Tag Archives: Lent

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’.


Art of Almost: Wilco. Falling Short Is Falling In

As human beings, we make an art form out of falling short. Our practical living is often an almost. We are made to enter fully into a life of other centred loving, and yet, who can say they have ever consistently done this? We fall short in the art of love.

There is restlessness within us for the meaning and purpose which a truly loving life can give us. This restlessness can be in tension with a myriad of inner and outer diversions which can draw us away from our greatest happiness: a uniquely passionate life growing in the expression of Love. This greatest happiness is what Jesus called the Kingdom of God, or the Reign of Love. He died being faithful to its vision and his living of it.

I watch Wilco perform this song and questions begin to stir in me: Why do I fall short? Why do we all make an art of it? I hear the dissonance and the frantic energy of the music – the sound of my own frustration and fear. I feel the ache of sadness in the vocals. It all takes a hold of me and I remember my own art of almost, the everyday ways I gloss over the sacredness of human contact. I walk through life fearing the ways others will cost my ego a death to its own preoccupations and self-concern.

The fear is ego’s fear. The death to egoism it fears, however, can make way for the ego’s rising. This rising takes the form of ego’s graceful growth into the ways of Love.

This ego-fear of the loss of self-centred autonomy and control struggles with the deeper and emerging realisation that any commitment to the expression of love does involve an ongoing death to our own egocentric ways. The mystery of it all is that we are happiest when ego is forgotten and perception is at love’s other-centred service. A forgotten ego is a risen ego.

Yet in this struggle between egoism and Love we turn from love too often. It is all there for us this life of Love, ready and waiting for us to become one with it without the loss of who we most deeply are. We hear the “faint ole’” of this love in our hearts and lives, and yet still work against the grain of it. This is part of the human journey. But is this all there is? Turning from Love will be what ultimately defines us? We are nothing but dust and to this dust we shall return – right?

Perhaps the art of almost has a richer palate, a broader spectrum of reality and possibility. Maybe falling short is only part of the story. There is something else: a falling in. As the song says “I could open up my heart and fall in.” Fall into what? Fall into the life of Love already waiting for us.

Deep within the simple and silent mystery of the core of us, deep in the spirit, we don’t need to fall in because we already are in – fully. This is a natural part of being human; the only way Love could have made us. Our being is being in Being. Our basic problem is that the rest of our humanity, our psychic and relational lives, is not faithful to, nor expressive enough of our being in Love. We have forgotten it and often work against it. Our woundedness covers it. Egocentricity distracts us from it. This is the human condition according to Christian spirituality.

The Christian season of Lent is about growth in seeing, acknowledging and accepting the reality of this ‘almost’ condition in our lives. And it is also about something else: the facilitation of a ‘falling’ into the Love life within and among us.

A question for Lent and beyond is: What can we do, practically in the living of life, that will enable the healing and transformation necessary for us to fall just a little more into the life of Love that we are already a part of?

If you have given up something for Lent, say chocolate, in what way is this helping your consciousness to be more grounded in the Love at your core? If you are fasting from, say television, then how is this helping you to become aware of the life of Love within you and all?

Perhaps this time of the year is a good time to commit to the experience of some kind of contemplative practice? A couple of possibilities from the world of contemporary Christian spiritual practice are Centering Prayer and Christian Meditation. Both these forms of contemplatively focused prayer facilitate a growing attention to, and living out of this core of Love. They do it through the practice of re-focusing attention away from the ego and into the Love at our core.

Falling into the Love Reality within us is a human art form – an art form of increments – which is highlighted during Lent and encouraged all our lives. As we grow in this art form our almost is revealed as the potential and the place of our falling in. We begin to experience our falling short in life as an important part of the experience of our falling into Love. Only grace can move us beyond our almosts, making them part of how Love reveals itself in the world through us. For this to happen we need to humbly accept our reality as creatures. Ego-centricity fades in the humble realisation of our creaturely and limited context. Divine Love then uses this realisation, grounded in humility, as the foundation for a life of loving we did not think possible. This is what grace alive within us does.

In time our ‘almosts’ lessen in severity and consequence while our ‘falling into’ deepens with growing trust and faith. In grace our almost and our falling become one as we experience a compassion not our own. This compassion moves in and among us with greater insistence. This compassion is the life of God inviting loving action.


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