John Main and the Practice
of Christian Meditation - DVD  (transcript online below)

 

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Tom Ryan
www.tomryancsp.org
(see below for a 2006 update)

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Laurence Freeman

 

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57 Minutes
 
DVD $20

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CD from DVD $6


One of the greatest challenges that Christianity faces today is the practical rediscovery of its age-old traditions of prayer and contemplation, and one of the principle attempts to do this in recent times was begun by the Benedictine priest John Main. Inspired by a Hindu teacher, he developed a way of Christian meditation, and the Christian Meditation movement that he founded has spread around the world.

We are going to visit the World Community for Christian Meditation in London and talk to Laurence Freeman, its current director, and two of its members. Then we will visit Thomas Ryan, the director of Unitas, an ecumenical center for spirituality and Christian meditation in Montreal, in order to find out what this Christian meditation movement is all about.

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John Main

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Ria Weyens

 

 

 

 

 

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  This video was filmed in 1996. Here is a 2006 update of Tom Ryan:

He has written several books including Reclaiming the Body in Christian Spirituality, The Sacred Art of Fasting: Beginning to Practice, and Four Steps to Spiritual Freedom. And he has created the DVD called Yoga Prayer. He is also involved in the website called http://www.christianspracticingyoga.com/

Contact: Rev.Thomas Ryan, CSP
415 West 59th St, NY, NY, 10019
Tel: 212-265-3209 ext.290
Fax 212-974-2276
email: tomryan@paulist.org

 

 

Online Transcript:

One of the greatest challenges that Christianity faces today is the practical rediscovery of its age-old traditions of prayer and contemplation, and one of the principal ways to do this in recent times was begun by the Benedictine priest, John Main. Inspired by a Hindu teacher he developed a way of Christian meditation, and the Christian meditation movement that he founded has spread around the world.

We are going to visit Lawrence Freeman, its current director, and members of the World Community for Christian Meditation in London, and then talk to Thomas Ryan from Montreal in order to find out what this Christian meditation movement is all about.

Laurence Freeman: Meditation is a universal spiritual tradition. We find it, of course, in all the great religions, and Christianity has its own tradition of meditation. It is the tradition of silence, stillness and simplicity, and it is basically about coming to a stillness of mind and of one’s whole being. Be still and know that I am God, as one of the psalms puts it. And to come to this stillness in the tradition that John Main recovered from the early Christian writers, Christian monks, you take a single word or short phrase, and you repeat this word or phrase continually over and over again in your mind and heart. John Cassian, a Christian monk in the 4th century, called this phrase, a formula. John Main calls it a mantra. The mantra is a word or phrase which is sacred in your own tradition, so we recommend a very sacred prayer in the Christian tradition the word maranatha. The important thing is that you stay with the same word or phrase, repeating it continually in the face of all your distractions, and returning to it when you find that you have got distracted and you stop saying it. This very simple practice of the mantra helps to still the mind and bring the mind and the heart into unity.

I think the influence of Eastern religion in Western society has led in this century to a rediscovery of the Christian contemplative tradition, and a good example of this, I think, is in the life of John Main, himself. A long time before he became a monk John Main was working as a diplomat in the Far East, and while he was there, he met an Indian monk who became his spiritual teacher and guide. John Main was a Christian, a Catholic, but in this Indian monk he found a wisdom, a practical wisdom of prayer that led him to meditation with a mantra, and he laid this very simple way of contemplative prayer the foundation of his Christian prayer and Christian life. Then John Main returned to the West, he became a professor of law at Trinity College in Dublin, and he told me that he wasn’t able to find at that time any friend or priest who was able to understand the meditation that he was practicing. Then he became a Benedictine monk in London, and he was looking forward to being able to describe his way of prayer to a monk, but he was disappointed to be told that this was not the Christian way of prayer. He should therefore give it up and return to basically the discursive mental forms of prayer that he was of course practicing before. In obedience he did this. He said this was the beginning of a long spiritual desert. He was very busy in this desert. He studied theology, he made his monastic profession, he was ordained, and then he entered the work of the monastery and became headmaster. It was at the busiest period of his monastic career as a teacher that he came across in a much deeper way than ever before the teachings of the desert fathers, and in particular, John Cassian, and in Conferences 9 and 10 of Cassian on prayer, John Main found the teaching on the mantra essentially that he had been taught many years before by his Eastern teacher, but he now found it embedded in a Christian tradition historically, he found it described in terms of Christian scripture, Cassian says the recitation of the mantra leads you to poverty of spirit by the renunciation of the riches of thought and imagination, and so here John Main found his way of meditation described in terms of Christian theology and Christian tradition, and he began to meditate again.

Having begun to meditate again in his own life, John Main was led very quickly and very deeply to a sense not only of his own vocation to prayer and to a deep experience of the indwelling Christ, but he was also led, I think, to a deep reevaluation of what the monastic life was about in the modern church, and he was increasingly convinced that the monastery should be a place of contemplation for the world, for the world to be enriched and nourished by its tradition. So he opened a small lay community in his monastery which would allow a small group of laymen – I was one of the early group – who would live in the monastery learning to meditate, practicing meditation 3 or 4 times a day, and then return to their ordinary life after six months. We started this lay community, but within a very few weeks people from around the monastery and different parts of London came and knocked on the door and said, "We can’t give up our life and our jobs for six months, but we would like to learn to meditate as Christians. Do we have to go to TM, or do we have to go to the Buddhists or the Hindus? If it is part of this tradition, why not make it available to us as well?" So we started the first weekly meditation groups. They would come, receive a talk by John Main, meditate together, ask their questions, and then go home and start meditating morning and evening on their own. Within a very short times these groups had multiplied, and they began to spread around the country. One of the very first impulses that took it out of Britain was a number of missionaries home on leave, and were coming regularly to the monastery, and then took this teaching with them back to Africa and Asia. In 1977 John Main was invited by the Archbishop of Montreal to establish a small Benedictine community in the city dedicated to the practice and the teaching of meditation, and I was there with him for 5 years until John Main died in 1982. At the time of his death his teaching had begun to spread in North America and other parts of the world. It was after his death that a great expansion took place, as I think he foresaw, and the expansion took place through the commitment and the inspiration of a great number of lay people living in families and pursuing their lives in the world all over the world, and these people began to share the teaching, to tell other people about meditation, to start small groups, and it was in this way that a network began to form at a grassroots level, and to this day I see this community, we call it the World Community for Christian Meditation – it really is a community, not an organization – I have just returned from Belgium, for example, where in the last 4 years about 25 groups have started through the inspiration of a small team of married people working, raising families, some of them young families, and these groups have formed and been nourished by this little team in the center in Brussels, and the teaching is now spreading through books and tapes and retreats and visits and so on, to Holland, for example. So it is in these ways I think that that original insight of John Main that this form of meditation is of great relevance and practical help to people today. That’s how we see that insight being proven.

I think the appeal or the strength of this teaching that John Main has passed on is its simplicity, and it is very difficult to keep simple. Once you start speaking about something simple it is very easy to start complicating it, but I think it has remained simple. I think the challenge of meditation in this tradition is its simplicity. It doesn’t require a lot of theory. You don’t have to have a great deal of psychological theory, or a great deal of theological theory. You need a basic understanding of what you are doing, but you don’t need to be heavily analytical of your experience, and I think that simplicity is what enables it to be passed on by ordinary people from one to another. So you ask me what my hope is for the future. I would hope that we could keep true to that basic simplicity, and see it, therefore, enriching the lives of the greatest range and diversity of people. That’s one of the wonderful things for me in this community and in this work is to see such a wide range of people united by something so simple.

I would like to feel also that this community and all the meditators around the world can contribute through this teaching to the renewal of the Church, to the evolution of Christianity into the next era, and also, for example, to contribute to the dialogue between Christianity and the other religions. That’s a very important way for Christianity to discover itself anew in the next thousand years. I think in some small way we can contribute to that by deepening, helping to deepen, the spiritual life of Christianity and Christians. And I am perfectly aware that this is one small wave in the great ocean of the spirit, but I think it’s a wave that can touch and enrich a very wide range of people. I would hope the simplicity can be maintained, the spiritual maturity and deepening of people can continue, and that the outreach beyond Christianity can be maintained, as well.

There is an advertisement for a pair of running shoes that says, "Just do it." I think that’s a good way to begin. I meet many people who have begun to meditate very much on their own with very little support. They have a book, maybe some tapes, and that’s what one of the things our publishing company tries to do, which is to make tapes and books of John Main and others easily available. They are very powerful resources, I think, for giving you a sense of guidance and direction in your meditation, but I think it is very helpful if you can meet and meditate with others in the same way. That’s why meditation groups form, and if you want to find out where a group is meeting near you, the easiest thing would be to contact one of the Christian meditation centers. There are about 28 centers in different parts of the world – quite a few in different parts of the States. All you would have to do is contact one of those centers and just say where you would like to go from here. If you would like to contact a group they will put you in touch with the nearest group, and they will give you any personal guidance or help that you need, I think.

I think the real test of any spiritual work are the fruits of that work. "By the fruits you will know them." If this is the work of God, it will continue. I think that the fruits of meditation in an individual’s life must be the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, fidelity, gentleness, and self-control. I would only have to look a little objectively perhaps at one’s own development over a period of time, learn from what other people see in you, to see whether there is growth in any one of those qualities. I think for the community as a whole, and for individual meditation groups, the same applies. I think one has to look at the fruit. I meet many groups who express concern, for example, about being small. They say there are only 6 or 7 of us, or only 3 or 4 of us that meet every week, and it is helpful for them to know that there are hundreds of other groups, increasing in numbers, who also say we are small in numbers, and I think that it is important for us to remember that the strength of the contemplative community does not consist in its size, but in its faith. Understanding that, the fruits will appear in generosity, in self-giving to others. I think that I would feel if we could stay in touch with that sense of modesty as a community, a sense of vocation, yes, there is a sense of the work to be done, work to be shared, but it is humble, it is modest. In our weakness is our strength, and God’s power comes to perfection in human weakness. I think remembering that is the best way to make decisions and allow a community to develop.

A few years ago John Danier gave us the John Main seminar, and it was very moving because he was speaking of his experience of working with the handicapped, and of his deep Christian insight into the relationship between God’s power and human weakness. I think we were all touched deeply by that. Many of the leaders, or the people trying to give leadership to the Christian meditation community were deeply impressed by that. I certainly was, and it has been an inspiration to me ever since, really. As I look at our community I realize that in many ways it is very fragile, we are not a big organization, but there is a power there, a power of God rather than any human power by itself. I think if we can remember that I feel quite confident we can grow and follow the direction that the Spirit is leading us.

 

 

A community member (young man): I was in college, and I was very busy and very happy doing my graduate studies in acting at UCSD in California, and I was reading a lot of Buddhists, especially Suzuki’s Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. At some point I felt this very strong need to reconnect with my own tradition, which is Christian based. So I began looking, and eventually I came across this tradition which John Main has been teaching. I graduated, and I went in search of a community that was teaching this, and I found it. I have been living and working and praying with that community for 5 years now.

I love art. I am passionate about making beautiful things and being involved with things that are beautiful and reflect what is possibly beautiful about being alive. But I was, am still, but much more so before, so uncompromising about that. Sometimes I found the process of trying to make something beautiful become ugly, really, or difficult. I found a lot of that in graduate school and then professionally when I was working as an actor. Since then I’ve found that the practice of meditation goes to the very heart of a creative act that a human could make, not only artistically, but business-wise and family-wise, whatever – gardening, because there are times of silence, there are times in which you are learning to listen and to see what is beautiful. When you go to try to actually make something beautiful, you’ve been going to these special evening classes, you’ve been going to the special school in which you have been learning, which is meditation. In that sense it has made my life richer. It is also, on an even more important level, I think, opened me up to friendship, to relationship, opened me up in a much deeper way to my family, given me courage in professional situations where I have to be much more mature than I was even willing to be, or knew that I could be.

Well, there’s a great need. I think that’s the most amazing thing. I meet so many people of my generation who have jobs, like I have a job. I run the publishing company for this venture, and they have jobs in banks, or whatever, and quite often they come home and they are not sure of how well they are connecting into the need for whatever the job it is that they are doing, but there is such a great need for this. We all need to be loved, we all need to know that we are known and that we are OK, and that there is some kind of order which makes sense of the chaos, and that there is meaning. There is this deep need, and the Christians find this need, the Buddhists find this need, the Hindus find this need, and other groups, other philosophical groups, whatever, plug into this need and provide for it. So there is a need, and it is very creative, not to share in promoting it, because I don’t think we promote this. We live it simply as a little team here, but really we live it in homes. Meditators are hidden all over the world, contemplatives who go to work every day and garden and have lots of children and go on holidays and have crises and are very happy also. They meditate, and they live it, and maybe they pass it on. I don’t think we here at the Center do anything much more different from what other meditators might do in their own homes and their own work places except that we are more visible and we help to network. I find it, and I think the others in the community find it, very energizing to be able to participate in living something where others come to you to plug into. We don’t actually go out to sort of share. People are writing in. It is so beautiful. People write in and phone in, but mostly write and say, "Listen, I’ve been to a talk someone has given, and I really want to start a group. What can I do, or could you come out?" We just started some groups in Italy, and it was actually a friend of mine from college. She had been meditating, and she went to a couple of retreats, and one day she called up and said, "I really want to start a group. Can we organize you coming over?" We did, and now there are some groups in Florence, and some groups in Rome, publishers are wanting to translate the books already. It just goes like that.

I think what is so radical about these meditation groups goes back to something John Main was deeply convinced about, and that was that ordinary people in their busy lives would be able to teach about their contemplative tradition from their own experience, and the group is nothing other than that. People who are rooted in a practice which they follow every day twice a day – they meditate – in their busy lives, and from the strength of that, the knowledge of that, they feel very relaxed, really, to invite a small group of people to their homes or their parish or their work place or a prison or something like that, and to share that teaching with them, and then essentially to sit in silence with them. From this being able to teach from your own experience has developed a very simple skeleton which is simply this, that most meditation groups have a short introduction or talk about meditation or the inner journey, specifically what you do when you sit down to meditate, and then the essential part of the group is the meditation period, which is 30 minutes, and then there is always time if people have questions. Sometimes there aren’t any questions after a period of meditation, and the group leader at that time doesn’t have to feel any great responsibility to be able to answer these questions, but usually the answers are given either by the leader or someone in the group, and then everyone goes home. That takes usually less than an hour. From there groups do things like have a speaker come in to give a talk, or they play a tape, or they read from Scripture or John Main or Laurence Freeman or Bede Griffiths. The group never travels away from the essential reason why they are together, which is to sit in silence. Within that the essential nature, what it is they are doing, which is saying the mantra, which is a form of meditation, and the group leader teaches only what he or she is practicing. We don’t do visualization or go into all sorts of other things because that is not what the purpose is. The group leader is simply to be there to share something they have been doing every day, which I think is very beautiful, not that it should be very safe, but it is very solid.

 

 

Ria Weyens: When I was 18 I started studying meditation. That’s already a long time ago. I discovered Zen meditation in a Trappist monastery in Holland. I am from Belgium. I did it for 3 years, and then spontaneously I used the koan in Zen meditation, and my koan very spontaneously became the name of Jesus. Without knowing, I was somehow also practicing the Jesus prayer, which is similar to meditation and to what we teach here in the sense that by repeating the name of Jesus, we come to a still point. I was practicing the Jesus prayer, repeating the name of Jesus in silence, and then I was very fascinated by the contemplative life and the monastic life, and I entered the Trappist monastery when I was 24. What I experienced in the Trappist monastery was there was a lot of vocal prayer, but there was not really a teaching on contemplative prayer in the sense of what happens when we go inside. There was not really a teaching on it. There was a little bit of a question of it is between you and the Holy Spirit, so it was very difficult to talk about these things. It was true, also, but I was really hungry for teaching on what happens when you go inside and when you go into that inner desert. I was reading the desert Fathers, and so I got an answer, or I got some answers to my questions, and then after 5 years in a Trappist monastery in Belgium I went to India to help in a foundation in India. Still I was practicing my Jesus prayer, and then I read a book by Fr. Laurence Freeman of the light within, and I really really thrilled by it because it was the first time I discovered a modern language, somebody talking in a modern language, about the contemplative adventure of going inside, being in the presence. So I wrote to Fr. Laurence, and it just happened that he was coming to India 2 or 3 months after that, so I met him in India. That’s how I came in contact with the Christian Meditation movement, or community in 1987. In 1991 I left India. I corresponded with Fr. Laurence, and was fascinated by his vision of bringing contemplative prayer out into the world, which was also my search. I came to London in ’91 and I’m still here. It is a very hopeful work. There is a real hunger for inner depth, inner life. At the moment I am doing a study in psychotherapy because in my own search I find it is quite important to also introduce the psychological knowledge within the contemplative knowledge, so that’s my search at the moment.

The inner light is within us. The light is within us like the sun, and when there are clouds before the sun we can’t see the sun. We still believe in the sun. The sun is there. For me the clouds which hide the light within are my worries and my ideas – maybe not so much my worries, or my ideas. I would say it is the grasping of my worries and my ideas because worries and ideas will be always there. The clouds will always be there. I think it is when I am grasping this inner world, the light can shine. And in meditation I just relieve that grasping attitude of my ego. I allow the inner light to well up which is a healing light, so the more it can penetrate my being, the more it can transform me. So that’s how I see it. Or you can say it is like a well. The well is full of stones, and the stones are our grasping attitude. It is not my ego, but the attitude of my ego to grasp which are there. The stones are in the well and the water cannot come out. That is what meditation is for me, which is a moment of relieving that inner attitude of my ego grasping, and in surrendering everything so the spirit can penetrate my whole being, and the healing process will happen without us knowing that it will happen. The transformation will happen if we just allow it to happen. If we give God freedom to be God, the divine mystery is inside.

The main question within this approach of psychotherapy is not so much why are you angry, or why are you depressed, the why question, but the main question within this approach is how, how are you angry, or how are you depressed, so how is your relationship to your anger? How is your relationship to your jealousy, to your depression? The aim of this psychotherapeutic approach is to change our relationship to it. Most of the time we avoid it. We run away from it. In Christian terms you could say we run away from the cross. We don’t take up the cross. In this approach the aim is to change the relationship to it, and to cultivate a kind of loving kindness towards ourselves. It is very important. It is first of all bringing people to the awareness that they have to just face what is, just to see what is, standing in the pains, standing in the wounds, realizing that my pain is a universal pain. In Christian language again, we all share in the body of Christ and the wounds of Christ. What I am talking about the aim of psychotherapy is bringing people to this realization, that their pain is a universal pain. It is a pain we all share. If I can befriend my pain, then the healing process will happen. What I find is that it is in meditation that I learn to be with what is. In meditation I am with myself. I am not running away from things. I am with myself. So when we bring this attitude to psychotherapy, being with what is, and also in meditation we say that we have to open up to the consciousness of Christ. The consciousness of Christ is compassion. The consciousness of Christ is loving kindness. If we focus that consciousness to our life, if I have loving kindness towards my depression, loving kindness towards my anger, then transformation can happen. So I think it is very deeply embedded in the Christian message and how we can translate the Christian message today into a new language. Because that is what we do in meditation. We try to open up to the consciousness of Christ, which is compassion.

 

 

Fr. Tom Ryan: I am presently serving as director of a new ecumenical center for spirituality and Christian meditation, which is called Unitas, which is Latin for unity. Unitas was founded as such in September of 1994. From 1981 to 1991 it was the Benedictine priory of Montreal founded by Dom John Main. It was what became the original mother house from which this renewal of Christian contemplative prayer moved out to several continents, and is today flourishing and is known as the World Christian Meditation Community. Prior to my coming to Unitas, I served 14 years as director at the Canadian center for ecumenism, a national education resource center for promoting Christian unity and interfaith understanding. We worked on a national level in Canada between Christians, and Christians and members of other living faiths. Two passions have motored me through the years. One has been the passion for Christian unity and interfaith encounter, and the other for spirituality, for going deeper in my own life of the spirit and journeying with others who share that common appetite for God.

There is a sense in which I find Unitas as a place where both those passions are wed. It is presently cosponsored by seven different denominations in Montreal: Anglican, Presbyterian, United, Lutheran, Orthodox, Armenian, Roman Catholic, and the John Main prayer association. Part of the curiosity of how this history has evolved is that in 1977 John Main and Laurence Freeman and I all arrived in Montreal at the same time. John and Laurence had been invited by the bishop of Montreal to open a house of prayer in the heart of the city, and I had been invited to come as director of the Newman Center of McGill University in Montreal. I had begun meditating a couple of years earlier, and I was seeking a spiritual director in my new place of assignment, and went to the Ignatian Center, a place run by the Jesuits in Montreal. After two meetings with the director of the center there, when he learned how I was praying he said, "You know, I really think you should be talking to someone else. Have you visited John Main yet in the new house of prayer that he has just opened in the city? This is the form of prayer that he is teaching." That was my connection with John Main, and from that time on he was to whom I turned for guidance in this way of prayer, and served as my spiritual guide. When John died in 1982 Laurence then succeeded him as prior of the community, and when the international center shifted from Montreal to London, basically the house was sitting there looking for a new vocation, and the archbishop of Montreal was trying to find a new vocation for it – one in continuity with the past, a place where lay people could continue to come and find instruction in the Christian contemplative tradition. So a very dedicated group of Benedictine oblates kept the house going, continued the teachings on Monday and Tuesday nights, as has been the Benedictine tradition, and basically kept a modicum of program going until this new project, which came to be Unitas, took shape and form.

When Unitas came into being it basically wanted to simply build on the foundation of what was already there as a Christian meditation center, and it wanted to simply bring together with that rich vein of a Christian contemplative tradition the gifts from other Christian traditions, pathways to God that the Spirit has raised up and uniquely preserved in the various Christian traditions. But the path of meditation has continued to represent the heart beat of the life of the house. Three times a day, in the morning when people are on their way to work, at noontime during the lunch hour, and at the end of the afternoon, there is a half hour period of quiet sitting in meditation, and then on Monday and Tuesday evenings, that tradition of teaching the tradition is carried on. The kind of people who come represent a very broad spectrum. One of the things that is most striking is that this is a movement of contemplative renewal that appears to be spreading like a prairie fire across Canada, across the United States where it is more known under the title of centering prayer, but it is recovering the same tradition, and it really seems to be responding to something very deep in people’s hearts. Part of what we do at Unitas, and I know part of what the World Christian Meditation Community is doing, as well, as is represented in the Dalai Lama having been invited as the speaker for the John Main seminars in London a year ago, is interfaith dialogue, as well. One of things, I think, that our dialogue with other religions is making us more aware of as Christians is that the first business of religion is to open up for people a pathway to direct experience of God. When we look at the other religions and the place that ritual or membership rites, or dogmas or doctrines have, we see they have a much more secondary place in the lives of members of other living faiths than they tend to have for us as Christians. What takes the ascendancy in a very clear way for the proponents of other faiths is this preoccupation with this experience of God, a direct experience of the Absolute. I think this is a very beneficial emphasis for us to be exposed to as Christians because it reminds us that really, at the heart of Christianity is a mystical experience. It is the experience of the indwelling Trinity. It is taking seriously Jesus’ words that if you love Me and keep my commandments, the Father and I will come to you and we will make our home in you. It is learning to have confidence in our ability to what our tradition calls the mystical heart, our capacity to access that reality at the deepest level of our being, and to go there regularly like hungry and thirsty people go to the well, or go to the refrigerator for food, for well-being. This is what, I think, the New Age movement is also saying to us as Christians, that people have a hunger for the transcendent, for the beyond, for the Absolute, for the mysterious, for the numinous, and if they can’t find it in the Church, they will not stop looking. They will find it in crystals, they will find it in channeling, they will find it in all kinds of ways and different manifestations, but they will find it. Or they will continue to look until something responds to that hunger. By and large, I think that what we are doing in just providing a place where people can come and be still and know that God is God is perhaps a unique offering the heart of a large metropolitan area of 3 million people. Perhaps the only thing that people cannot find in downtown Montreal, but which we offer, is peace and stillness, a place where people can sit, go quietly within, and touch the dimension of spirit.

I knew that in what we were doing at Unitas that the ecumenical would be in fairly high profile. It was already ecumenical even under the Benedictine presence. There was an Anglican bishop who lived as part of the community there and prayed daily with them for a couple of years, and there were members of other churches who came at that time. So in a sense what we have done is just build that base more broadly, and it is in higher profile, and I knew that that would be there. One of the things that has surprised me in a sense is how often I find myself in conversations with people either at supper table who have come for personal retreats, or who are participating in our programs, or I am talking with them after a group sessions, what has been a little more surprising for me is how frequently I am engaged in conversations that could only be described in terms of reevangelization, or reconciliation of people who have been wounded, or alienated from church participation, and who are interested in the spiritual journey but very wary of pursuing that journey within the construct of organized religion. We seem to be providing for people a middle ground that doesn’t appear too churchy because it is just a big, beautiful mansion, and yet there is this umbrella of spirituality over everything we are doing which leaves people feeling a broader berth for exploration. Very clearly I think there is a difference between spirituality and religion. I see spirituality as really addressing the deep human questions, the search for love, for belonging, for forgiveness, for acceptance, and that is a journey we are all embarked on and must pursue for our own human fulfillment. But it seems to me that that journey will ultimately lead one, if it is operating the way it should, to some kind of affiliation with religion because religion basically celebrates those moments of belonging, or of commitment, or of forgiveness, and because we are incarnate beings who have a need to ritualize interior realities in an outward way, our own humanness seeks ways of giving external manifestation to something powerful and deep and meaningful that is happening inside of us, and that’s what religion offers. It seems to be religion uniquely offers a way for people to bring into the public forum and to give expression to, in a community of like-minded travelers and believers, of what is happening inside me in my life now. I am increasingly seeing us playing a kind of bridge role in that respect, meeting people who are embarked on a spiritual journey, and introducing in a gradated kind of way to healthy religion that enables them to give ritual expression and to celebrate in a community of gathered believers what it is they are experiencing within.

When the bishop of Montreal invited the Benedictines to the city, he didn’t want them to found a house outside the city limits somewhere. He wanted this to be a heart beat right in the middle of the city where ordinary Christians could discover the possibility of living a deep integrated life of faith in the midst of all this urban hustle and bustle and noise, and this is one of the primary questions that anyone who comes to the practice of meditation often has in the back of their minds. How am I ever going to fit this into my life? How am I ever going to make time for this amongst all the other demands upon me? My sister and her husband who live in California have given me a very inspiring answer to this. They, in the midst of raising a couple of children, designated a particular room in their home just as a meditation room, and they only go there for that purpose. Any number of people have done a similar kind of thing, or have a little prayer corner in their room, what in their instance strikes me as inspirational is that they took to getting up at 4:30 in the morning in order to have time to meditate before raising the children, and then getting them ready for school, and then getting ready to go off to work for their commute themselves. One time my sister was sharing this practice of theirs with my brother who also has three children, and he just looked at her dumbfounded, and said, "How can you afford the time for this?" And she looked back at him without blinking an eye and said, "Kevin, we can’t afford not to take this time. This is what keeps our life on the rails. This is what keeps us sane."

"We will find time," John Main said to me when I came to him as a young priest, trying to look for his approval that I drop the second meditation each day because in my life as a busy university chaplain, I was making a case that things are just too busy here. They are out of my control. The students are walking into my office, we’ve got a late afternoon church service, in the evening I have to be in the dormitories, and he listened to me very carefully, and nodded his head, and said, "Yes, you are quite right. Our life here in the monastery is structured to enable us to observe this rhythm of prayer. You are quite right. Your life has a different rhythm to it." And I thought I could see an approval coming for why I should be let off the hook while they should stay on the hook, but just when I thought I was going to get the blessing for meditating in the morning, but then not again at the end of the day, up came like a stiff upper cut to the jaw, and he said, "But, if you are really serious about experiencing the full fruits of this way of prayer, you must be faithful to your time, not just at the beginning of the day, but at the end of the day. Meditating at the beginning of the day is like hopping on one foot. Meditating at both beginning and end is like walking with grace and balance." So he challenged me to really take a hard look at what I was living, and to see whether everything that I was making out to be as very important and unmovable was, in fact, so, saying we find time for what is important to us. "Go back and look at your life. Look at all these things you are saying are so important and can’t moved, and nothing can take precedence over them, and just see whether they are more important than this value you are professing, and see if you can’t find some other formula to enable yourself to live more closely to the values that you are aspiring to live." I went back. I took a hard look at things, and not surprisingly, I found that they were more movable than I was making them out to be, and with some flexibility and some shifting around, I granted that yes, we do find time for the things that are important to us.

 

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