Think Again

The following audio file is an address from Knox Church, Dunedin, given on Sunday Evening, June 18 2017.


Synopsis: Like many of my generation I entered the Christian faith by way of the Charismatic renewal in the 1970s. In the early 1990s the renewal and I were beginning to part company, and, while I was Vicar of All Saints Sumner, responding to the works of Gerard Hughes and Morton Kelsey, I began to walk the path of Contemplative Spirituality, which I have been following ever since.

There is a common perception that the Contemplative path is some sort of modern add on to the Christian faith, but this is inaccurate. Modern contemplatives, such as Thomas Keating and Laurence Freeman trace their lineage back through Thomas Merton to the medieval work, The Cloud of Unknowing, and then, even further back to the great medieval mystics and the desert fathers. In fact, the Contemplative tradition goes all the way back to Jesus himself.

In Mark's Gospel we have a record of Jesus' first teaching: Repent and believe the Gospel, which raises for us the question of what this Gospel was. We know what it was not: "Jesus has died for your sins"' because, obviously, at this point he had not. Jesus' Gospel was about the Kingdom of God, which is not something we enter when we die, and not something  we have to strive to establish: Jesus tells us that it is amongst us; it is already here; it is at hand (that is, as far away as our own hand) The Kingdom of God is the perception of the universe as it really is. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ reveals to us what is at the heart of reality: that the universe is purposed, meaningful and beneficent.  Living in the Kingdom means living with that reality. The question is, why don't we see the Universe that way?

In the back of each of our eyes is a blind spot, the place where our optic nerve joins the cornea. We are not aware of this blind spot because our brains do a marvellous piece of editing, filling in the place about which it has no data with what it thinks should be there. In other words we see not what is there, but what our minds think should be there. This is one small example of what is happening continually with all our senses, and with all the preconceptions by which we make sense of the world. We construct our own idea of the Universe which helps us to order our world, but which is actually a kind of filter which stops us seeing the world as it is. Jesus asks us to repent, which means "Think Again". We are invited to release our accustomed way of perception and thus be open to perceiving the truth which is around us on every side.

This is not easy to do, and the way we can do what is easier said than done is by Spiritual Practice. Spiritual Practice is like any other kind of practice: it is doing something we can do in order to be able to do something we can't presently do. So I sit in silence and for 20 or 30 minutes make the effort of being present, and letting go of my accustomed filters. This has it's own benefits, but its main value is training me to be aware and present in every other aspect of my life. I meditate to follow Jesus' command, to think again - that is, to renew my perceptions - and thus to be present to the Kingdom which is eternally present. 

Comments

Elaine Dent said…
Great to get a chance to sit down and listen on a Sunday evening. (First time I've "heard" you.) I value observing how those who identify as contemplative Christians teach the practice. As I am being led into more situations of teaching it, I struggle with finding words to explain it. So I'm paying attention. On another note, I am currently reading "Becoming Curious: A Spiritual Practice of Asking Questions" by Casey Tygrett. In his first chapter he makes a similar exegesis of Jesus' words about repent, the kingdom of heaven is near: "Come and think about things differently, because God's plans and desires are coming to life right now." Tygrett's "thinking differently" leads him to curiosity and asking questions---something else Jesus was skilled at. The practice of curiosity is related, don't you think, to the childlike playfulness in contemplative listening? (Jerry May) You're right, I take heart knowing Jesus must have had a contemplative spirituality. Looking forward to part 2. Thanks for making it available.
Kelvin Wright said…
Thanks for the pointer to Casey Tygrett. I'll be hotfooting it off to Amazon directly.
Ye, teaching the practice is difficult. I lean pretty heavily on Thomas Keating not just for content but also for his pedagogical approach. His The Contemplative Journey series of cds and a video series produced about ten years ago are both valuable exemplars. It gets easy when you get to the nuts and bolts stuff - sit this way, do This, don't do that, all that kind of thing.

Some of my early teachers were Buddhist and the people who were most formative in the early days were the staff at the Gawler Institute who spend large parts of every day year in year out getting neophytes to sit still for 45 minutes 3 times a day. The retreat at Snowmass was also a wonderful exemplar in how to teach spirituality. But in the end you just have to stand there and look at those hopeful faces looking up and try to faithfully respond to the God who loves each of them And is calling them homeward and heartward
Tony said…
Great to hear your voice again Kelvin, and thanks for speaking about this. I only wish you had've taken me with you to hear Gerard Hughes all those years ago!
I've been practicing contemplative spirituality now since I started at Uni 7 years ago. And its not easy, is it. I particularly like Merton as a base, and Richard Rohr at the moment. I've read quite a bit, though I've not read Keating yet: do you have a suggestion for a title?
The discipline of stillness and silence is so counter to the madness of busy-ness and productivity that seems to be directly connected to one's worth as a human being these days. So that if I'm not busy, then I can't be worth much - so I'd better look busy!
And so parish profiles that are looking for a new vicar seem to think their attractiveness will be enhanced by proclaiming that they're 'a busy parish...'hmmm....think again indeed!
So, I'm looking forward to your next instalment mate!
Kelvin Wright said…
Hi Tony. Thomas Keating's book Open Heart Open Mind is a good place to start, though his best work is on video or audio. There's a 24 CD (!) audio series called The Contemplative Journey, which I used to listen to when driving long distances around Otago and Southland. There are some good things on Youtube. My practice is Centering prayer, and a good writer on this is Cynthia Bourgeault. To learn Centering Prayer or indeed any meditation technique experience is far better than any book. Look for a weekend workshop somewhere - Cynthia Bourgeault runs them in the UK from time to time, but you'd need to book early. There's bound to be a Centering Prayer retreat somewhere in the UK, and of course there are many in the States, including at St. Benedicts Monastery, Snowmass. And of course, if the little light which ignites in your soul at the mention of all this stuff has been lit by the Holy Spirit, then of course the right book, the right speaker, the right opportunity will come to you, and at the right time.