Tag Archives: Theology

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.

Afterlife: Arcade Fire. What Comes Next is Now

For me this incredible song by Arcade Fire is somewhat ambiguous. At one level it’s about a dying relationship, asking questions such as what happens after a relationship ends and “can we work it out?” On another level it seems to be asking questions about human existence in general, questions like “where do we go?” and “when love is gone, where does it go?”


The ambiguity around the word afterlife makes me wonder if this song is entirely secular. Things secular emphasise the earthly and material aspects of life while setting aside the immortal and immaterial. Does this song do this? Not entirely, I think.

A spiritually balanced view of the world would see the mortality of earthly existence as holding within it immortality. This is a view which Christian theology would name as pan-en-theistic, that is the divine within all creation. For me, this song has something of this in it, as if the writers are asking (perhaps unconsciously) can our relationships, as part of creation, have within them divinity and the experience of divinity?

If, for a moment, we accept the possibility of the immortal within the mortal (or material), what could this possibility mean? If it is true, for what reason would divinity be so ‘intimately with’ the “breath”, “dirt”, and “fire” of this earthly life?

Christian spirituality names this immortal in the material as uncreated love (or Love). This was, broadly speaking, the message of Jesus. Christian spirituality affirms that this Love already saturates our relationships and wants to be expressed in and through our relationships. This divine Love is the context, the home, within which all other relational experiences reside. In this residency our relationships become energetically alive with the gift of divine life for the world.

So why would divinity bother with the mortal, with us? In short, to enable us to experience what we are ultimately made for, both now and after this material part of life: divine Love. We are made for what made us. The experience of Love is an experience we can all have now, whether we believe this Love to be divine or not (such is its unconditional nature). Both the giving and receiving of this Love is part of the experience. This giving and receiving is best done without reference to ourselves (as is the nature of God). As we grow in love we forget our own consciousness and live instead so that others may be loved.

The practice of Christian meditation, for many, is a vital part of their self-forgetting and growing in Love. Bringing our attention always back to the mantra is a very practical way of, inwardly, growing in the forgetting of our own consciousness. The mantra takes attention ‘down into Love’ where the heart of our being has a home. In this way loving from our being is also loving from Love, something we do relationally and (over time), as our meditation practice deepens, less fearfully and with less egocentricity.

“Oh when love is gone where does it go?” For me, this question (posed by Arcade Fire) is laced with divine possibility. If love is only material, created somehow by us as we relate to each other, then there is no afterlife for love. Love dies with our relating. Is this, however, our experience? Deep in us, beyond rationality, could we possibly somehow sense that love is actually Love and that this Love lives on in all things? And could it be, then, that human relationship is a divine invitation into the divine nature of love and relating, as Christianity maintains? How many of us have sensed a mysterious ‘other presence’ in our relating with each other? Dare we call this other presence a God who is Love?



More Than This: Peter Gabriel. All Grace is Already Given

The theologian Karl Rahner speaks of grace in the form of a ‘supernatural existential.’ The supernatural existential is nothing less than God’s gift of God’s full self to humanity at the moment of our creation. God is lovingly and gratuitously there from our beginning making grace an indispensable part of our human existence. Without grace we are not human. Because grace is there from our beginning it effectively resides in us as the source and answer to our own future restlessness and longing.  It continually and freely makes the possibility of knowing God possible, existing in us as a divine vitality feeding our own search for God and being a part of this search.

In Rahner’s theology, whether or not a person belongs to a religion, whether or not they call themselves ‘spiritual but not religious’, whether they identify as atheist or theist, it is possible, by virtue of the supernatural existential, for all of humanity to experience as they live their lives, the abiding presence of God. It is with us as a part of us and yet not us. The human being, consciously or unconsciously, can communicate the divine in their person and action because to not do so is to not be human.

Have a listen to ‘More Than This’ here.

This song from Peter Gabriel, for me, is this grace writ large. There is in life ‘more than this’, more than what we can touch, taste, see. This more, so much a part of what we can touch, taste, and see, draws us into and beyond these things. It draws us into the divine mystery at the heart of everything and everyone. This more is God, grace always with us.

Christian spirituality is about experiencing this more and allowing this more to have an effect on us and our lives. This more, this grace is always with us empowering and making possible our choice for the divine and life.

As we experience this more we come to experience divinity as ‘beyond imagination’, ‘beyond the stars’, beyond the words we use, more that the feelings we feel. As all this ‘falls away’ bit by bit, all that is left is the nothing of God. The mind falls into quiet and the more of God is experienced as a complete gift, as grace.

Christian meditation is a practice that can help our mind fall into this necessary quiet. As this happens our humanity and our lives become present to and alive with this grace already there for us. The experience of connection – with ourselves, others, all creation – is deepened. And it is this very grace that makes Christian meditation possible.


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