forgetting of struggle and the silent emergence of healing and integration. This emergence would not have happened in the same way if I was living by myself and meditating by myself. We all need crucibles, a refiner’s fire. Community is mine.

And as this emerging happened I discovered in myself a slow growing acceptance of fellow community members. I discovered myself living in a love for them that I did not have to make happen. I could let go. We grew in simply being with each other.

So what about Benedictus and this threefold dynamic of solitude together, practical giving in love, and communal prayer?

Solitude and together: Our service each week in an example of being both together (at the service) and in solitude together (as we spend time in silence within the service). We come and experience God alone and together.

Our times of commitment to contemplative prayer outside of this service are also done together and alone.

Practical giving in love: Acts of service for the Benedictus community, as well as for those who form a part of our communal experience  generally (partners, family, work, friends) – these acts can reveal us to ourselves. Attention to our inner lives can help us to see our motivations for giving and living as they happen within our commitments.

This practical giving is an act of self-giving: things here such as the centrepiece, wine and cheese, staying just a little longer after the service to say hello to people we may not know yet.

We also know about the practicality, the effort, and self offering of loving and being loved by a partner, family, and friends.

Communal prayer: This service is our communal prayer. The silence at its heart is the place in which we are growing in the giving of our whole selves to the divine energy at the heart of Creation which sustains us for loving and integrates ego with Self. After this silence our inner lives are freed just that little bit more to be in love with ourselves and each other.

At Meditatio House, as a residential community encouraging others to grow in love and Self, the volume is turned up on this three fold dynamic. It’s a bit like living in a hot house. The volume is turned up on a dynamic which is already a part of any life committed to growing in love and prayer together.

On this loving, contemplative, and communal journey we are all on, where ever we are on it, what is happening is that our whole humanity is growing into a union with the divine life. Jesus shows us that this growing in union is possible. His risen life with and in us is the way divinity comes alive in us and the way we come alive in the divine life.

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