Saturday, 27 February 2010

Will the real Jesus please stand up.

'Will the real Jesus please stand up' is the title of the first session of a Lent course on contemplative prayer that I am running for St.John's Waterloo

The course is a 'journey home' - to a place that is familiar and safe -
“We remember wholeness so readily because we don’t have far to look for it. It is always within us, usually as a vague feeling or memory left over from when we were children. But it is a deeply familiar memory, one you recognize immediately as soon as you feel it again, like coming home after being away a long time. When you are immersed in doing without being centred, it feels like being away from home. And when you reconnect with being, even for a few moments, you know it immediately. You feel like you are at home no matter where you are and what problems you face.” (Jon Kabat-Zinn, Full Catastrophe Living, page 95.)

Or as St. Augustine said, "You have made us and our hearts are restless 'till they find their rest in you."

Home has two doors: one, our physical body (the temple of the Spirit) and two, the present moment (the 'narrow gate')

We looked at the announcement of Jesus's message at the beginning of Mark's Gospel: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel." The good news Jesus was announcing is that the contemplative life is for everyone: the Kingdom is now and it is within and it is about 'repentance' - but how wrong can you be about repentance!

We entered another brief period of silence after which I asked people to look again at the verse but this time to focus on the negative spaces, within and between the letters. This I suggested is repentance; it's a change of focus, of one's field of view, and way of looking at things. A mind shift has taken place which is what Jesus wanted his hearers to understand.

In feedback on this one person who is a graphic designer talked about using gobbledogook when designing a layout so that the designer's brain doesn't focus on the sense of the words but on the pattern of the layout. "The devil is in the detail" she said, and we had great fun with that; the 'devil' undoubtedly confuses the big picture with details! The trick in the contemplative life is not to lose sight of the big picture. Especially don't let the details of my life, who I think I am, blind me to the truth about me which is that I am rooted and grounded in love - and so is everyone else no matter what the external details of their life and behaviour may be.

But when we enter the silence of contemplation what about distractions? Are they the same as 'temptations'? We thought they were. Distractions are always temptations to leave the present moment and the object of meditation is to let the past go (leave the dead to bury their dead) and not anticipate the future (take no thought for tomorrow). It's not that the mind can ever be free of distracting thoughts. The big question is what you do with them. Confession, I suggest, is the basic stance of prayer, i.e. acceptance of whatever is going on in us without judging it as 'good' or 'bad'. Nothing can be effectively dealt with until it is fully acknowledged. Two of the most important words Jesus said were, 'judge not'.

Next week Jill Benet of Contemplative Outreach will be leading us into the art of Centering Prayer.