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.
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.
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.
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.
In my experience, a paradigm change is taking place in the Church of England, difficult though it is to discern if you look at the central structures of the Church. Change is happening at parish level and in the many friends I have and networks I am part of. Many of my friends have abandoned attendance at or involvement with the Church, despairing of its teaching, worship and leadership and finding it no longer fit for purpose.