Tag Archives: The Rule of St. Benedict

Meditatio House: Sorting Out the Rubbish

To be fit for the great task of life, we must learn to be faithful in humble tasks. (John Main)

The sixth step of humility is that we are content with the lowest [position] and most menial treatment, and regard ourselves as a poor and worthless worker in whatever task we are given… (The Rule of St. Benedict)

At Meditatio House we share around the chores, those things that need to be done to maintain a household. We share in the cooking, the cleaning, and yard tasks, anything that needs doing. This is thoroughly in keeping with the ordinary practice of living, and consistent with the Rule of Benedict. We use the Rule as a guide for our communal commitment and experience.

The Rule of Benedict is a wisdom text for the Christian spiritual life. The Rule is a guide to the integration of communal and personal living so that both serve a human life growing in love and the experience of this love as divine. It is a practical document that sees growing into love as an applied, ordinary, self-forgetting, and relational happening (1).

The three basic dynamics of the Rule are prayer, reading, and work. Prayer is central and has a communal foundation; reading is food for the intellect and heart; and work (anything from writing to lawn mowing) asks for a focus that is less on self and more on the needs of the community at hand. These three dynamics are, of course, interchangeable: prayer is also a work and work, when done with present moment attention, is prayer; reading can also be a work of attention, and a prayer (Lectio Divina). And so on.

One task we take turns at doing is dealing with the rubbish and food scraps. There are three bins in our kitchen: one for plastics, one for paper, and one for non-recyclable rubbish. There is also a couple of ‘bucket bins’ near the sink that receive compostable scraps and non-compostable scraps. Once a week everything gets sorted into separate containers which then get put out onto the street for collection. There is even a street container for non-recyclable scraps (other scraps are put in the compost out the back). This scrap container can be particularly messy and smelly.

Of all the household tasks we do, maintaining the rubbish and preparing it for collection would have to be the most menial.

The Rule sees this sorting of the household rubbish as part of our growth in self-knowledge and humility.

It is a task that has the potential to help create in someone a deeper appreciation of their own humanity. All a person need do is be faithful to the task and gently attentive to their responses and reactions whilst doing it. As we work with our bodies we can become aware of what God is doing with our soul.

Our lives, like scraps and rubbish, can be rather commonplace and somewhat messy. The conscious mind (or ego) can tend to avoid (largely via repression) the ‘mess’ of us and be inclined to reject the reality that we are just another ordinary, everyday, commonplace person.

Yet contemplative prayer and community can help us to see that the ordinary and everyday is where we experience our deep, mysterious and divinely given uniqueness. It is a uniqueness that the ego does not create, although the ego does try to cover it up with its own version of uniqueness (a version that generally wants to avoid the mess and rubbish).

The discovery of our unique selves can involve facing, experiencing, and accepting our own psychological mess. This process engenders humility. Ego shuns humility because it would mean this repressed mess is becoming conscious and being integrated (faced, experienced, and accepted). Meditation and community living assist this integration via their focus on keeping us attentive to God and our deep selves in an other-centred context.

Psychological integration that happens in other-centred environments (one such as a prayerful community) means the slow death of egocentricity. This can be quite a challenge for us.

Egocentricity is that pattern of life where a person has been fooled into the belief that ego is the centre of consciousness and must remain as such if the person is to survive and thrive. The hidden assumption is that all of life’s happenings must first pass through the prism of the conscious mind. For this to even have a chance of happening ego must exert lots of energy to maintain the illusion that it is the centre of our universe. We are all, to some extent, egocentric.

When our inner mess starts to leak into our conscious mind (as it does) this is a threat to ego’s command and control illusion. So it pushes back with repression and more attempts at control. This can last only so long. As our mess seeps in, ego’s control falters. As egocentricity is threatened this gives opportunity for a growth in humility. This is why egocentricity sees humility as weakness: humility is about the de-centring of ego. And as humility grows, it lays the ground for a healthy maturing into other-centredness and God.

Without humility there can be no authentic transformation in God and no discovery of our true selves in God. A lack of humility is a sign that we are still too caught up in the operations of egocentricity.

The root of the word ‘humility’ is the Latin word humus, which means soil or earth. In other words, to be down to earth, being realistic, honest and truthful, to avoid the temptation to act as if we are the divine centre of the universe (2).

Food scraps, though messy and smelly, are tomorrow’s rich humus.

Doing menial and messy everyday tasks can run counter to ego’s attempts at avoiding the mess of life, its own de-centring, and humility. Continuing in these menial and messy tasks, then, is important if we are to continue away from egocentricity and into the heart of God.

Sorting the rubbish is a down to earth practice. It can encourage in us a developing self-honesty. In this way it is not unlike meditation. Meditation is about engaging in the daily, down to earth practice of experiencing and embracing the truth of life; doing so faithfully with diminishing expectation. This can sound like a waste of time to an ego that wants enlightenment yesterday and on its terms.

(1) The community at Meditatio House produce a blog called The Rule of Benedict: Reflections From Christian Meditators. Have a look.

(2) Peter Ng, ‘The Contemplative Executive’, in John Main: The Expanding Vision (29).


Meditatio House: The WCCM and the Skete

By the end of the fourth century AD northern Egypt was the epicentre of a Sprit-lead Christian experiment in salvation. Men and woman with a longing for God sought the desert of Egypt, Sinai, and Southern Palestine in an effort to be free enough from external distraction so that the internal life might be experienced, struggled with, and transformed (in the struggle) by grace. These people were the Desert Mothers and Fathers.

In the desert they experienced acutely the ways in which we all fall short as we seek to live love and compassion. Their own inner landscape lay stark before them like the desert itself. Soon they came to realise a deep human and Christian truth: we cannot save ourselves. In the acceptance of this truth they embraced their own inner poverty. In this embrace they saw poverty as a way of humility. And they experienced humility as the condition through which the Divine Life could save, heal, divinise them. In this desert they lived the essence of the Gospel: the time has come, let your mind be transformed, live in love.

Benedicta Ward, in the introduction to her book The Wisdom of the Desert Fathers, outlines for us “three main types of monastic experiment” that had developed in Egypt up to that fifth century. In Lower Egypt lived hermits, or eremites. These monastics lived in seclusion using the life and example of St. Anthony as their guide. In the Verba Senorium St. Anthony has been recorded as saying:

Just as fish die if they remain on dry land so monks, remaining away from their cells, or dwelling with men [sic] of the world, lose their determination to persevere in solitary prayer. Therefore, just as the fish should go back to the sea, so we must return to our cells, lest remaining outside we forget to watch over ourselves interiorly (1).

A second type of monastic settled in Upper Egypt. These monastics, inspired by St. Pachomius, formed themselves into common communities. These communities were the proto-type monasteries. Monastics who lived this way were the first coenobites. St Benedict’s Rule was later written for them. They lived together having gathered around a chosen spiritual elder whom they trusted to guide them to Christ. St. Pachomius was the first such elder. He has been reported to have said of these communities that they be

the model for all those who wish to gather together souls according to God, in order to help them until they become perfect [whole] (2).

Between Upper and Lower Egypt, between what Ward calls the “two extremes of eremitic and coenobitic life”, were the Lavra or Skete. Ward describes these monastics as

small groups living near a spiritual father [sic] and probably near a church where they could meet at weekends for the liturgy; these groups were found most of all in Nitria [west of The Nile Delta] (3).

The skete was physically a looser arrangement than the monastery. Rather than a kind of ‘halfway house’ for monastics who could neither be eremites or coenobites, the skete can be seen as a middle way between communal aloneness in isolation and aloneness in the one common community.

It could be argued that the history of the WCCM has seen it grow more along the lines of the skete. In suburbs, towns, and regions, all across the globe, meditation groups have formed as places in which meditators can meditate together and be taught about meditation. The current digital age makes access to teaching, WCCM elders, and fellow meditators easier.

The WCCM today sees meditators living alone, with partners, and with family as they earn their own living in the world. Once a week they go to their meditation groups and perhaps their local liturgies. The monastery without walls that is the WCCM is its own balance between the community experience of relationship, family, and group and the alone experience that any contemplative practice asks us to embrace.

Is the WCCM a contemporary movement of the Spirit within which the legacy of the skete is being somehow renewed? Is this skete legacy being renewed anywhere else?

In the book New Monasticism as Fresh Expression of Church, Philip Roderick describes a way in which the monastic skete can be applicable today

In essence, the word ‘skete’ describes a cluster of people, drawn to commit to the way of Christ. They will experience their preference to live as individuals or as individual couples, not so much in community houses but rather in separate but invisibly linked homes – cabins, caravans, houses, homesteads, flats or farms. Each person in the skete and in the ‘enclosure’ of their own heart and home, will be hungry and thirsty to live the mystery of life in Christ. Participants in the skete will choose to pattern their lifestyles to allow a high degree of aloneness and yet also a real sense of interconnectedness and common cause on the spiritual journey (4).

Roderick has used the skete example in the development of the Hidden Houses of Prayer network within parts of the UK.

The mission statement of the WCCM is: ‘to communicate and nurture meditation as passed on through the teaching of John Main in the Christian tradition in the spirit of serving the unity of all.’ A question is, is the formation of sketes within the WCCM consistent with this mission statement? I would see that it is. How might this happen?

Roderick’s words give us a kind of blueprint. Perhaps there are among the WCCM people who are drawn to this way of Christian and contemplative living? Perhaps it is happening unrecognised already. The skete ‘cluster’ may be a way through which dedicated contemplatives within the WCCM can support each other as they grow into Christ through meditation and as they teach meditation. WCCM oblates, as living the desert monastic tradition within the WCCM, would seem to be an obvious and suitable fit for this potential skete renewal.

Desert spirituality today is not about moving physically to a desert. It is about discovering, exploring, and living in the desert that is always with us. Like silence, the inner desert lives on within each of us. We just cover it up. To experience this desert is to experience our own radical simplicity before ourselves, life, and God. In this simplicity is the freedom, the peace, the inner stability which is longed for today – now more than ever. Into this longing, and into the middle of suburbia, the WCCM could help place the skete.

(1) In Thomas Merton (trans) The Wisdom of the Desert (1960, 1997), 32.
(2) Merton (trans) The Wisdom of the Desert, 108.
(3) Benedicta Ward (trans) The Wisdom of the Desert Fathers (1975, 1986), ix.
(4) Philip D. Roderick ‘Connected Solitude: Re-Imagining the Skete’, in New Monasticism as Fresh Expression of Church (2010), 102.


Meditatio House: Contemporary and Contemplative

At Meditatio House we have just completed what we call a Study Week. During this week people come to the house to spend some time (up to a week) living with us. During this time our guests join in the rhythm of the house, experiencing our explorations in what the Christian tradition has come to call the contemplative life.

It needs to be noted here that the contemplative life is not some form of spiritual specialization. To be contemplative is to be, not only Christian, contemplative is to be human. Christian spirituality can use the word contemplative to describe any human life that is prioritizing and living contact with the human spirit. The human spirit is “our lifeline with the Spirit of God” (John Main). The human spirit is in constant union with the divine life. This spirit and divinity pervade soul and body. The contemplative life lives and promotes a life of integration and communion with divinity – where ever and however this may be authentically found.

During Study Week we have four times of meditation a day, as well as praying with the psalms and scriptures (Hebrew and Christian Testaments). We practice silence after Night Prayer until breakfast the next day. One day during the week is a silent day.

During the week we have morning workshops. This week we learnt a little bit about what St. Benedict had to say about silence, as well as what St. Augustine (of Hippo) had to say about contemplative prayer.

Another of the workshops we conducted discussed what it might mean to be contemporary and contemplative. What is it like to prioritize and live spiritually today?

It could be said that we live in a Western culture that is principally ‘post-modern’. Modernity was about making rationalism the dominant approach to life. Post modernity, however, rejects the modern tendency to see life through just the one rational lense. Instead it values diversity, equity, and a plurality of approaches to life and living, while being deeply suspicious of anything and anyone who asserts a ‘universal truth’. Tina Beattie describes it as

…the world-view which asserts that there is no world-view, paradoxically laying claim to the universal truth that there is no universal truth.

This time in Western history can also be named as secular. We could view secular in one of two different ways. A secular consciousness can be one that cannot or refuses “to acknowledge some reality beyond or transcendent to” the human (Sarah Bachelard). In other words, there is no God. Another way to look at a secular worldview is to see it as embracing “the collapse of the distinction between sacred and profane” (Bachelard). In other words, God is everywhere and not just in church or in the heart of a ‘believer’.

A contemporary contemplative could be someone who experiences and embraces divinity as in the all of life, not just in their church community and church activities. The Christian contemplative experiences Christ as really present not just in the tabernacle. Christ is really present in our hearts, our relationships, in all the mess and glory of the human journey. To be Christian and contemplative today is to be a secular Christian in the sense of living all of life as sacred.

To be Christian and contemplative is also to risk making universal truth claims. These claims will be based in our understanding of the Christian story and how this understanding combines with our contemporary and contemplative experience. Perhaps the universal truth claim that we can make (in all sincerity and humility) is one about love:

Love is uncreated, divine. This Love created and creates life. This Love is profoundly personal and intimate to all of life. This Love values human freedom. This Love wants humanity to be love. We are made for Love and to be love. We can be love now and will be in Love after death. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ reveals this to us and empowers us for it.

This would seem to be the post-modern testimony of many secular and contemporary Christians who are living into their human contemplative-ness.

How do we become love? The contemplative tradition of Christianity (like all of Christianity) tells us how by witnessing to one of the basic dynamics of human life: we are growing in love when we have forgotten ourselves enough to love.

What can we practically do to become love? Christianity asserts that we love God, love ourselves, and love our neighbour. In these practical acts of loving, the Love we love with loves us into love.

The contemplative heart of Christianity says that we need to be regularly and faithfully still and quiet in this Love. Doing this empowers us for a life of loving ourselves and others. Doing this allows divine love to love us.

One practical act of loving is contemplative prayer. Contemplative prayer invites us to practice a letting go, a losing of what could be the greatest gift that life has given us: our self-consciousness.

The giving and re-giving of attention to a mantra as it sounds deep in us is one practical and inner action that helps us to grow in the forgetting of  self-consciousness. As we do this what is given us is the ability to live life in a fully conscious way. We live life growing in a deep intuition and Love that our self-conscious, rather than getting in the way of, integrates with.

So what role does Meditatio House have in all of this?  Meditatio House is an experiment in a ‘new’ or ‘evolving’ Christian contemplative community. It is in the world, in dialogue with the human needs of a post-modern and secular age. As Christians in this dialogue we encounter Christ afresh, living the fruits of this encounter for and with others. The Study Week is one way we do this living. Meditation and the Rule of Benedict are what we commit to in this experiment, this investigation with grace.

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Meditatio House: What is Dead Shall Rise

Morning and evening meditation here at Meditatio House is combined with morning and evening prayer. Our morning and evening prayer is based on the Divine Office. The Divine Office is a way of praying which has its formal origins in the Rule of Benedict and roots in the prayer life of the Desert Mothers and Fathers. It is based on the psalms and also has regular scripture readings. One of my favourite readings from the Hebrew Testament is included in these scripture readings, a reading from Ezekiel:

The Lord God says this: I am going to open your graves; I mean to raise you from your graves, my people, and lead you back to the soil of Israel. And you will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and raise you from the graves, my people. And I shall put my spirit in you, and you will live, and I shall resettle you on your own soil; and you will know that I, the Lord, have said and done this – it is the Lord God who speaks. (Ezek 37:12b-14).

A literal interpretation of this text has me remembering the zombie horror movies which I have seen over the years. Shaun of the Dead comes to mind or even the current TV series The Walking Dead. The text here, however, is not referring to the divine reanimation of corpses.

A question which comes to my mind when I read this is: where in life am I dead? That is, are there parts of my life and living that just seem impossible to engage with, to change, that I have given up on; so much so, that they are dead to me? Part of the appeal of zombies is that they are a kind of physical representation of our ‘dead bits’ and the ways in which we have given up on living. Too much giving up on life means becoming a kind of zombie, an automaton going through the motions, the living dead. This kind of death can eat up the life around and within us.

When I hear this reading from Ezekiel I am also reminded of the story in John’s Gospel of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. Lazarus was a friend of Jesus. When Jesus eventually arrives at Lazarus’ home Lazarus is already dead, his body four days in a tomb. Jesus stands before the tomb and

…crie[s] in a loud voice ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his feet and hands bound with strips of material, and a cloth over his face. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, let him go free. (John 11:43b-44).

In Ezekiel it is God who raises us from our graves, in John it is the Son of God – Jesus, the one who lives a fully divinised human life, a human living his earthly life fully one with and in the love that is God. In his humanity he is divine; in his divinity he is human. What God can do, he can do. His faith in God is faith in himself.

In both texts the loving intentions of the divine are revealed through what the divine does: making what is dead live again. For the divine, death in all its forms still holds the seeds of life and transformation, of a rising to a new creative life. Death, whether physical or of the psyche, is not the end. All that is asked of us is a faith that can accept this – even just a little bit.

That the raising of Lazarus be literally true is not of primary importance. What is of more importance is the nature of our faith in the divine here and now. Can we accept that the divinity in us is of a different order to the death in us, that its life does not die with death?

Recently one of us in the house was given a Rose of Jericho, or a Resurrection Rose. This is a desert plant that, without water, curls up on itself and, for all intents and purposes, dies. When dry it gets blown along on the desert breeze until water is found. Water raises the plant from its sandy grave. It opens up, becoming green with life.

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The Rose of Jericho reminds me very much of what is dead in us, of what we have died to in life, given up on, and of what God wants to raise in us.

Does our faith in what the divine life can do now include the gentle raising of what is dead to us? Compassion can live again; the capacity to love, the ability to reach out and participate in life – all of this and more, like the Rose of Jericho, may be dead and it can come alive.

The God of Ezekiel declares that we can be lead back to the soil of Israel, that is, be resettled on our ‘own soil’. This soil is the richness, the fertility, of our being in union with God. Deep within us, beyond the limitations and maneuvering of self-consciousness, there is the reality of a divinity that can transform this self-consciousness and our human life. We can, with grace and faith, grow into a life that is more and more alive, growing in harmony with the divine within us. All that is needed from us is just a little faith and a little co-operation. God will do the rest.

Our meditation practice is one such little act of faith and co-operation. It is a little act that expands in us as we experience just what God can do with this little act. And what God can do, if we allow it, is mind-blowing.

Attention on the mantra allows the mind to soak in the living water of the divine within us. Slowly, imperceptibly, what is dead in our lives is rejuvenated by the life within us not dependent on us for life: divinity itself. The fruits of meditation that slowly and quietly grow in our lives also grow from those places within us we believed dead. Our living death is transformed into living and fruitful life. Believe it. The silence within us is a living water causing what is dead in us to become new life.

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Every Breaking Wave: U2. Stability and Commitment in the Face of Change

Part of the maturing of our humanity over time is a growth in psychological and spiritual stability. The writer James Bishop, in his commentary on the Rule of Benedict (A Way in the Wilderness), says stability is all about ‘always aiming to do the right thing without constantly changing our direction’ (105). Committing to the ‘right thing’ is about not ‘chasing every breaking wave’, that is, not ‘constantly changing direction.’

Often our commitments are a heart choice. This, I think, is the choice that Bono is singing about: the heart choice of committing to another person. An early conviction of the heart can, over time, be clouded by fear and doubt. Circumstances of life change, the way we approach life changes. Feelings change. People change. It is only natural that a heart choice is buffeted and challenged by these winds of change.

But what is this heart? Of recent times it has become a symbol for love and feeling. Put these together and it seems that love is only a feeling. In the story of Judaism and Christianity the heart is that mysterious ‘place’ of being deep within us where our divinely inspirited uniqueness resides. In Christianity this heart can also be the place of our deepest longing for love. Ultimately this longing is for God because only this God is the True Love that will fulfill us. That ‘God is Love’, true and unconditional, is the great Christian testimony. Everyone else, including those whom we are in relationship with, is at best a manifestation and humble expression of this True Love.

Being in touch with this heart-place of our deepest identity and longing is of great assistance when it comes to both choosing and keeping heart commitments.

Some questions to ask ourselves while discerning a commitment to another person therefore could be: ‘can I be myself with this person?’ And ‘can I give full expression to my longing for God with this person?’ Heartfelt affirmations to these questions are among the indications that the person concerned is a good fit for us.

Being in touch with this heart is what stabilises us in the commitments we make. Being out of touch with this heart has the potential to destabilise us and our commitments. The question that we keep coming back to while we live this commitment over a lifetime is ‘where is my heart in this commitment?’

Contemplative prayer is about the practice of giving attention to this heart, about staying in touch with this heart. This practice grounds us in the heart of who we are and, ultimately, in the divine. Over time there is developed in us a stability that has its roots less and less in our changeable psychology and circumstance and more and more in the Being of God. This Being is our rock. This Being is our source. This Being is our very life force. From this Being we can commit with divine stability. Christian Meditation is one such contemplative practice.

If what we mean by heart is only feeling, and we believe love to be simply a feeling, then it can follow that when our feelings of love change so does the very nature of our heart commitment. But who we most deeply are and who God is are both beyond feeling. Love is not a feeling. We can have feelings in response to the presence of Love. Just because a feeling has changed is no indication that True Love has‘gone’.

And so we come to the struggle that U2 in this song are embracing:

Heart commitments can be a gamble because at any one time we may not have a good enough sense of where our heart is.

Fear and anxiety can cover the heart preventing our experience of this deep place. Stability in commitment is about staying the course until fear fades and our hearts are recovered.

Like the sea, our inner experience can change quickly. We need to be respectful of this. What is stormy at the surface can be still and calm at the depths. A decision based on the surface of inner experience can leave us shipwrecked.

For the Christian the captain is Jesus Christ. His human and divine consciousness lives at our depths, in our hearts. His ‘voice’, those movements of divine life within can be listened to if we can become still and quiet enough. These movements can guide us to, and sustain us in, our lifetime heart commitments.

To drown, to be so overwhelmed by feelings of fear and doubt, to question everything, even to leave after doing your heartfelt best may be a failure, but it is no sin in the sense that it is not a condemnation of our hearts.

‘You know where my heart is, the same place that yours has been’. Often the experience of instability within a commitment is the journey back to the heart. The heart can be the experience of the original choice for that person, that commitment. Back in touch with this heart we can be ‘swept off our feet’ by the divine life within our heart commitments. Intimacy here is about being in God and bringing God to each other.


Meditatio House: An Evolving Monasticism

There has been some discussion at Meditatio House lately around the questions: what is an oblate, and how does an oblate differ from a monk?

It seems that from the very beginning of the Rule of Benedict the idea of what a monastic is has been open for development and change. In Benedict’s time to be monastic meant following one of four ways:

A cenobite was a monastic living with other monastics, with an abbot as leader and a rule as a guide.

Anchorites or hermits were monastics mature in mind and body that chose to live alone, often in deserts. Formally cenobites, their life in community had left them mature enough to experience, day by day, the challenges of living alone before themselves and God.

Sarabaites did not live with a rule to provide guidance, or with established leadership. They lived together or alone.

Gyrovagues are described by Benedict as rootless wanderers who often moved from monastery to monastery using the hospitality of cenobites as they went.

Benedict wrote his rule for cenobite monastics. Today these monks are known simply as monks.

Across the centuries, as cenobite communities became more established, parents would offer their children to monasteries in the hope of a better life for these children. They would be oblatus (Latin) or ‘offered’. When they reached an appropriate age they would be given the choice to remain in the monastery or to leave. Some would remain and yet, for some reason, not take the vows of a cenobite monastic. Others would leave and still maintain contact with the community they had left. They did this, presumably, because they felt that they were still a part of the monastic community that had reared them. Soon this way of living with cenobite monks (whether physically and/or spiritually) became formalised and named as being an oblate. In time one did not need to be reared in a monastery to become an oblate. A more general resonance and association with a monastery was enough.

Today there are many monastic communities around the world that have oblates. They are men and women who are drawn to a monastic spirituality and the way of being monastic that a particular monastic community may embody. Rather than take the vows of a cenobite monk, they vow the life of a cenobite oblate. They are married or single, with families and careers. Their commitment to community is not of a cloistered nature. Their challenge is to live a monastically real commitment to community and divinity in the day to day of their own lives.

The World Community for Christian Meditation (WCCM) offers the option to all meditators of becoming Benedictine oblates. Laurence Freeman (Benedictine monk and current Director of the WCCM) explains that from the very beginning of the life of the WCCM “equal value” was given

to the forms of commitment made by monks or oblates. Oblates in his [John Main, the WCCM’s founder] vision were not merely “attached” to a monastic family; they were fully participatory and contributing members. This represented both a return to an ancient tradition and an important new development*.

This being the case, it follows that a monk and an oblate monastic – in their own unique ways, through their participation in, and contributions to the WCCM monastic family – both have equal opportunity to pursue a full cenobite monastic maturity in their own lives. If this were not the case, it would mean that either one commitment is being valued more than the other, or that one commitment is somehow superior to the other.

What, exactly, is monastic maturity? Monastic maturity is nothing less than human maturity. This is, simply, the forgetting of self. The ego (self-consciousness) comes to be (more or less) integrated with the whole of one’s consciousness. A transformation of the psyche has happened to the extent that the inner life is at the service of divine Love and not the preservation of ego centredness. This Love resides deep in our spiritual centre. It pours forth into the world, through us, from this centre. A communion of divine Being with our being is at this centre. Monastic maturing is about the whole of the person (not just our centre) coming to be in communion with this divine life.

Each maturing human and monastic is a blooming and unique expression of divine Love, co-creating in the world with the divine life.

Each monastic, like everyone with faith in a loving God, can look to this God to be the One who heals, who integrates this inner life via grace. This looking is a searching in life for the God who is already with us. The human struggle to live in loving ways is often all the motivation needed to seek out our own healing.

To be a monastic is to place first in life this searching: to seek God. With all of one’s heart and mind. The rest of life falls into place around this commitment. A monastic, whether monk or oblate, is simply living out the teaching of the Jewish Jesus made to everyone with ears to hear

This is the first [commandment] listen, Israel, the Lord our God is the one, only Lord, and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: you must love your neighbour as yourself. (Mark 12:29-30).

A monastic seeks God so that we may love God, ourselves, and neighbour in growing fullness. Only God (who is Love) can bring about this fullness in us. In other words, a monastic lives a committed Christianity.

The challenge of this seeking, for oblate and monk alike, is to live a life that nourishes the contemplative roots of our humanity. Nourish the roots and God will be found. Over the centuries of Christianity, the monk monastic has had the advantage of a dedicated and cloistered life that, at its best, serves this contemplative end. The times, however, are a-changing. As we know, to be a cenobite monastic no longer means just to be a monk. Within the WCCM, the commitment of oblate is a facing into the cutting edge of a new expression of monasticism.

John Main laid groundwork for this facing into as he taught with confident perseverance that the Christian meditator meditate for at least 20 minutes (preferably 30 minutes) every morning and every evening of their lives. The WCCM oblate adds to this commitment a prayer life that includes the Office of the church (used by monk monastics for centuries), as well as a commitment to the teaching of Christian meditation. This prayer life contributes to the contemplative shaping of the human and monastic life of the oblate. And that’s when things can get really interesting because a life growing in contemplation is a life open to the life of God. A life open to the life of God is a life invited to change.

Meditatio House is, at its heart, an experiment in the evolving nature of what a lived monasticism can be. Oblates come together here to live out, in a Benedictine way, the journey into monastic and Christian maturity. We are like a flower spending time in a hot house to promote its growth. After this time we, like the flower, return to our garden – our own communities and families. We return to face the challenge of human and monastic maturing in our own environments.

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Because of our Meditatio House experience we may see that our environment needs some renewing if we are to keep maturing into God. This has always been the challenge for monk and oblate alike. A contemplative life is a human life open to change. This challenge is happening across the globe for WCCM oblates who seek God – meditating and sincerely living out our life vows of stability, conversion, and obedience in our own communities.

Recently Laurence Freeman took a trip to Turkey. While there he visited the (long empty) cave monasteries of Cappadocia. After the visit, in a column for The Tablet Laurence wrote

If you linger back alone [to the caves] you might experience a sense of wonder and great respect for the intensity of their seeking and also a painful feeling of loss. Where did all this well-directed zeal go? Did it peter out here as some of the monasteries became more dependent on rich local patrons? Or was it whisked away to new places whose time it was to manifest the deepest aspiration of the human for union with God? Is spiritual capital re-invested or does it return to its source?

Spiritual capital is being re-invested today in the places where this zeal for union with God is manifesting. The WCCM is one such place and the life of an oblate of the WCCM is a new monastic expression of this zeal. I feel it in me. My whole life is being shaped by it. This “well-directed zeal” is an expression of monastic equality when it is enacted in the lives of monk and oblate.

The same fruits of monastic maturity that drew people to the desert Fathers and Mothers of the early church, such as those in Cappadocia, and to committed monks and nuns for centuries, are also present and growing in the lives of committed oblate monastics today. In time more people will see and come to accept the deep authenticity of the wise and mature oblate monastic.

* This quote is taken from the article Monastics in the World. See recommended links: Oblates of The World Community for Christian Meditation.


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.


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