I have recently been writing about my contemplative practice and what happens in the twenty-five minutes or so of silent awareness each morning that is for me an encounter with presence of God. My presence is very embodied, emotionally and physically aware. Given all the claims Christianity makes about God, the potential for deep, creative change should be even more present in Christian life and prayer. But this experience people seem to find elusive. Why? Why isn’t the church very good at knowing from experience the presence of God? Why is it not very good at acknowledging our bodies as integral to spiritual life?
It’s time to write as honestly and openly as I can about my prayer life as I promised in a recent blog. In the blog I mentioned that I have ideas about how to begin worship in ways that can take people into their bodies, help them ground themselves and connect with their feelings. The ability to become more aware of our bodies, to be grounded and connected with our feelings is for me equally essential when it comes to my personal prayer life. Nurturing interior body awareness has helped me to deepen my confidence that I really am created in the image of God and that God dwells in the core of my being as much as I dwell in the beauty of God’s creation.
A group of nine people is meeting from lunchtime today for three days at Sarum College in Salisbury. They are all people who are exploring life and faith in radical, unconventional ways. I hope that over the course of the three days, a conversation will develop, woven from our own experience of the holy and our dreams of the divine. We urgently need a new, truthful, healthy, re-imagining of God. I imagine the church as a prophetic agent of transformation for people, revealing how life and creation are infused with love and goodness despite our wounds and the losses and pains that are integral to contingent lives lived with free will. The love is infinitely present, and we are immersed in it, and can become aware that we are infused with love.
I was asked to lead a workshop on Saturday with the focus on contemplative prayer and silence. It turned out to be quite a challenging event. I’d prepared a sheet of notes outlining the ground I wanted to cover – vision of God; vision of ourselves; vision of Christ-like life; contemplative prayer and silence; breathing; with a check list of elements of a spiritually healthy life to conclude. It was an ambitious agenda!
I believe there are two core ingredients which are essential to the formation of an integrative, evolutionary spiritual path for Christians being called to growth and depth along a path to truth, holiness and G_d. One is the development of a vision of God which opens to unconditional, infinite, intimate love and the other is a willingness to open the self to truth, beauty and inner presence in silence and meditative/contemplative practice.
Each one of us can touch the inspirational core of our being, given time and space and loving care. Today, I look to those Primates able to bring that Christ-like presence to their meeting in Canterbury to inspire their brothers to stay in the room and hold fast to their calling to bring the same presence to the Church and to the world.
Human societies across the world are likely to experience increasingly significant disruptions in this century due to the effects of climate change and the continued degradation of Earth’s living systems. The religious and contemplative groups that will have a relevant and constructive voice in the flow of events are those that are able to frame these profound changes within a coherent cosmological story and provide useful contemplative tools for navigating shifting structures.
I’ve compiled a list of the key essentials for the contemplative life which keep coming to me when I meditate. Elements that are important to me are usually missing from other people’s writings. These include the importance of the body (implicit in the incarnation) and of emotional and physical experience, and the importance of actively teaching people how to become aware of their intuitive contemplative self and nurture that self in ways that are so simple that people find it difficult to believe they really work – until they try.
I’ve been reading Simon Small’s brief but rich book, From the Bottom of the Pond: The forgotten art of experiencing God in the depths of the present moment.
I was tempted, reading the Prologue, to post it in its entirety here, but that would contravene the publisher’s rights. Simon’s first sentence in the Prologue is:
“I rest at the centre of space. Unimaginably vast space everywhere I look, disappearing into the distance, seemingly without end.”