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.