Wednesday, 14 January 2009
In 1991 I was vicar of a large charismatic parish when a phenomenon called the Toronto Blessing hit town. It was a sort of hyper Pentecostalism which involved people falling over and laughing- the twitch and gibber school of theology. It appealed greatly to some people in my parish but for me, it didn't excite any spiritual enthusiasm at all. Quite the opposite, in fact, when I saw the effects of 'The Blessing' in some people's daily lives. Although I had been a card carrying member of the Charismatic Renewal for a long long time, I was rattled. Is this what Christianity was really all about? Of course a lot of other things were happening in my life at the time, and in the middle of my questioning I took a book off my shelf that someone had given me five or so years before, but which had sat unread and neglected ever since: Gerard Hughes' God of Surprises. The book was a bombshell in my spiritual life. And in one of those odd pieces of synchronicity that happens to us from time to time, I picked up the newspaper on the day I finished the book and saw that Gerard Hughes was in town and giving a lecture the very next day. It was then that the charismatic renewal and I filed for an amicable and, I hope, mutually respectful divorce.
I haven't read God of Surprises in a long time: much has moved on since. But the reason I am remembering that synchronicity is that there has recently been a similar one. Readers of this blog will recall me lamenting and beating my breast over a perceived lack of a modern Christian tradition of meditation. I have been trying to forge my own little tradition out of Meister Eckhart, by way of Anthony DeMello and with not a small amount of Buddhist wisdom stirred into the mix for good measure. Well blow me down, if a week or two ago I don't stumble across a Benedictine called Laurence Freeman, who has written enough books to choke a moderate sized horse, providing of course you didn't cheat and shred the books first. He is a student and interpreter of John Main, also a writer of several books. Freeman, and I assume Main before him, write with great wisdom and practicality about the whole business of Christian meditation which they have been teaching for some decades. There is, apparently a worldwide network of Christian meditators with two (2!) groups meeting in Dunedin! There is a wealth of literature. Laurence Freeman is coming to Dunedin and will hold a workshop here in less than a month's time. Ok. I'm listening. There is a centre for Christian meditation in London where I will be in a few months time. Their catalogue of courses looks really good.
I have been reading Laurence Freeman's The Selfless Self, and finding it, like God of Surprises both a revelation and a homecoming. He teaches a mantra based meditation that is more or less compatible with what I have been doing already, and which I have able to adapt to quite easily.
There is no arrival point on this great inner journey. We set off in search of the one true light and find it revealed to us in a series of sunrises - a sunrise that can only ever happen when we have experienced sunset and night. Of course in the new dawn we realise that what we have left behind at dusk has been the same light that now, again, beckons us forward; and which will no doubt set again. And rise.