Christian meditation:

a simple path to connection and community

People walking along a path denoting the sense of community people report arising from Christian meditation

In the complexities of our daily life, we can easily overlook the power of attention. Yet without attention we are barely present for the gift of our life.

Christian meditation (like all prayer) is about relationship. The simple practice helps build community as we learn to pay attention with ever greater openness and sensitivity.

Attention is both openness and connectedness.

The attention we bring to the present moment opens us to the meaning wrapped within it.

Attention opens a space in which we can touch the heart of another and be touched, a space in which we can be grateful for the sources of joy and respond with wisdom and compassion to the suffering of those around us and the world.

For the French philosopher Simone Weil:

 

“Attention...presupposes faith and love. Absolutely unmixed attention is prayer.”[1]

In the act of pure attention, we let go of our preoccupations, our fantasies about the future and concerns about the past. We come home to the open pastures of the eternal Now, to meet ourselves and each other afresh in the light of God’s presence.

In his book The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace, the psychiatrist and writer Morgan Scott Peck recounts an archetypal tale of paying attention and the opening of awareness, the opening of the heart that is the foundation of community.

A monastery had fallen on hard times.

 

The once great order had been reduced to only five monks: the abbot and four others, all over seventy in age. Clearly it was a dying order.

 

In the deep woods surrounding the monastery there was a little hut that a rabbi from a nearby town occasionally used for a hermitage. Through their many years of prayer and contemplation the old monks had become a bit psychic, so they could always sense when the rabbi was in his hermitage. “The rabbi is in the woods, the rabbi is in the woods again,” they would whisper to each other.

 

As he agonized over the imminent death of his order, it occurred to the abbot at one such time to visit the hermitage and ask the rabbi if by some possible chance he could offer any advice that might save the monastery.

 

The rabbi welcomed the abbot at his hut. But when the abbot explained the purpose of his visit, the rabbi could only commiserate with him. “I know how it is,” he exclaimed. “The spirit has gone out of the people. It is the same in my town. Almost no one comes to the synagogue anymore.” So, the old abbot and the old rabbi wept together. Then they read parts of the Torah and quietly spoke of deep things. The time came when the abbot had to leave. They embraced each other. “It has been a wonderful thing that we should meet after all these years,” the abbot said, “but I have still failed in my purpose for coming here. Is there nothing you can tell me, no piece of advice you can give me that would help me save my dying order?”

 

“No, I am sorry,” the rabbi responded. “I have no advice to give. The only thing I can tell you is that the Messiah is one of you.”

 

When the abbot returned to the monastery his fellow monks gathered around him to ask, “Well, what did the rabbi say?”

 

“He couldn’t help,” the abbot answered. “We just wept and read the Torah together. The only thing he did say, just as I was leaving—it was something cryptic—was that the Messiah is one of us. I don’t know what he meant.”

 

In the days and weeks and months that followed, the old monks pondered this and wondered whether there was any possible significance to the rabbi’s words. The Messiah is one of us? Could he possibly have meant one of us monks here at the monastery? If that’s the case, which one? Do you suppose he meant the abbot? Yes, if he meant anyone, he probably meant Father Abbot. He has been our leader for more than a generation.

 

On the other hand, he might have meant Brother Thomas. Certainly Brother Thomas is a holy man. Everyone knows that Thomas is a man of light. Certainly he could not have meant Brother Elred! Elred gets crotchety at times. But come to think of it, even though he is a thorn in people’s sides, when you look back on it, Elred is virtually always right. Often very right. Maybe the rabbi did mean Brother Elred.

 

But surely not Brother Phillip. Phillip is so passive, a real nobody. But then, almost mysteriously, he has a gift for somehow always being there when you need him. He just magically appears by your side. Maybe Phillip is the Messiah. Of course the rabbi didn’t mean me. He couldn’t possibly have meant me. I’m just an ordinary person. Yet supposing he did? Suppose I am the Messiah? O God, not me. I couldn’t be that much for You, could I?

 

As they contemplated in this manner, the old monks began to treat each other with extraordinary respect on the off chance that one among them might be the Messiah. And on the off, off chance that each monk himself might be the Messiah, they began to treat themselves with extraordinary respect.

 

Because the forest in which it was situated was beautiful, it so happened that people still occasionally came to visit the monastery to picnic on its tiny lawn, to wander along some of its paths, even now and then to go into the dilapidated chapel to meditate.

 

As they did so, without even being conscious of it, they sensed this aura of extraordinary respect that now began to surround the five old monks and seemed to radiate out from them and permeate the atmosphere of the place. There was something strangely attractive, even compelling, about it. Hardly knowing why, they began to come back to the monastery more frequently to picnic, to play, to pray. They began to bring their friends to show them this special place. And their friends brought their friends.

 

Then it happened that some of the younger men who came to visit the monastery started to talk more and more with the old monks. After a while one asked if he could join them. Then another. And another. So within a few years the monastery had once again become a thriving order and, thanks to the rabbi’s gift, a vibrant center of light and spirituality in the realm. [2]

Christian meditation is a school of community, a quiet path to being fully awake and gratefully present. The attention we cultivate is both openness and connectedness.

As we learn to greet our thoughts and feelings and moment-to-moment experience with greater stillness and greater silence, a space of opportunity opens in which to better see those around us, their needs, their mysterious beauty and dignity.

Our simple practice helps loosen the glue of conditioning and habit that keeps our attention stuck to whatever is happening in the foreground of our life, so we can perceive its unchanging background and foundation.

Sitting still and silent, we hold ourselves open to the light which is always shining within us, within those around us, within everything.

The hand and eye icon from the School of Contemplative Life logo denoting 'seeing clearly, acting with compassion'.

If you feel inspired to meditate, you’re very welcome to join one of our free online meditation sessions or read one of our practice guides.

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