Tag Archives: Silence

The Shed: Be, Into Silence (Part 2)

A few years ago I discovered the Japanese novelist Shusaku Endo. One of my favourite Endo novels is called Silence. Recently Martin Scorsese adapted the novel into a movie of the same name. The story is set in 17th century Japan. Christianity had gained a minority following and, consequently, was soon seen as a threat. Because of this, Christians were persecuted and killed. The choice was given: renounce Christianity (apostatize) or die.

Silence is about the human struggle to remain faithful to a God that seems silent in the midst of suffering, a suffering that is happening precisely because of a decision to remain faithful to this silent God.

In the movie, Sebastiao Rodriques, a Portuguese Jesuit priest and missionary in Japan, struggles to make sense of what is happening to him and around him. His faith in an all-powerful God is shaken as this God does nothing to stop what is happening. The only ‘answer’ Rodriques gets is silence. What is the point of being faithful to this mute, powerless God? Surely to apostatize would be the better course?

The book and movie wrestle with the assumption that silence means an absence of the divine life. We can have an expectation of how God should act in a given situation, and this expectation can weigh heavily, especially in the midst of suffering. If our expectations of God are unmet, when all we get is silence dressed up as absence, faith can be lost. It can also turn dogmatic.

The challenge is to not turn from this silence, no matter how we may be experiencing it. If we do turn away, we may discover in time that the turning away was all a part of a turning back to what silence actually is.

When I closed my eyes it was twilight. Around the shed, the birds had been back in the trees announcing the end of day. But now as my eyes opened it was dark. All was still. All. Inside and outside. The mantra had settled the mind and darkness had settled the birds. Silence. And in the silence there was a presence. More than that: the silence itself seemed to be a presence, an always present presence; a presence not of my making. I sat, not wanting to break the stillness with movement. In silence, in presence, in stillness, I sat.   

In the movie, Rodriques too begins to sense a divine presence in silence. He discovers a God in the silence who is suffering with all who suffer. God speaks as silent presence, and God is fully present all the time no matter what. In this presence God loves. Love is this presence. In the reality of human suffering, Divine Love suffers with us and makes of suffering a way into the depth and meaning of life. Suffering is not taken away – it can become gift.

Sometimes the events of life can shake us from our expectations of God and our ideas of silence. It’s as if what is happening is breaking down what we have held dear, what has up to that point provided meaning.  It can all be taken from us, leaving us lost and bereft. Suffering can wrench us free from ideas of life and divinity formerly held close. If our humanity is to deepen, if we are to discover more a God in communion with us through everyone and everything, then ideas of life and divinity must change. Only later do we look back and see that we are somehow freer, less fearful, more humble and simple than we were before.

As this happens the way we live with silence changes. We grow into silence. Silence becomes the way we can be with the God who is transfiguring our humanity for communion with Love.

The invitation then is for us to be present ourselves to this divine presence in us. As this happens, as we give regular attention to it, our deep union with the divine life is realised consciously – we become more and more aware of it. A communion of Spirit and spirit (already given) in time becomes a communion of divinity with the whole of our humanity. Our psyche becomes an inner landscape so transfigured by silence that the divine presence becomes uniquely conscious in us.

Meditation is simply a way to give regular attention to this divine presence in us. It is the putting aside of all ideas about life and God – even the ideas that suffering may have helped us come to. Ideas about union are not union. We become silent so that we may be simply conscious-in-communion with divinity rather than self-conscious with ideas, thoughts, and imaginings.

Perhaps all this may seem like a folly or a panacea, an escape from actually doing anything at all. However, what happens as we attend to this silent presence of Love in us is that we are drawn into a particular kind of action: loving action. In whatever circumstance we find ourselves in Divine Love is always inviting us into loving, kind action here and now. As we meditate we come to know, in our own experience, what this love is – the flavour of it. The invitation to loving action then becomes harder to resist and we end up expressing the love we are becoming.

 


The Shed: Be, Into Silence (Part 1)

It’s November now. It’s been a good couple of months since I got back from the Shed and Mossy Point (see The Shed: Be In Time and Poised for Adventure below). I’ve been giving time to other writing projects and, as a result, I haven’t been contributing much to the blog.

One of the fruits of time in the Shed was a re-connection with silence. I forgot just how much the general activity and sound of life can get in the way of quiet and silence. The Shed and the nature of Mossy Point had in them an invitation to come back into the sustaining silence which we are always in and from which we all come.

One book that I took with me into this time was Silence: A Users Guide (Volume One) by Maggie Ross. Reading this book, in the solitariness of the Shed, was a needed ‘kick in the pants’. It laid bare the need now for more of us to engage in ‘the work of silence’: to prioritize a life committed to cultivating practical silence in life. In silence we encounter the roots of our being, not just in God, but also in creation – a creation which God has fully and lovingly given the divine life to. In silence we remember that we are a part of this creation, especially when we find ourselves in the silence of creation itself.

So many lives today are divorced from our being in silence and the silence of creation. As a result, the union with creation that we all share, a union that this silence can re-acquaint us with, is lost. Add to this our tendencies to over-consume and view the planet as more of a resource than a revered and precious home,  and we can see why this planet’s ecosystems and biodiversity are in trouble. Ross pulls no punches when she maintains that we are ‘sleepwalking towards our own extinction’. At the very least we are meandering towards a planet that can no longer sustain the sum of us as we are now, nor the consequences of our actions as they currently stand.

In the face of this the divine life is fostering contemplatives – in all walks and ways of life. A contemplative is simply someone who accepts deeply that we are human beings. A contemplative is someone committed to the practical living of life from the deep of who we are. They accept that learning to be ourselves involves learning to be receptive and responsive to the deep mind – where the mystery of us is and where we can unfold from. From this deep we can learn to live lives of connection and reverence with each other and the whole planet.

A contemplative is not a consumer.

Encountering our humanity at this depth means somehow entering silence. Human wisdom maintains that in order to enter silence we need to  lay aside self-consciousness with all its thoughts, imaginings, and emotion. We have lived in a time where an over-focus on the self-conscious mind has lead to a forgetting of our deep truth. We are not our thoughts, we are not our feelings.

We are at the point now where the life of the planet and the future of humanity depends on us coming home to the deep of who we are. This is why contemplative practice of any kind is so important right now. Whether it be meditation, gardening, knitting, good conversation – anything that has attention lost (for a time) to our over reliance on self-consciousness. We are too self-conscious.We need relationships and spaces where it is safe to forget ourselves. As we do this we discover that forgetting ourselves is as natural as breathing. And as this happens we remember ourselves: you and me in the depth of us sharing nature with divinity itself; a divinity that is relational and loving.

The future of us on this planet depends on us practicing a turning away from self-consciousness (a denying if you will) and expressing more of our relational and loving selves.

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?” (Matthew 16:24-26)

 

 

 


Meditatio House: The Heart Ponders and the Ego Grasps

Each Monday evening at Meditatio House is a time reserved for some teaching about Christian meditation. After the teaching we have a time of meditation, then some questions and/or reflections about our meditation practice.

This regular Monday night pattern was something begun by John Main. It is a good night for anyone new to Christian meditation to visit the house, or indeed anyone inquiring about meditation as contemplative prayer.

Often we have a recorded teaching given by one of the teachers of meditation within the WCCM. This week we heard from a conference given by Laurence Freeman in 1992 at Gethsemani Abbey, Kentucky, USA. The conference was released as The Ego On Our Spiritual Journey in 2007. Something that Fr. Laurence said during this conference struck me:

The sayings of the Fathers of the Desert are really a constant commentary upon the dangers of an egotistical spirituality. This is perhaps why St John of the Cross tells us to give up all desire, even the desire for God. Not the love of God, not our innate longing for God which we cannot give up, but our desire for God – the desire to possess, to control, to own, to keep God. In this way of prayer, in the simple ascesis of the single word, we strike at the ‘root of sin’, as The Cloud of Unknowing called it, at the root of our ego. We let go.

There is a distinction going on here between the deep longing of our hearts for God and the ego’s desire to “possess…control…own…” to replace this longing with its own version of longing: desiring. Egoic desiring keeps us attached to the ego, identified with the ego, and focused on it and its needs. If we desire God then we are seeking God on ego’s terms. God becomes just another way to get satisfaction. The longing for God, however, is something ego does not create. As Laurence says, it is innate to us, simply an inherent part of what it is to be human. It is pre-ego. The heart ponders patiently and thoughtlessly in its longing, while the ego can grasp, often with indiscreet calculation.

There is a certain kind of impatience in desiring. Desiring can be the ‘quick fix’ of the human psyche. Often it is all about the satisfaction of the ego’s unmet needs for love, attention, approval – unmet needs that go all the way back into childhood. The desiring around these unmet needs can be powerful, and can at times possess us. In this, desire does not serve love. Desire is all about the satisfaction of these unmet needs in a way that serves ego. This is understandable and part of the human story. There is deep compassion in us for these unmet needs. Life is meant to be so much more than this kind of suffering. Ego wants this suffering gone, but on its terms.

What a contemplative practice such as Christian meditation does is assist in the discovery, through experience, of our deeper “innate longing for God”. To be focused on and attached to ego through desiring is to have little or no attention on the depths of us, where this longing has its source. The fulfilment of this longing deeply heals our unmet needs in ways that ego desiring cannot.

As we meditate attention shifts to the source of longing – our heart. As time passes our desiring shifts as well and becomes more and more a longing for Love. This happens as we encounter at our depths the God of our longing. Our longing is fulfilled quietly and mysteriously by God and in time becomes joy. It is a joy that ego cannot create. It is a joy that rises as God fulfils unmet need with the divine life.

This joy is deep and grows in constancy. It is a joy that finds fulfilment in communal expression (where ever our love life with others is). It is a joy that is not only for us, it is part of the other-centred life of God and our deeper Self. It is not necessarily gregarious; it is however, strong, constant and stable. It is faithful joy. It grows as detachment from ego desiring grows. In this it is a sacrament, an outer sign of the inner reality that our desiring is now more a longing being fulfilled by the divine Love Life.

People and things that were once more the ‘objects of our desire’ instead become the focus and instrument of Love through our own loving. Egocentric desiring, often impatient and needy, becomes the patient, wise, and loving longing of the heart – a longing that is experiencing it’s fulfilment into silence. Silence is the ego-less experience of longing fulfilled. In silence the heart no longer longs.

The root of all sin is ego attachment, ego desiring. As we gracefully detach from ego, ego becomes more and more simply the way our deep Self can relate to others and the world. Awe in the ordinary grows. Compassion flows more easily into action. Other-centredness becomes natural. Unmet needs recede and life takes on a gentle, joyful, grateful, playful way.

So if there is anything that will move you, any incentive in love, any fellowship in the Spirit, any warmth of sympathy – I appeal to you, make my joy complete by being of a single mind, one in love, one in heart and one in mind. Nothing is to be done out of jealousy or vanity; instead, out of humility of mind everyone should give preference to others, everyone pursuing not selfish interests but those of others. Make your own mind the mind of Christ Jesus. (Phil2:1-5).

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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 desire 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.


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