The Wisdom of the Young

A few notes on the Monte Oliveto retreat in Bonnevaux 28 September to 1 October 2020 led by Father Laurence Freeman and Giovanni Felicioni, World Community for Christian Meditation WCCM on the topic of

The wisdom of the young”

by Ludwig Braun

First Session

During a retreat we change our daily life by slowing down, focusing our attention, finding an internal rhythm of life, doing physical exercises (yoga, walking) to help our body to integrate what we have learned, reducing unnecessary activity, and finally by producing fruits after the time of planting and growing. A retreat can also be a time of purification, of off-loading stuff we have not dealt with, a time of dryness, or of richness. We cannot predict the quality of the fruits, but we have to accept the fruits which will appear.

The topic “The wisdom of the young” is meant to help us navigate through this time of the pandemic, where we became aware that our way of life is based on exploitation, degradation of the environment, and where the challenges may lead to polarization and social unrest. There is the danger that we surrender to the dark forces. To navigate through this uncharted territory we need to develop the particular wisdom needed today. God often reveals what is best to the young, as they have the courage to change, to take risks, they are creative and are full of energy. This also applies to the young at heart, and thus we need cooperation between all age groups to develop new visions for our home planet. We need to discover the true sources of wisdom together (the younger and the rejuvenated older), we need to satisfy our thirst from a faithful source which will not dry up.

A test of whether the source is good is found in the fruits we will produce (also known as the fruits of the Holy Spirit). True wisdom will lead us to more tolerance, to patience, to respect other persons’ sources of wisdom, to see each other as sisters and brothers in Christ. Drinking from a bad source such as propaganda will lead to aggression, polarization, to division and war. Yet how do we deal with trouble-makers? How can we resist the temptation to yield to the dark forces?

Mediation leads us on the right path, as you cannot remain aggressive if you meditate faithfully. Either you solve the problem, or you stop meditating. We need to regain the early, fresh, beautiful youthfulness as a source of wisdom and joy. We call to mind and pray as we learned as young altar servers (at least some of us) at the beginning of the Latin Mass:

“Introibo ad altare Dei” (spoken by the priest)

“Ad Deum, qui laetificat juventutem meam”(spoken by the altar servers)

Meaning: “I will go to the altar of God, to God who gives joy to my youth”

Or: „ …. zu Gott der meine Jugend erfreut”

Or: „ … à Dieu qui fut la joie de ma jeunesse“.

The first lecture was followed by mid-day meditation, then by a question and answer period early afternoon, and by a contemplative Eucharist service at 6 p.m., all of these broadcast worldwide via internet.

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Second Session, 29 September 2020

Topic: Myths as a common ground for dialogue

Father Laurence started by inviting us to write Haikus, these are a form of poetry, verbal snapshots following a Japanese literary custom consisting of three lines, the first having 5 syllables, the second 7, and the third line again 5 syllables. Then he continued by citing an ancient Greek myth, adapted by Seamus Heaney, named “The Cure at Troy”, a tribute to Nelson Mandela. Here are some of the lines cited:

“So hope for a great sea-change on the far side of revenge.

Believe that a further shore is reachable from here.

Believe in miracles and cures and healing wells”.

A myth can be understood as a story that is not true, but also not really false. But there are much deeper understandings to myths: they are the common basis for conversation, and the sharing of myths is essential for a common language between persons and generations. The abuse of social media has resulted in a loss of common mythologies, replacing conversation by chats, twitter messages, and a boastful sharing of photos. Conversation, however, requires eye contact, time and leisure, self control, the ability to concentrate and to avoid interruptions. This is at the heart of education: the sharing of myths, the opening of our minds, bringing us to a common source of wisdom, cultivating a sense for the divine.

Many of us today are spiritually undernourished and fall into the trap of accepting “shallow myths” such as the belief that Elvis Presley has risen from the dead, or the creationist view that the world was created in 7 days, 10’000 years ago, the belief in conspiracy theories which confuse people, the attraction of right-wing movements…

On one hand, today’s youth is often afraid to take on responsibility because of the fear of making mistakes. On the other hand, many young people take a lead, speak up for the right of girls to be educated for example, show anger when “the old white men” refuse to listen (Greta Thunberg’s glare at Mr. Trump who refused to look at her …). Other examples are the Hong Kong democracy movement, or “Black Lives Matter”.

What is needed is an answer to the question of the existence and nature of God, and meditation is probably the only way out of today’s dilemma. In meditation we let go of all our thoughts and images, and become poor in spirit, so that we can invite the Holy Spirit to fill us. It is vital, however, that meditation not be considered a consumer item which can be used and discarded, but meditation needs to be continued, needs to be a continuous journey through life.

Midday meditation followed by lunch prepared by Susan and Ludwig,

Q & A period early afternoon, contemplative Eucharist service in the evening

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Third session on 30 September

Topic: What does it mean to have a second chance?

Before each session Fr. Laurence invites us to reflect on “the blackbird”. Through life it is always accompanying us, sometimes in the form of a temptation, sometimes as suffering as individual bird or as a swarm. We are encouraged to let go of it, not to interpret hastily, to continue our path.

Father Laurence continued to explain the important role of Mythology to facilitate conversation and collaboration between the generations. Great myths need to become part of us to bestow on us deeper and richer understanding, so that the river of wisdom can flow between the young and the old, to show a new path toward a balanced ecosystem and a stable global economy. The narrative of myths expands our mind, changes us in a way so we can believe again and become simple once more.

One needs to be aware, though, that there are also false myths which may lead to superstition on one hand, or to a rejection of the spiritual dimension altogether on the other. In both cases there is the danger of making generalizations (for instance: the 1980s generation just wants to get to the top at any cost …, or: all politicians are corrupt…). Education can help to train our character, to increase the quality of attention and attentive listening, to cultivate our inner capacity for wisdom. Education is like the cultivation of a field, that is, to prepare it for the next season. Cultivation allows time to rest, takes into account the rhythmic cycles of life, to settle down and to become a local, to have a place where one belongs. Meditation then, is at the heart of growth and the cultivation of the fruits, of the harvest of a life well lived.

The fast pace and complexity of the human dilemma point to the urgent need to change our ways and to accept the good news, the kingdom within. Jesus did not want an “efficient” church, but his call is presented to us as an opportunity to be taken out of our small egoistic circle and be lifted into humanity, into society as a whole (… feed the hungry, clothe the naked …). We are held by a reality which rejuvenates us, even when we fail and blunder. We always have a second chance.

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Midday meditation followed by lunch

Q & A period early afternoon (here a selection, there were also several personal testimonies not given here):

  • Q: Can meditation be an escape from the responsibility to take action?

Response by Fr. Laurence: Meditation is not an escape from the work to be done. Meditation helps us to assess our situation and lends us the courage and hope to tackle our own personal task. Meditation is a regulating activity, it prevents us from burning out. Meditators can offer support to the active younger people, having maturity and compassion that moves them to stand up for social justice, to share the gift of meditation. The inner work of mediation is work and not relaxation.

  • Q: May taking on the burden from others lead to co-dependent relationships?

A: Yes, there is that danger. But just as Simon of Cyrene was asked to help Jesus to carry his cross, so are we called to help others in need. Meditation helps us to step back, to become detached from dependencies, to let God do the work of healing,

  • Q: Mediation during work hours (e.g. in hospitals or in schools): is it taking away time for work and study?

A: Allowing time to meditate during work hours helps us become motivated to love our work; learning becomes a joyful activity, and loving relationships are fostered. Teachers are performing a most formidable task, and we should encourage them to be renewed and restored in their calling to teach. At Bonnevaux we plan to develop a curriculum for “contemplative” education. We ask for instance: what is the nature of science, of scientific research?

contemplative Eucharist service in the evening

Fourth session on 1 October 2020

Father Laurence requests participants to submit Haikus, and I contributed my own first one:

“Chestnuts are falling

autumn is here now to stay

for some time, watch out!”

Then he continued with the topic “God’s hidden wisdom” on the basis of St. Paul’s writings. God’s spiritual wisdom needs to be articulated, and myths are a common language of humanity which lead us to the same source. The committed practice of meditation leads us to become receptive to the words of wisdom, and is a constant process of the expansion of our minds. Our minds are being re-made, undergo an ongoing rejuvenation, a continuing transformation through all stages of life. These are the personal stages of each individual, but also the collective evolution of humanity “coming of age”. The blind myth of “constant progress” is shown to be wrong, but instead, we look at the cycles of nature with its seasons and organic growth: now, autumn is here, the leaves are falling, but spring with the onset of life will come again.

Losing something is often accompanied by disillusionment, causing pain (such as the nose dive of our church and political institutions). The childish belief in Santa Claus, for instance, will break down sooner or later in our youth. We need to find growth, free from such “immediate” beliefs, we need to go beyond our disbelief by returning to the Word, by listening to it, and by regaining a new childlike (not childish) quality. Growth in wisdom means learning how to taste reality (wisdom = sapientia = to taste), to experience it. As the psalmist says:

“Taste and see that the Lord is good”.

The young can be closer to this truth than those who are older, as the taste of reality can be lost with age. To become young again means to regain that “new taste”: this can come as a surprise. Although the physical development of the brain is said to stop at the age of 25 years, we have a second chance when we are older to reconnect to the mystic world, to the world of faith, beauty, belief. We are called to grow up, to grow as individuals, as a family, as the body of Christ. For this we need food, that is, nourishment, love and support. Small children are fed with milk, when they grow older they eat solid food, they cultivate wisdom and become teachers themselves. Christ is the universal teacher, and we are taught by contemplation, a personal moral way of life, and are called to “come of age”. This leads to a new revelation of who we are, and we become as young as God is!

The lecture was followed by midday meditation, lunch and the last question and answer period in early afternoon.

Q: Can you explain the difference between “imagination” and “fantasy”?

A: Fantasy allows us to escape from boredom, it leads to distraction, evasion, and consists of “light subject matter”. Imagination, however, brings us to a higher level of consciousness; it may be spontaneous, but can also be hard work. As a fox walking carefully over thin ice, we get beyond the dangerous passages by being creative. Children love to discover their own creativity, which contrasts with consumerism, distraction and entertainment. Creativity can be expressed in poetry, which means “to make something”, or in painting, for example.

Q: How can we make responsible use of modern media to engage the young?

A: The young generation often has great talent for using modern media. However, its use can also become an addiction, and one needs to be aware of this. A medium or forum of communion is the experience of silence together, for say 5 minutes, which is also a good way to initiate the process of self-healing.

Polar fox running over thin ice of Colour Lake, Axel Heiberg Island, Nunavut, Canada. Photo by Martin Braun, summer of 1975

Q: How can we see how the Cosmos came into being?

A: We can look at the way that people see the world today, and then go back to how they saw it, say 100 years ago, 500 years ago, at the time of Christ, in the period of cave art …. It is in itself an evolutionary process, and we should compose stories about it, e.g. the myth of the Great Flood (German: Sintflut).

The Q & A period was concluded by a poem by Fred Jass, the “poet in residence” (giving here in its basic meaning, consult his original text):

“The stillness of meditation finds the energy and wisdom

and opens a window to the garden given us by God.

Together we grow and see and feel the fruits and beauty of life”

The retreat was followed later by a casual gathering by the Library fireplace, sharing a simple, delicious buffet and enjoying in conversation into the later evening …

Marçay, 23 October 2020, comments welcome, contact via email: Ludwig.n.braun@gmail.com

For further information see www.wccm.org and www.bonnevauxwccm.org

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