In his book “Arise My Love . . .”: Mysticism for a New Era, William Johnston says that the mystical author of John’s gospel, after “many years spent in prayerful reflection and profound mystical contemplation . . . under the guidance of the Spirit” achieved a state of non-dualism, able to make no distinction between Jesus the man - the Jesus of history and the Jesus of glory, the Christ of faith, Jesus who had lived on earth in the here and now and Jesus who lives in the non-dual here and now of interior presence and existential essence. My intuition, the internal voice, the Spirit guide in me, has been telling me for a long time that creation is a seamless unity, despite appearance or teachings to the contrary or the commonly held assumptions and mind-set of the institutional church that we live in a dualistic creation.
We can become too easily (and understandably) trapped in the binary, good and evil, us and them, loving God and punitive God dynamic on which the dualistic faith of conservative traditionalist Christians is founded. It’s New Year Resolution time: and for me it’s renewed decision time. Do I – do we – opt for and choose to construct from our interior conviction and from the Biblical evidence – a God of unconditional love who is entirely and unconditionally for creation and evolution and for us, we the diverse human community living on planet earth?
An article about mindfulness in schools in last Sunday’s Observer raised again a persistent question for me. Why isn’t the teaching of meditation or mindfulness a core part of the Church of England’s teaching programme? Teaching meditation ought to be an integral part of life in every parish. It needs to be taught and it needs to be practised, integrated with prayer and worship.
A heron has been frequenting my garden – destination – pond.
Frequenting – every morning for a fortnight, by my observations.
Some days three times in one morning.
There are over forty fish in the pond.
I know when the heron has visited, even when I’ve not seen it.
The fish disappear to the bottom of the pond.
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.