Tag Archives: Jesus

Meditatio House: Bere Island (Ego) Laid Bare

The house community has just got back from the annual WCCM Easter retreat held on Bere Island, Ireland. Bere Island is located on Bantry Bay about 2 hours south south west of Cork.

Bere Island is a wonderful place to hold a retreat. Its natural pace is slow. Cows have more to say about setting the tone for the island than any traffic. The island is ancient. It holds lightly and faithfully a contemplative spirit.

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We were part of a group of meditators (old and new) who rented three houses located about 15 minutes via bus from the Bere Island Heritage Centre. Fr. Laurence gave his talks at The Heritage Centre. This centre was also where all the retreatants meditated together.

We were on the island for the entire week leading up to Easter. This week is called Holy Week in the Christian tradition. From Palm Sunday until Easter Sunday we lived together, ate together, and prayed together.

As the week went on we all experienced the challenges that new beds, new people, new living space, and communal travel had to offer. Our differing personalities and temperaments began, in their own unique ways, to ‘feel the pinch’ of the conditions we found ourselves in. By the middle of the week I felt thoroughly overwhelmed by it all.

I felt. Who was this I who was overwhelmed by it all? It could be said that this I was my ego, that conscious part of my inner life which was painfully discovering that it could not have the retreat experience on its own terms. The experience became one of rawness. The vulnerability of my ego to too much change too quickly was laid bare, revealed for all to see.

The way my ego wanted to present itself to the world became too hard to maintain. An ‘in control, warm, loving, and quirky’ persona became instead increasingly anxious and rigid. Rather than ‘how can I love these people’, my rationale was fast turning into ‘how can I survive this week?’

As the week went on I could see the people around me start to fray around the edges. Impatience and frustration began to leak into our relating. Psychological subsistence and the cooking roster met head on. The tendency for us all to end up in the kitchen all at once had me exasperated.

Then came a realisation: this was part and parcel of the community experience for the week. Anger and resentment began to rise in me. Ego felt ‘ripped off’, manipulated, ambushed.

By Good Friday I could see a choice before me: participate as practically and as gently as you can or shut down. In a moment of grace, a moment that the practice of meditation quietly prepares us for, I chose to contribute as I could from moment to moment. Inner movements of perfectionism and anxiety (‘You must do more!’ ‘People think you’re lazy!’ ‘You must be liked!’) began to settle somewhat. I began to accept that I could not do everything (and did not need to). As tiredness and impatience increased I began to trust those around me to understand. I began to risk rejection.

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The art of the spiritual life, of a human life growing in full health, is all about the de-centring of the ego, that is, about our attention being more on loving others than being fixated on ourselves. Sometimes this is just too hard, and that is ok. When it’s too hard we have the opportunity to experience the limitations we have at that moment and to mysteriously grow a little more in the grace of compassion that awaits within all of us.

If this growth in graced compassion is too hard to see and accept, that’s ok as well. Sometimes all we have left is the experience of the ego suffering, experiencing fallibility, failure, and limitation. Easter is here to remind us that Divinity is already in this experience, even if we cannot see or feel it.

Dying to egoism and rising to love does involve psychological pain, or suffering. Good Friday too lives on in us. Good Friday, though, is only part of the story.

The good news is that when ego is experiencing this pain, this disorientation, it can be the very time when the divine life can move powerfully for integration and healing. The illusion of control which ego maintains is exposed as a lie. In this experience we have the chance to let go into Love just a little bit more. It can all be a part of the experience that is the integration of ego with the deeper Self in God.

As a part of the retreat experience there were regular periods of meditation. These periods really helped. Attention on the mantra was attention off the experience of being overwhelmed. It is important to note here that attention off this experience of being overwhelmed was not repression of the experience. It was simply attention on the transformative and integrating consciousness of the Risen Christ within us all. The last three days became easier. The experience of love for myself and others began to return.

Then something else happened. On Sunday, as Fr. Laurence read from John’s account of the first Easter morning, a new, subtle, gentle experience of Christ rose into awareness. This experience was the fruit of both the meditation and the struggle of the week. The words of the Gospel story had new clarity. The experience of Christ risen, mysteriously held within the words themselves, was resonating afresh within. Another veil had fallen.

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I am learning that any growth in the acceptance of Divine Love, so radically and completely given to us at Easter through the death and resurrection of Jesus, frees us to engage struggle with a growing compassion and a gentle curiosity. Growth can be a painful struggle. Peace, joy, and humility are (just some of) this struggle’s fruits.

So then, now that we have been justified by faith, we are at peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ; it is through him, by faith, that we have been admitted into God’s favour in which we are living, and look forward exultantly to God’s glory. Not only that; let us exult, too, in our hardships, understanding that hardship develops perseverance, and perseverance develops a tested character, something that gives us hope, and a hope which will not let us down, because the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit which has been given to us. (Romans 5:1-5)

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Meditatio House: Love’s Slow Turning

We had our Ash Wednesday service this week. I grew up Roman Catholic. In the past, as the priest marked an ash cross on our foreheads, he would say ‘remember that you are dust and unto dust you shall return.’ As the years have passed other words have been said by the priest, or whoever was doing the ‘ashing’. ‘Turn from fear and live in the light’ is one of my favourites.

This week, as we marked each other, we said to each other ‘repent and believe the Gospel’.

It is interesting to look at the origins of this phrase. Repent is a translation of the Greek word μετάνοια (metánoia). Perhaps a better translation of this word would be ‘change your mind’. Gospel is a variation on the Greek εὐαγγέλιον (evangelion) which means ‘good news’. Believe is taken from the Greek πιστεύω (pisteuó) and could also mean ‘entrust’.

Another translation of the phrase ‘repent and believe the Gospel’ could be ‘change your mind, entrust yourself to the Good News.’ In this there is decision and the effect of decision. Decide to give yourself and your mind will be changed, it will be transformed.

What is this Good News? It is what Jesus preached by word and example. Jesus preached a way of life that had as its centre an openness and responsiveness to the divine life which he said was ‘within, among us’ (Luke17:21). The Greek ἐντός (entos) in this verse can be translated as both ‘within’ and ‘among’.

This God was experienced intimately by Jesus. He called this God Ab (Aramaic). Ab is changed in the Gospels into the Greek αββα, or ‘Father’. Jesus lived an openness and responsiveness to his Ab that expressed itself as deep compassion or σπλαγχνίζομαι (splagchnizomai). Splagchnizomai means something like ‘to be deeply moved in one’s inner parts’*.

So the message, this Good News, is that God is with us and in us, loving us and inviting us to live lives of compassion. To change your mind and entrust yourself to this Good News was, in short, to allow both our internal and external lives to be changed by and for compassion.

Later, after Jesus’ death, those who had entrusted themselves to this Good News that Jesus preached also experienced Jesus as alive in and with his Father God. They experienced, powerfully, that Jesus was both the messenger of this Good News and the embodiment of this message. It followed, then, that to entrust oneself to the Good News also meant to give your life to Jesus, the Christ who shared in the life of God within and among them.

This giving was an act of trust with belief at its heart. In this act, this decision, lived out daily, the believer of Christ in God was changed, transformed, for a life of compassion. As they allowed divinity to change them, they became Christ-like – ‘Christians’, or ‘little Christs’.

Soon they could say with conviction

My dear friends, let us love one another, since love is from God and everyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. Whoever fails to love does not know God, because God is love. This is the revelation of God’s love for us, that God sent his only Son into the world that we might have life through him. (1John4:7-9).

The message of Lent today is the message of this Jesus, alive today in us and God: decide and act to let love change you and you will be changed. Your inner and outer life will grow in love. You will become love and live compassion. This becoming is possible because God is love and this love became human so that we might grow into love. This becoming, this slow turning into love, is the gift of God for us as we entrust in Christ.

The message of Lent and Jesus is also a message of urgency: time is short, you are going to die (you are dust). Decide now and keep deciding, keep turning from fear to love. Believe, entrust in love’s divine power to change you. Do this and life will be full of meaning and full of divine life in the now and to come.

Meditation, as contemplative prayer, is all about the daily inner decision to entrust and have our minds, our psyche, change. We turn away from fear and move into love.

Each Lent I am reminded of John Hiatt’s song ‘Slow Turning’. For me it is a song that says ‘change your mind, entrust yourself to love’. In the song Hiatt sings

Time is short and here’s the damn thing about it
You’re gonna die, gonna die for sure
And you can learn to live with love or without it
But there ain’t no cure

There’s just a slow turning from the inside out…

A Lenten challenge if ever I heard one.

Andrew

* See, for example, Mark6:34, Matt20:34, Lk7:13. It is unfortunate that σπλαγχνίζομαι in these verses has been translated as the somewhat tamer ‘to have pity’, or to ‘feel sorry for’.


Small Things: Ben Howard. Madness and Plain Sight

Sometimes we can’t see what is in plain sight. The small concerns of life, the little worries; the daily round of cares: all can gather round us claiming attention. Soon our emotional lives are caught up in this disturbance and distraction. Whether it’s thought or emotion, all is energy. We are always energy in form and in motion.

When these words, images, and emotions make a home in our minds, the meanings they carry begin to affect how we see things and how we relate to people. ‘Has the world gone mad…Is it all so very bad…Or is it me?’

There seems to be no reprieve from a way of seeing that becomes our way of seeing. We soak in it. We identify with it. It seems we can’t change it. It has become just the way we are and the way it is.

It becomes more and more difficult to ‘keep the peace’, to be at peace. Any promise or demand of peace, be it within us or around us, is trivial. The reality of peace slips away, forgotten and unattainable.

In these times we cannot see the love that lives in plain sight. In times of kaleidoscope and whirl, of these small things gathering and fusing, we cannot see it. The experience can be one of love absent – a hole inside that cannot be filled. Love is veiled, hidden behind the small things.

Being so out of touch with the Reality of Love and so identified with thought and emotion – this is a kind of madness.

There is a way out of this madness. We can practice a refocusing, a retraining of attention away from the kaleidoscopic of internal existence that Ben Howard is singing about here. It is a refocusing, a retraining. And it is so much more than this. It is also a way of loving transformation: the transformation of the mind from disintegrating to integrating. On the inner journey towards this integration there is peace.

The contemplative way is a way of this transformation. The transformation is done by this Love, the divine love life within us. We co-operate with this love life as it transforms us.

If we are to co-operate, the way into contemplation must be practical, it must be a practice. Meditation is one such practical and contemplative way. A mantra based meditative practice asks of us something very simple. It invites us to choose a word to give our attention to. The practice of giving and re-giving our inner attention to this word, over time, allows Love to work at loosening our attachments, our identification, with the ‘small things’ of thought and emotion.

The word maranatha is one such word we can use. Recite it, internally, gently and faithfully, as four syllables: ma-ra-na-tha. Have a straight back and a still body as you meditate. When you find attention no longer on the word, gently re-give it, again and again, until the time of meditation is finished: see if you can do 20 minutes.

You keep him [sic] in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock. (Isaiah26:12)

This is the long-term fruit of a regular meditation practice: our mind is stayed on the God who is Love. Our mind settles into the deep stability of the divine life. Awareness stays there. The kaleidoscope ceases to turn in the mad way of before. Our minds may still be at times buffeted and blown, however, during these times we can actually experience a new reality of ‘I am not my thoughts; I am not my emotions’.

Attention becomes grounded in the deep life of being and being is grounded in God.

The regularity of our practice grows as it slowly dawns on us just how transformative, how important to sane living a practice like meditation is. The choice is ours.

A contemplative practice unveils the God who is always there – in plain sight. It is our inattentiveness that often causes us to experience God as absent.

I have been telling you these things in veiled language. The hour is coming when I shall no longer speak to you in veiled language but tell you about the Father in plain words. (John16:25).

The ‘hour’ of contemplation and the contemplative life, are about the absence of veils. It is plain living, simple living, true living. As the veils fall, as the small things subside, the presence of God becomes vivid, the language clearer. As our minds transform, so do our lives.


Meditatio House: Incarnation and Divinisation

During the Christmas season the words of Meister Eckhart are never far from my mind. Eckhart (1260 – 1327/8) was born in Erfurt in Thuringia (Germany). He is one of the better known Rhineland Mystics. A recurring theme in his work is that of the eternal Word of God not only being born in time and humanity through Jesus – it is also that this Word is born in time and humanity through us. Eckhart’s German Sermons in particular highlight this birth of the Word in the world through Jesus and us. For example:

Here in time we are celebrating the eternal birth which God the Father bore and unceasingly bears in eternity, because this same birth is now born in time, in human nature.

What does it avail me that the birth is always happening, if it does not happen to me? That it should happen in me is what matters.

The Christmas tree at Meditatio House

The Christmas tree at Meditatio House

In Christian theology, the eternal Word, this creative movement of the divine life, is that manifestation of the divine life that brings all of Creation into being and existence, and which eventually became incarnate (personified, embodied) in the humanity of Jesus. This Word, as a manifestation of the divine life, is uncreated Love creating.

For Eckhart this Word is always seeking birth and expression within Creation. It did not stop in Jesus. It is a condition of our humanity to have this Word in us seeking a conscious birthing in the world through us. It is a condition of the Word as Love (other-centred and giving) that it be always seeking this expression.

What is in us that can stop this birthing of Love did not stifle Love’s reality in Jesus. As a result Jesus, both within himself and in his actions, lived a radically human and loving life. In this, Jesus shows us that to be human is to be loving. And in Jesus humanity has become a full participant in the divine Love-life of God. The resurrection of Jesus is the Gospel witnessing to this full participation.

God now “unceasingly bears” the both human and divine Word in God’s own life and in us. And so, this human and divine Word can now be birthed in us – if we want it. God can be birthed in us because God was born in Jesus.

This is how, in effect, Christianity ‘gets around’ the creature/Creator distinction that is so important to its theology, while still maintaining the integrity of this distinction. With the human and divine Word of Jesus God unifies this distinction in God’s own life. This ‘unified distinction-in-God’ then becomes the catalyst through which the divine life can deify our earthly human nature. Divinity can make us divine because Divinity became human in Jesus.

To be deified, or divinised, is to have the life of God already in us be born in us. It is to allow this Word, this Christ, this Love in creative action, to transform our whole humanity so that the image of God that we each uniquely and mysteriously are can be lived by us and clearly seen by others. This is the process of a lifetime. It is Eckhart who says: ‘The more and more clearly God’s image shows in us, the more evidently God is born in us.’

It is our lack of faith and belief that this deifying can actually happen to us that stops this divinisation from happening.

Christmas, for me, as well as being the celebration of this Word incarnate in the birth of Jesus, is also about the potentialities of this creative Word in us. In the Incarnation our divinisation here and now becomes possible. It is this divinisation that makes possible the revealing of this Word, this Christ, in the world through us. In the words of Peter:

By his divine power, he has lavished on us all the things we need for life and for true devotion, through the knowledge of him who has called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these, the greatest and priceless promises have been lavished on us, that through them you should share the divine nature and escape the corruption rife in the world through disordered passion. (2Pet 1:3,4).

Disordered passion in this sense can be the way in which we attach and cling to the material and the temporary of life as if these were God. To be both deified and material is to walk through the world consciously sharing in God’s immortality, being sensitive to that of us which transcends the material of life. The temporary of life is no longer a divine surrogate for us because we are living in Divinity as deified and earthly humanity.

In the simplicity and stillness of our meditation practice the promise of our earthly human nature becoming divine is quietly being realised. The discipline of our gentle returning to the mantra after distraction is the prayerful way through which we are deified. As the mantra sinks with attention deeply into our heart and being, we grow in a silence that resonates with God’s life in us. In this resonating our humanity and Christ become one. It is in this way that all the desires of life become a divine and human expression of the Love life of God (that is, not disordered).

The internal conditions for our divine birthing described by Eckhart share a striking similarity to the conditions promoted by meditation:

The soul in which this birth is to take place must keep absolutely pure and must live in noble fashion, quite collected, and turned entirely inward: not running out through the five senses into the multiplicity of creatures, but all inturned and collected and in the purest part: there is His place; He disdains anything else. (Eckhart, German Sermon 1).

Meditation, as contemplative prayer, is the practice of inturning and recollecting our senses towards God. The more we can turn attention inward and live life inwardly turned towards God, the more this birthing, this deifying, takes place.

May Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word we carry in our hearts, continue to be the catalyst for our divinisation in the year to come. His Spirit, God’s Spirit, is with us. We already are God’s children. Divinisation is the birthing of this reality in the material of our life.


Meditatio House: The Question of Silence

At Meditatio House there is a time of silence each weekday morning until 9am. What is the point of this silence? Perhaps, for some, the practice seems prescriptive or doctrinaire, or perhaps somewhat ‘old school’.

What do the mystics say about silence? St. Benedict, in his fifth century Rule states that “Monks should diligently cultivate silence at all times, but especially at night.” The Sufi mystic and poet Rumi wrote in the thirteenth century “silence is the language of God, all else is poor translation”. The Christian mystic St. John of the Cross, writing in the sixteenth century, said that “silence is God’s first language”. In 1948 Thomas Merton wrote “God [is] hidden within me. I find Him by hiding in the silence in which He is concealed.

The life of a contemplative (mystic) will always be drawn, somehow and someway, into silence because as the contemplative seeks God we discover that it is in silence where the Divine life is naked to our stilled senses.

In silence the unadorned God, the pure life of Divinity, can be experienced. Silence is the ongoing event of Love in which all are invited to take part. Our challenge is to be inwardly still enough and outwardly undistracted to (perhaps) experience this Divine life.

All are invited to take part? Yes, all. Every human being, because we exist, can experience God. It is in our ‘spiritual DNA’. We are all invited to find our own contemplative way. Often it is in the experiences of life that leave us speechless (or silent) where our contemplative roots are exposed.

Why then can silence be such a challenge to maintain? Why do we avoid it? So much of the world we have created is so full of noise. This noise distracts and deadens our senses to the subtle, gentle and ever present life of God that moves in and with silence. Perhaps in avoiding silence we are also avoiding God – or at least an image of God.

An absence of external stimuli can uncover internal movements of consciousness, our patterns and motivations. In silence our inner lives are exposed to awareness. And many times we don’t like what we see. In silence our hurts can lurk. Silence can also expose the self-talk and beliefs we do not like. A long held belief that ‘I am nothing’, for example, can be covered over by an over-active life and then exposed when life becomes quiet.

Silence can also expose the agitations of the ego – that aspect of consciousness that wants us caught in distraction, noise and the external. If we are able to cultivate silence then attention is in ‘danger’ of moving deeper into the mind and to places where ego is no longer the centre of psychological life. The ego wants us to believe that the death of egocentricity is somehow the death of our essence. Silence shows us that we are not our egos.

Silence is alive with a waiting God, waiting for us to be still enough so that the Divine life can soak a little bit more into the whole of us. But why bother with this God and this soaking? Perhaps we believe that growing in silence is being too open to the possibility of a change that is not needed or wanted? Perhaps the God we believe in, deep down, is not one of compassion or love?

Often a choosing for God and the silence in which we experience God happens when life as we have lived it is no longer working for us. The desires for a life of purpose and meaning are not being met by our current reality. St. Benedict speaks into this when, in the Prologue of his Rule, he asks “Is there anyone here who yearns for life and desires to see good days?” (Psalm 13(14):13). Jesus, in John’s Gospel declares “I have come that you may have life, and have it to the full.” (Jn10:10). We may first risk silence because we want to live a life of fulfilment and purpose and we sense somehow, however faintly, that the Divine of silence can help us with this.

A time of silence is structured into life at Meditatio House simply because an experience of it is so important if we are to encounter God and know ourselves. Silence experienced in community can open us up to the love within us for each other.

Silence in life is cultivated as we practice contemplative prayer. It grows into us, blooming like a flower. In time, we come to know through experience that if silence is the language of God, then grace is God’s language spoken into us. Grace is that free gift to us of God’s own love-life. Meditation readies us to hear with the heart and then respond to the silent love language that is grace.

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As grace moves within us we are healed and vitalised for life. We are loved into living a life of love. We are loved into an appreciation of silence because that is where God is most simply experienced, and it is where we experience our true self in God.

And with the regular practice of contemplative prayer we begin to live in a new way. We discover that we can live and move in a noisy world and still have our attention on the silence that is being gracefully nurtured within us. This is what a practice like Christian meditation can do. It can, over time, ground our attention and inner life enough in silence that we are able to live there, in the silent cave of our heart, amid life when life bustles. As we do this we experience the Divine life within us moving in harmony with the Divine life around us and in all.

The silent Divinity in us swirls in unison with a falling leaf; it loves the forlorn stranger on the city street; it leaps with delight at the sight of life in a child’s eyes; it joins with the longing we feel as we are held in our lover’s arms. These experiences await us in the silence within us. Silence becomes the experience of God’s spoken union with us in our deepest places. In this the contemplative sees that all of creation is drawing us into the life of God. As we allow this drawing to happen the life of God bursts into creation through us.

The words of St. Irenaeus then come alive: “The glory of God is a human being fully alive; and to be alive consists in beholding God.” In silence God is revealed as the One who truly gives life. All of life’s experiences begin and end in this One who wants to free us simply by loving us in silence.


Belief: John Mayer and the Shape of Belief

What do we believe? What do we believe in? What are the ways in which we believe? For me, John Mayer in his song Belief is challenging us with these questions.

Follow the above link to Belief and have a listen to the song.

Perhaps John Mayer is advocating that we not believe at all… ‘Oh, everyone believes in how they think it oughta be. Oh, everyone believes and they’re not going easily.’ If so, is this the answer? Is belief the cancer of the soul?

If we accept that the attitude and action of belief is something that the human psyche is wired for, (and there are spiritual, psychological, and evolutionary descriptions for this), then to believe in nothing would not be at all helpful for us – unless of course we make it our belief to believe in nothing, making non-believe itself something to believe in.

It does seem that John Mayer is railing against ideology and dogmatism, particularly the violent expression of idealised, dogmatised belief systems… ‘What puts a hundred thousand children in the sand? Belief can, belief can. What puts the folded flag inside his mother’s hand? Belief can, belief can.’

What could it be that dogmatises religious belief to the point of ideological rigidity? What is it that causes people to follow rigidly the letter of the law, rather than allow the possibility that wisdom is about discerning the spirit of the law?

Christianity is not, at its essence, a religion. And it is certainly not about expressing belief in rigid, dogmatised ways. Christianity is a relationship in communion, and a communion in relationship. This communion and this relationship is divine Love and is with divine Love. We know of this love and experience it, are a part of it as Christians because of Jesus. Our discipleship to him opens our body, mind, spirit, and human life to him and to the life of God which he is and is a part of.

As we allow this divine life of love to affect us, having the courage and faith to do so, we begin to experience the spirit of doctrine. Doctrine is not something to hurl at another, nor is it a ‘golden ticket’, assuring membership to a club. For the Christian it is meant to be a description of, and a support to, our experience of God. It is meant to serve this experience and be shaped by it anew. When doctrine is followed without enough of the experience of Love, doctrine can become dogmatism.

Christian spirituality is about non-violence. It is about belief rooted in relational faith. It invites compassionate and loving relationship, with self, others, creation, God. It values vulnerability and other-centredness – to the point of death and beyond. It is not about the survival of egoism, dogmatism, and fear..  ‘Is there anyone who can remember ever surrender[ing] with their life on the line?’ (album version of Belief). Jesus did this and he models a life of compassion for us.

A practice like Christian meditation offers a way into the experience of divine Love free of the influence of word, concept, and image. In this experience we then discover the inspiration for Christian word, concept, and image, and these things come alive for us in new ways.


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