Tag Archives: Spirituality

Bonnevaux: The Walls of the Monastery Without Walls

Recently, on his blog, Fr. Laurence Freeman wrote about the “patterns and resonances in life, personal and communal, luring [us] ever deeper into the experience of meaning.” (Not a Nostalgic Reflection). Laurence wrote about the patterns and resonances of The WCCM[1], from its foundations in Montreal (40 years ago), to its growth into the global community that it is today, and the folding into this of Bonnevaux: our new international retreat centre to be, in France.

Bonnevaux is a big part of the growth happening now in The WCCM: our community that is a ‘monastery without walls’. Paradoxically, Bonnevaux has walls – ancient walls. Internationally, Bonnevaux is to be les murs du monastère sans murs (the walls of the monastery without walls).

Paradox cannot be ‘figured out’. It is not something to problem solve, something to be unlocked rationally. Paradox finds a home deeper in us, in the heart; over time it comes to a quiet and mysterious resolution there. And over time, from the heart, a gentle ‘paradoxical wisdom’ is released for us to intuit and live. As we meditate, as we attend into silence, our consciousness is infused with this wisdom of the heart.

In time, Bonnevaux will become the international heart of The WCCM. Its walls will resolve in the wall-less global community of meditators it will serve. In this it will also grow into a global agent and sign for peace. This is the vision. This is what we hope (in faith) that the patterns and resonances happening now are luring us into.

With Bonnevaux we continue on our way as part of the re-emergence of the human reality that Christianity calls the contemplative life. This re-emergence is profoundly needed today. Bonnevaux’s deep Benedictine roots sit well with the Benedictine roots of The WCCM. Benedictine roots are also human and Christian roots: one more paradox.

..I think in a deeper sense we could say that we have become the stewards of this sacred place [Bonnevaux], where the contemplative life has been lived in a spirit of service for hundreds of years. And we are pledging ourselves to continue that vision and that tradition in a contemporary way. (Laurence Freeman)

Some context for us: around 800 years ago, when Bonnevaux was first established, there was a major shift forming in Christianity: the separation of spirituality and theology. This happening has been historically personalised via a 12th century debate that happened between Bernard of Clairvaux and Peter Abelard. Bernard, a French Cistercian Monk, wanted spirituality and theology to remain united. Abelard, a French philosopher and theologian, supported the rise of theology as a discipline standing largely apart from monasteries. Bernard won the debate, however the die was cast[2].

In the last 40 years or so this separation has begun to be addressed. I see John Main and The WCCM as part of the resolution of this separation. Christian spirituality divorced from theology risks self-indulgence and a certain vagueness. Meanwhile theology apart from authentic spirituality risks staying a rarefied specialisation of the few.

In the broad context of the history of Christianity, it does seem significant that this separation of spirituality and theology that was happening whilst Bonnevaux was being established, is on its way to resolution as we become Bonnevaux’s stewards.




[1] The World Community for Christian Meditation

[2] David Ranson, Across The Great Divide: Bridging Spirituality and Religion Today, 11.

Offer it Up: Kate Miller-Heidke. The Yes to Life and Living

I once saw a great definition for spirituality. The person giving the definition clenched his fist, bent his arm at the elbow, and quickly thrust his elbow down to his side. As he did this he shouted YES! Fantasic. Spirituality is about growing in the embrace of life and doing those things in life that are a YES to life, those things that give us (in return) the gift of being alive in and to life.

Spirituality is also about the gentle art of participating in the transformation of those things within us that can get in the way of this YES, that get in the way of living a life. As we move past these things we experience the life in life and leave behind the experience of life as a living death.

In this YES definition spirituality has some commonality with psychology in that both can be about the fostering and development of human lives for life. The modern expression of psychology, however, has no space for the divine explicity within its paradigm. This can be a problem because, as spiritual and created beings, we need the divine to be our transforming agent. Christian spirituality teaches us that we can only participate in our own transformation (or salvation) and not be it ourselves. Spirituality, however, does include the psychological.

Christian spirituality names this pattern of transformation as dying to what stops us from living and rising to what gives us life. Broadly speaking, it is a dying to fear and a rising to love. This fear/love dynamic is one which any authentic spirituality addresses in its own way.

The Christian writer and mystic Thomas Merton called this pattern of dying and rising the Paschal Rhythm of Life. The word paschal has roots in the Hebrew pesah, the Greek pascha, and the Aramaic pasha. It means, broadly, ‘pass over’. We pass over from death to life. For Christians the word is associated with Easter and the dying and rising of Jesus, the ‘Paschal Mystery.’ As ‘Easter People’ alive to this paschal event and rhythm, Christians are invited to enter the lifelong dynamic of rising to the reality of love and dying to the illusion of fear. We do this in and with the divine life which we experience and name as uncreated and unconditional (divine) love.

This song from Kate Miller-Heidke is all about the decision to move from death to life, to commit to the YES of life and living. In this sense the song is deeply spiritual. It’s all about the “WOO-HOO” factor of living – saying YES to life.

Kate Miller-Heidke offers her whole life to this movement from death to life: “my heart, my brain, my body, my hands, my voice, my blood, my lungs, my love.” She decides to ‘offer it up.’ She offers her life to the dynamic of life, the energy of life, the event of life. She wants in. She wants to be more in, to have that deep sense of purpose and fulfillment that comes from a deep connection to, and participation in, life.

Finally she is sick enough of what, for her, blocks life: fearful decisions of turning down life’s opportunities; holding in the verve and energy of life for fear of the consequences; tiptoeing ’round fearing the response of others to her existence. The lines of energy and communication are growing open. The unique transmissions, or expressions, of her being are happening with growing occurrence. She’s turning it up.

Turning it up doesn’t have to be a big thing. The smaller the better, in fact. A smile to a stranger; a small and new expression of love for a loved one; a small and ordinary way of loving ourselves that starts to grow in regularity. Life happens mostly in the ‘small stuff’. We no longer need to ‘look for signs’ – we gently become an expression of the reality we are seeking.

All the big accomplishments of life have their origins in the small of life. The trick is to stay in the present moment of the small things to express and experience life there.

Although Kate-Miller Heidke doesn’t mention the divine, and perhaps she doesn’t believe in the existence of the divine, it does seem to me that she is experiencing something of what a theist would name as the effect of the divine. The divine in life joins with our restlessness, our being sick enough of not living. The divine in life is the energy of life that propels us into the decision to live; and it is the agent of the transformation itself. Divinity is so close to us and our decisions for life that the naming of this divinity in the decisions of life need not be necessary. We are a humanity created by this Divine Love. As a result, uncreated Love is in all things by default, including us and our decisions for life. Anonymous divinity seems happy enough to work for the life of all. What is important, however, is that we let go and allow this anonymous divinity to do the transforming. Often the letting go happens mysteriously in the ‘sick enough’ experience.

The naming of this divine Love and growing in relationship with it can help us, though. The great spiritual traditions teach that we will always have a restlessness for that mysterious something ‘more’, no matter how much we connect with life. That more is the divine. We are made to live into conscious communion with this divine life. Naming this divinity is part of the movement into conscious communion. The deep living into life is part of the journey of living into the divine life of Love.

A contemplative prayer practice, one such as Christian meditation, is the training of our attention into this mysterious transformative dynamic at the heart of us and of all life. With regular practice we are changed, transformed. We move, in very practical ways, from living death to living life. And we grow in a humanity that lives more and more from the divine communion deep in us. We live more and more into our origins. We uniquely become love because we are created and loved by Divine Love. Whether we know it or not, this becoming love, this conscious growing into Love’s communion, this is our heart’s greatest desire.

%d bloggers like this: