Interiority – the first step in how Jesus describes the meaning of prayer – is today quite a rare commodity. From early days we are trained to see life as a series of external goals and achievements. We may succeed or fail in them. Either way, our focus is trained outward to the next mountain we have to climb, hurdle or opportunity. Then, one day, perhaps we get knocked off our bike.
This happened to a student of mine with a very disciplined life and military background. He spoke about it when he came back a year later as a guest speaker to the class. He had been hit by a truck and went flying, hurting his face seriously and suffering brain damage. He showed the class photos of himself and it was hard to believe he had recovered as well as he had. Apart from the bone damage which had been repaired, he still suffered from terrible headaches. He had found that meditation was the only way to stop them. The doctors told him to do nothing, sleep as much as possible and added, ‘try not to think’. This last advice puzzled him. How can you stop thinking? Then he remembered that meditation was all about not thinking, right?
His determination to get better and his lack of self-pity or negativity impressed us all. But even more was the change in him personally, after his ordeal had showed him that life was not only about outward goals. He had discovered his inner life. He knew himself to be the subject of the mountains he wanted to climb and the opportunities he had to make the most of.
He was not the first person to say that a tragedy, that we would all cringe at even imagining, had taught him something more valuable than the suffering that accompanied it. With the awakening of the interior dimension of consciousness came discernment and perspective. Everything in life could then be better valued and prioritized. And illusion and reality stood out from each other much more obviously.
Highlighting this, Diadochus, our friend of sixteen hundred years ago, describes the distinctive energies of wisdom and spiritual knowledge. According to him, both are pure gifts of the Holy Spirit. Spiritual knowledge comes through ‘prayer, deep stillness and complete detachment’. It unites us to God through experience. But it does not lead us to talk about it. What happens in silence stays in silence. So, we can consciously illuminated by interior knowledge without needing to express it outwardly. But wisdom can come, more rarely Diadochus says, as a complementary grace to articulate this knowledge especially with the help of scripture.
Spiritual knowledge has priority. To find it, times of stillness and practicing detachment are necessary as we have the opportunity for in Lent. They prepare us for this knowledge. Alternatively, we can always wait to be knocked off our bike.