31 March 2014

Second Lenten address on prayer

From Father Philip Carter - Theology and practice of Meditation:

It matters what we think about God. And it matters what we think about ourselves. Our image or images of God are crucial. And the same must be said about our images of ourselves. If we have a harsh image of God, then we will end up most of the time feeling bad or guilty or simply a failure. And if we have a negative image of ourselves, then we will limp through life proving to myself what a hopeless case I really am!

Jesus was a great person of Spirit, a wisdom figure, speaking directly out of his lived experience into ours: and he offers us two priceless gifts. The first is that he is utterly transparent. His whole identity and self-awareness is wrapped up in his experience and understanding of God. God is Jesus’ reference point, both the Source and goal of all things. For Jesus, God offers an intimacy in terms of his inner self and heart, as well as a sense of ultimacy, a kind of expansive horizon or spaciousness in which he lives, and which allows him to be both open and receptive for every possible encounter. For Jesus, God as Abba is not a patriarchal or oppressive image, but one of intense intimacy and mutuality, of inclusive compassion and community, a generative and creative God who offers both freedom and life. And that intimate unity between Jesus and Abba God is really ours: “that they may be one, as we are one”.

The second great gift Jesus offers us is a penetrating insight into who we really are. His conviction was that we are victims of a mistaken identity. The person I normally take to be myself, the busy, little, anxious “I”, so preoccupied with goals, fears, desires and issues, is never even remotely the whole of who I am. And if I seek fulfilment in my life at this level, I will actually miss out on the bigger life which is on offer. Because of this insight, Jesus taught that the one who tries to keep this life, this small life reduced to my surface preoccupations, will lose it, and the one who is willing to lose this life will find the real thing.

Which is the very heart of what we mean by meditation: meditare, in Latin, means “being moved to the centre”. What Jesus shows us at the centre or heart of his life is an “I am” which is grounded and at one with God, and this is what is true of us. We don’t move to the centre so much as become aware of who we really are in God.

Beneath the surface of our lives there is a deeper and vastly more authentic self, what we might call the True Self, whose presence is usually covered over by the persistent clamour of the smaller “I” with all its insatiable needs and demands. Jesus invites us to let our “hidden self grow strong”, to wake up to the “secret person of the heart”, and to live out of that place.  Meditation is simply remembering what is true, and saying yes to it.

So, when we meditate, we simply sit. Our backs are comfortably straight. Our feet are flat on the ground. Our hands open on our laps. And we sit. And pretty soon we will notice our little “I”, with all its incessant chatter and demands. And instead of fighting it, we notice, and let go. We give ourselves over to the moment. We don’t expect fireworks, or dramatic prayer moments. We sit. And to keep us there we repeat, over and over, a word: it could be a word like Spirit, or Jesus, or love, or a word of disposition, like open or deepen. And what we notice, even after years, is that we aren’t very good at this, in fact, we bump up against what Jesus would call our poverty, our emptiness, our complete and utter dependency on God. We are creatures even of borrowed breath, the book of Wisdom says. So we sit, and when the chatter comes, we simply say our little word…and all the time affirming, though not often seeing much progress, this movement from this little ”I“ to the True Self, all the time – and it will sometimes feel like dying, becoming empty, and poor…being moved to a deeper awareness that I am already home, that Love is my true name.

This is a way of life which asks of us what Jesus calls faith: a way of remembering and claiming what is unseen but true: and when we get disheartened, when we can see little progress, if any, we recall those words of Jesus: the one who wants to keep this life, this life of the little “I”, this small reduced life, with all its illusion and negativity and hard work, shoring up my inadequate little self, will lose it, but the one who is willing and wants to lose that way of life will find the real thing. This way of meditation, far from being yet another prayer technique, plunges us directly into the Paschal Mystery of Jesus himself: of dying, and behold, we live!

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