In today’s gospel, on the Transfiguration, Jesus takes his closest three disciples with him up the mountain ‘so they could be alone’. It wasn’t for a financial planning or strategy meeting but in order to pray, to be truly together. Having myself been on the same mountain recently, I can confirm there is no phone signal there. You have to be. For them, it was the moment when they saw him as a being of light.
In another time and place, when he was ‘praying alone in the company of his disciples’, he asked them the life-changing question ‘who do you say I am?’. They were sufficiently awake then in community to listen to the question in solitude. On other occasions in the gospels solitude and community, such apparent opposites, are integrated. This is also experienced through regular meditation and by living the community it creates. The dance of solitude and community, as two sides of the spinning coin of life, is essential for health of mind and soul. When the dance works and we are healthily balanced, we neither fear solitude nor feel trapped by community.
Life today is excessively outer-directed and over-busy. As our information overload and the demand for instant response increases, so does the feeling that we are overwhelmed by everything that insists to be done or answered now. Community, life-balance, the delicate support groups of friends and family, will feel the strain if stress increases. Many business people unconsciously begin to sacrifice their family to their career before realising what is happening to the most precious part of their lives.
Under the pressure of all this, the contemplative element of life – the capacity to be rather than do and to enjoy rather than acquire – is the first fatality. You won’t be surprised that I recommend meditation on a daily basis to resurrect it and save the day. But there’s another little ‘practice of the presence of God’ (aka mindfulness or recollection) that can both help to prepare us to meditate and is a fruit of meditation. It is also a good thing to do if you are just too busy to meditate.
St Benedict, in his lifestyle manual, The Rule for Monasteries, opens with a piece of good advice: every time you begin a good work, you must pray to God most sincerely to bring it to perfection. For people for whom the idea of God is a serious one, it’s possible to read this as a call to full presence of mind and heart in the work we do in a spirit of other-centredness. Even for the person who thinks this is an example of the mythical imagination, the message is useful – reflect on the meaning of your work before you drown in it.
All we have to do, at each new task during the day, is pause. Then call to mind the why question. ‘Why am I doing this? Where is my motivation coming from? Can I feel the meaning of my work as a connection between what I do and the people who will be influenced by it? In this way, we find ourselves working for others and doing, if not perfect then certainly good work.