Thursday after Ash Wednesday


Let’s recall the archetype of Lent we are being nourished by on this journey, which is the time Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness.

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God”

When you are truly attentive to something, fully absorbed in it, you are not distracted by anything as minor as not having eaten for forty days. To be fully absorbed in anything is a form of bliss. If on the other hand we are constantly snacking, consuming, digesting or spewing texts, twitters and emails we may well forget what a great sauce hunger is. I am not referring to the hunger for the necessities of life, which it is a scandal and shame that anyone should have to face. I mean the hunger for reality that our addictive consumption blocks and denies. The sign of over-consumption is a lack of compassion for the needs of others.

In a world of Brexit and Twitter politics the only certainty is uncertainty. This makes the financial masters of the universe tremble because growth depends on investment and risk is the great fear. So, this is the time to wonder if we have to turn every stone in our path into a loaf of bread and jam.

Life is growth and change. Tradition serves life, it doesn’t stifle it. Goals and objectives for growth need to be tempered and trained by the filaments of meaning and wisdom that connect us to our roots, both historically and spiritually. The ‘tempter’ breaks those filaments by awaking the perennial seeds of greed and lust. Soon we are running crazily around the desert, turning every stone into an unnecessary loaf of bread. We can’t consume them all, which frustrates us, but we have also lost the hunger for truth that makes bread meaningful and enjoyable.

If a country decides it has to go to war it should declare its war aims and stop when they are achieved. If the globalized world is aiming at economic growth it should declare its goals, how it can be distributed and its limits. Unlimited growth is cancer.

Moderation really cures. The middle way of the Buddha or St Benedict, the ‘narrow little path’ of Jesus that ‘leads to life’ is the journey. The hunger for reality also comprehends hunger for truth. As Orwell foresaw, and Goebbels proved, truth can be altered by manipulation. ‘Alternative facts’, or lies, can be thrown into the innocent eyes of any sincere statement. As espionage agents are said to discover after they have learned their craft of deception, it is soon hard to tell what side you are really serving.

When we feel the hunger for reality, we taste the word of God. Yesterday’s ash may have disappeared but the journey has begun. Each time we meditate we repeat Jesus’ response to the powers of self-deception.

With Love



Farewell to Huston Smith


Huston Smith, who led the John Main Seminar in Tucson, Arizona, in 1999 has died aged 97. He delighted the participants with his thought about religion in modern culture, sharing with them what was to become a book called ‘Why Religion Matters’ and stayed in touch with the community afterwards. A lifelong student of world religion, born in China to Methodist missionary parents, he always remained centred in Christian faith while exploring the spectrum of human religious experience and passionately defending religious freedom. His sharp and capacious mind and his sweet nature made him an unusual scholar of both personal depth and brilliance.

Laurence Freeman OSB


Forth Week of Advent


A short walk from the retreat centre in Rio there is a path that leads you into a little Amazon. Follow it through to the end – don’t fear, you are never far from the familiar world and the path is man-made – and you find yourself immersed and welcomed as part of the endless buzz and activity of life. The ecology of the forest is a dance of such complexity and intricacy that cannot be conceptualised. To analyse it is to lose it. To grasp it as a whole needs a change of focus.

Its complex inter-systems – insects, birds, fauna, flowers, trees, parasites and all the other kinds of life that shyly avoid bipeds like you – revolve in their own worlds of survival and self-reproduction, like countless whirling galaxies. Sometimes they collide silently and the stronger prevails. But no one complains. Destruction is part of the life system. Continually, leaves flutter down, having served their purpose. They settle on the ground to decompose and disappear forgotten and become something else. All the time there is a constant vibration of noise, the origin of music, but also forms of energy beyond our few weak human senses.

Looking down I see a perfect impatiens walleriana, the little five petalled flower of pastel colours I have on my balcony in London and that we call Dizzy Lizzie. It is a bridge between worlds but you are still the only human being in this particular parallel universe.

Walk out of the forest past the retreat house, you find well-manicured gardens, part of the tamer human ecology. Forest becomes garden. Low paid workers, now in their homes in the favella, keep it neat and tidy for those who have leisure to enjoy, but perhaps have also lost the calmness necessary for leisure. The flowers have the look of flowers that are looked at, the origin of cosmetics.

What if, from within and beyond these great artless symphonies of wild nature and the self-conscious aesthetics of human culture another vibration were to emerge? It comes silently, concealing itself in the very forms in which it is clothed. It is the source of both worlds including all worlds yet to be. In those perhaps the self-regarding human will be unknown. It is the primal utterance that brings existence out of being and leads it back to being. As leaves flutter down so universes expire. But this originating Word is the base line of all time and space.

We wait for it. It is coming. It is here. It is moving on, completing its big purpose, with or without us. But it has come to its own, as gloriously, movingly human as a newborn. Utterly weak so that it can reveal itself as the power of life to those who recognise it and are not too busy to listen to it during their short span of days. It was why a good Advent makes for a Happy Christmas – all year.

A very happy Christmas and peaceful new year to us all.

Laurence Freeman


Second Week of Advent:


Last week we looked at Advent as an illumination of desire. Human beings, who are creatures of desire, experience growth in self-transcendence and through the transformation of desire – what we want and how we pursue it. Eventually, we see that we do not want only what we like but we want the happiness of others. In that self-recognition we expand into the kingdom, free form the self-centred orbit of our self-made suffering. The catalyst for this transformation is to discover progressively that we are desired by a love beyond our wildest fantasies.


Advent is a time to sense how this desire beyond the event horizon of our imagination is hurtling towards us in all the sweet majesty of its stillness. All of this is poetry until we meditate. Then it becomes ‘experience’ – but beyond all that we normally think of as experience. The early Christian thinkers who drew the ground-plan of this theology changed our anthropology in the process. The way we understand God changes the way we feel about ourselves. St Gregory Nazianzen, for example, wrote in the 4th century that in Jesus the Word of God comes to its own image in the human, ‘to unite himself to an intelligent soul.. to purify like by like’. This insight helps us imagine this core mystery of Christian faith from the inside as well as an external event.


God forms into the human even beyond the event horizon of the cosmos. But that horizon is equally present in the deepest and brightest mystery of the human soul. Thus we can speak of the two births of the Word – in God eternally and in my time-bound soul. And it comes in three waves, in the great Beginning of all things, in Bethlehem on some unknown date and at the unpredictable end of time. The trick of our Advent this year of the Lord 2016 is to relate all this to Black Friday hysteria, to tinsel and sentimentality and to Christmas trees in public squares – or rather sharply to distinguish them.


This coming of God into the human, from beyond and from within, is the great revolution of human intelligence. Once we have started to consider it we are never the same. It redefines power and weakness, richness and poverty, time and eternity. In other words, the Word made flesh explodes the fission bomb of the paradox of reality. It will never allow us again the cheap indulgence of dualistic answers. We have been plunged into the reality that is deeper than the atom.


We are drawn to this almost in the same measure as we dread it. But in this advent – and our meeting with what comes towards us we discover the joy of being, the freedom to love and the supreme delight of sharing in the life of the source of our selves.


In Amazonia there is a stretch where the two great rivers of the Amazon and Rio Negro meet. Their confluence is dramatic, the black river and the sandy-coloured river. For six kilometres they run side by side without mixing because of the differences in temperature and flow speed. But eventually they recognise each other as water and become one.

First Week of Advent 2016: We are creatures of desire


We have been waiting for Advent for most of the year. (The Word was made flesh on March 25th, on the Feast of the Annunciation). But, like a seed silently growing in the ground day and night, its silence begins to be audible in the four weeks of Advent. If we can listen to the rising volume of the silence of the Incarnation during this season of heightened expectancy, we will be better set to celebrate Christmas as it is expects to be celebrated.

The nativity into our world of sense of the divine human and the human God is endlessly mysterious – and so it is easily lost in the yuletide razzmatazz. It reveals and conceals simultaneously. In Advent we begin to sense how God must be both very daring and very shy.


As Advent is folded in four, let’s take the experience of waiting in that number of stages. The first is the dull awareness that there is something to wait for. This is felt rather than thought. The feeling of waiting however sharpens awareness and awakens us to our selves. It’s funny that we should first be awakened by longing, by the pain of not having what we long for and which we can’t even properly name. But Homo Sapiens is naturally discontented and ever hungry for more. Our satisfactions are wonderful but don’t last long. Fulfilling one desire soon shows us that it hasn’t concluded the sense of incompleteness that possesses our ever changeable selves. Before the froth of one wave of success hits the beach another is building up behind it. We are creatures of desire. So, we instinctively and fatally interpret each moment as painful or pleasing.


As we see this, we mature and become better at raising the young. It makes us tender and compassionate to them. We are touched and amused at how ecstatic they are when their intense but still simple hopes are fulfilled. But it also makes us aware both of how we should help to shape their desires and of how we must keep our promises. Through this awareness created by growth we learn to be other-centred (some of the time). We see the provocative wisdom of putting the happiness of others on the same plane as our own. Children exemplify this for us. Not surprisingly then, when the wisdom of God comes in human packaging He comes as a child. We have to look after Him. Bow to Him. Tend to Him, change His nappies, comfort His crying. The gift we have been waiting for fulfils our desire to the degree that it turns our attention off ourselves.


I have seen some very self-centred and anguished adults, tormented by the disappointments of their long waiting, transformed by a newborn child, lifted into a kind of happiness they could never achieve by fulfilling their desires.

Humanity too has been waiting, since it was first awakened by its its enslavement to desire. We have been waiting for God to burst through our images and desires projected onto our self-made gods. God takes us by surprise. He arrives as a helpless baby that we have to suckle and protect so that it can survive and grow. We parent God. But the growth that follows becomes wondrous as it was for Mary and Joseph. Our so called ‘spiritual journey’.

As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart.


In contemplation God is born in us, how we don’t know, but at some point we feel the pangs of birth and rising wonder replaces the cycle of desire. Advent makes sense because growth means life revealing and unfolding on new levels of experience and meaning. Daily business, dealing with things, planning for contingencies, taking breaks to escape the drudgery is all one level. It is the literal level where success and failure are what they seem because they are labelled this by others. But another level manifests where all these judgements and activities also appear symbolic, reflecting another dimension of reality, expressing a new way of being, a fresh self-awareness propelling us from a tortured world of judgement and dissatisfaction into a realm filled with the wonder of the exchanging of gifts and real, not sentimental, innocence.


The build-up to this is patience, the contemplative art of waiting. We have lost this art of practical wisdom in the modern world but meditation restores it. A contemplative Advent will re-enchant Christmas for us, sparing us from the tedium of its crude consumerism.

We become patiently aware of what we waiting for as it hurtles towards us through the interstellar spaces, homed in on us, eager for us, desiring us, transforming what and how we desire as we become more acutely aware of it.

Emily Dickinson wondered:

How News must feel when travelling
If News have any Heart
Alighting at the Dwelling
‘Twill enter like a Dart

We are humble creatures of desire. So, we merely repeat the cycle of pain and pleasure until we understand that we are also desired. What we truly long for, the love that creates us, has already targeted us. That is why we long for it. It is what we long for because God longs for us.

After the Election

children_01The immediate post-election comments by the President, the President-elect and the defeated candidate were more gracious and civilised than anything during the campaign over the past eighteen months. This campaign reflected such an obscene breakdown of civility that it was hard to believe it was happening. It seemed surreal – worse and more frightening than the hypocrisy and evasiveness we have sadly come to associate with much of the political class. It has done lasting damage to a civilised approach to politics anywhere, even in a world where we see ethnic cleansing, the bombing of hospitals, the uncontested invasion of sovereign states, the callous closing of borders to refugees.

The US election highlighted what is happening politically in many other places: the polarising of global and national identities. Nationalism is a mounting force that rejects the challenges of the newborn sense of global citizenship. As history shows, nationalism begins with the euphoria of false hope and ends in mutual destruction.

Is there a contemplative response to this? There is. But it is not sectarian or ideological. The contemplative response is conscious of the common ground. It builds communities of faith in this ground among people of widely different beliefs.

This collective vision of the human community can only happen politically in the most civilised societies.  But it happens between friends and groups of friends who quietly restore an uncivilised society to humane values. Their experience of the truthfulness of silence helps them trust each other with their differences. Those differences can be respected without violence or divisiveness.

Societies lacking the root system of such contemplative networks, nourished by silence, must face an erosion of civilised values because contemplation is the foundation of civilisation.

I recently spent time in Venezuela, a society in severe distress. But I was inspired to see that our community there is even more deeply and compassionately committed to the practice and teaching of meditation, particularly to the young. It is also creating civilised forums for open dialogue. They prove that a contemplative response to crisis does really exist. The World Community is privileged to have such members.

I feel sure that the WCCM USA will respond in the same way to their post-election situation where such deep divisions and turbulence have been exposed. You will be an example to others of the real American dream, which is the greatness you show in resolving difference.

I am not preaching to you but reminding you of what, as contemplatives in the world, you know already. As a fellow-meditator I know you do not see meditation merely as a refuge. We see it rather as a way of facing the painful facts of our world with faith, hope and love, thereby making the world more civilised – simply by the way you live and tell the truth. We are never more truthful than in the silence of meditation which affects all our ways of communication and action.

This involves curbing our feelings of triumph or defeat with the emotional perspective that meditation brings. It involves trying to see reality through the eyes of others even when their view seems to contradict ours, the essence of redemptive dialogue. It brings hope where there is fear. Good, not cruel, humour where there is hatred.  Truth where there is dissimulation.

It involves loving our enemies even when we feel like humiliating or deleting them, patronising them, giving them false signs of peace, taking revenge for their past deeds or punishing them. We turn the other cheek at first interiorly, not as an excuse not to fight for truth but to ensure that, when we do fight for it, we do so without violence or hatred.

To love means to pay attention. If our meditation only makes us mindful but doesn’t enable us to pay other-centred, loving attention to those we would prefer to ignore, what does meditation mean? It is wondrous how naturally our actions towards others are regulated simply by paying attention to them. Such attention begins as pure prayer, which dismantles the thick filters of prejudice and caricature that obscure the real identity of others.

What can contemplatives, who are defined firstly by their commitment to being, actually do? They can meditate and be more than ever faithful to balancing each day on the twin pillars of silence, stillness and radical simplicity. They can meditate together in weekly groups and begin new groups especially where the wounds of division are most open.

You can also plan to come next August to the John Main Seminar in Houston where a world authority on the Christian mystical tradition will be leading us into a deeper relationship with one of our most precious sources of wisdom in a chaotic world. We need to know in what a powerful tradition we meditate.

This is our contemplative approach. Although it is not a political force, it does help to dissolve the violence of political polemics at root. I can also assure you – and it is reassuring I think to know this when we so often despair of our leaders – that in our community, and beyond, there are eminent leaders who build their lives on daily meditation. They are not power-hungry individuals but genuinely driven to use their influence and talents to make a more humane  and civilised world.

Leaders or led, in a contemplative community all are equal because all see each other in the greater oneness. We all need each other and we need to share our needs. This is the meaning of the new global consciousness. We all give support to each other especially to those who are least supported. We all walk on the common ground that, to the eyes of faith, is the consciousness where I see you in myself and myself in you.

Never before in America or elsewhere, have we needed this contemplative mind more urgently. It is not in the end about politics and elections. But it  will define the kind of politics that shape the world we make for ourselves and leave to our children.

The Great Peace


* Originally published at Meditatio Newsletter April 2016

Dearest Friends,

It was a lovely spring afternoon in London, warm with just the edge of winter left. I had not seen Calum, my young godson, for some time and took him out for lunch and a walk by the river. He brought with him the camera that his sister had passed down to him. He had become absorbed in its video function. So he was filming everything that we passed by on the street and, when we got down to the river Thames sparkling in the sunshine, he went wild with excitement. Swinging the camera in experimental manoeuvers he chased after a flock of ducks and back again to capture an endless supply of new scenes. There was nothing not interesting enough to film in the beautiful light of the day. Everything shone with the wonder of the world’s ever-surprising diversity. Life flooded through him with abundance and excitement. He was radiant and free-spirited with all the colours of life. And it was vitalizing to be playing the life-game with him.

And it was Easter. As it always is Easter. The important theology of Easter is that once it happens it never stops happening. To symbolize that liturgically the church extends the day of Easter Sunday for eight days and the season to forty. ‘Ordinary time’ which follows Pentecost can never be ordinary again. On the other hand what is extraordinary is that it does remain ordinary. We do not become astral beings. We go back to this life to live it in a new way, discovering its newness afresh continually. We remain delightfully embodied and thrillingly mortal. Death, the great threat to human happiness, takes on a wholly different meaning in the new experience of life we call Resurrection.

The danger is, that in speaking of these mysteries of faith that revolve at the heart of Christian life we sound to others a bit out of touch with reality. And sometimes Christians can, in fact, sound like promoters of a wonderful holiday resort that they haven’t quite yet visited for themselves. In fact, if we have been touched by Resurrection, we are in touch with reality, ‘the solid reality’, as St John puts it, that ‘is Christ’.

I was recently speaking with a class of MBA students who had started to learn to meditate. Many of them said they wanted to meditate because it offered them a way of dealing with stress. The depth meaning of meditation, of life itself, had been fore-shortened by this great and now universal blockage to real life. I was struck by the depth of this problem, the prevalence of the social malaise we call stress – the anxiety and damage to health it causes, the enemy of all the joys of life, breeder of fear and anger.

Of course life is stressful. It has a visible shelf life that changes daily. Anything that is unpredictable, like life, has to deal at best with probabilities. Anything that shows us that nothing is certain until uncertainty has been fully accepted will ever be easy.

The problem is not stress itself, then, but whether we understand the stressful aspects of life from within the great peace. Or, whether we experience only stress and find that stress feeds and grows off itself. Then we are deceived – usually by mammon – into thinking that the more stressed we are the closer we are coming to the great idol of Success.

A century ago the most civilized nations of the world were in the middle of ‘The Great War’ to end all wars that resulted in thirty-eight million military and civilian casualties. Taking a short breather to re-militarise, the ensuing peace of Versailles that was typical of  ‘peace as the world gives it’, led to a new world war that cost up to eighty million lives amounting to three percent of the human family at that time.

Whether it’s the death-lust of war or the tragedy of unhappy lives blighted by the diseases of affluence, why is it we find the gift of life so hard to accept? Why does the great peace seem so elusive? Out of the new life that filled the risen Jesus with the playful love of the Holy Spirit he has breathed his peace into us. His physical respiration ceased on the cross. He breathed his last and gave up his spirit. But this plunged him irrevocably into the inner breath of God, the life-cycle that over-rides the cycles of death and rebirth. He entered the source and return-point of all that exists. From this inner breath of the eternal Easter he breathes the great peace into the human heart at the point where we are one with each other in a common humanity.

On Bere Island this year the meditators on the Holy Week retreat took time again to listen to the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus. The time it took was again richly repaid with a clearer understanding of time and the gift-nature of life which Easter is all about. It comes to us as a story. It is above all a story. Christian scriptures are not a string of abstract truths plucked from real life. They are a certain, amazingly intimate way of telling a story which plays out in the lives of all those listening – both in their inner lives and their outer lives. Once we have opened our heart to this story, we feel an integration and harmonizing of the inner and the outer – a new simplicity. We see in a new way the unfolding of our own lives.


We are in conversation with God. In daily use ‘conversation’ means a chat, an exchange of ideas through words or other symbols of meaning. But this is a more modern definition, coming into use as culture began to shift away from its spiritual balance towards an excessively rational and outer-directed  perspective. From about the 16th century it came to mean only ‘talk’. ‘Conversation’, however, means literally a turning towards something with another. In other words, keeping company with, living with, playing the game of life with…

The New Testament is not a sutra. Later there did come Christian sutras, great intellectual reflections and cathedrals of the mind, which help to interpret the conversation, the telling of the story which is the heart-mind of the gospel. The gospels are simpler than abstract truths. They are strikingly direct, intimate tellings of a story that is both cosmic and personal.

We don’t read the gospels only at Easter. Throughout the year the ‘lectio’ of these texts should be part of our daily prayer-practice. But we always read them in the light of the Easter truth. Christian identity and the Christ-centeredness of our meditation depend in part on the place of this way of prayer in our spiritual lives. Meditation brings us many benefits and fruits. One of the greatest of these is that meditation teaches how to read the gospels in a way that draws our whole being into the person of Jesus, not only as an historical figure but as a personal and actual presence.

For I in you and you in me together we are one undivided person.  (From an ancient homily for Holy Saturday)

Christian thought is like a conversation that continually integrates all the reflections and contributions that have been made from ancient times until today. It is always fresh and yet its richness is always growing. We are part of it and as it changes, it changes us.

Many of us will have felt this as we read of Pope Francis’ deep and simple insights into the mystery of Christ. ‘Mercy’ is his signature phrase, especially to some church leaders who were felt to be becoming increasingly, judgmental and punitive. With wise gentleness Francis is delivering one of the periodic prophetic body blows to the institutional frame of the church that we all need to reset the church’s course. They wake us from the sleep inflicted on the hard of heart and the self-righteous. They restore us – as the same ancient homily I just quoted puts it- to the new life that fills us with the great peace, when we allow it to:

I command you: Awake, sleeper, I have not made you to be held a prisoner in the underworld. Arise from the dead; I am the life of the dead. Arise, O man, work of my hands, arise, you who were fashioned in my image. Rise, let us go hence; for you in me and I in you, together we are one undivided person.

As long as we listen to the story from the outside, only as observers and sceptics, we will think that the new life it speaks about is a return to the Garden of Eden. But who really wants to go back to Eden? The garden from which the Resurrection reaches into humanity and changes us is not a lost paradise but the kingdom of God. This is a special kind of place – neither here nor there, in us or among us but one that is an experience that simply and mercifully is.

So, the conversation is not talking to or thinking about but living with and keeping company with God. And so, it is at its fullest in deep silence. In silence we are not trying to look at the risen Jesus, because then, as outsiders, we will always fail to recognise him. But when we are seeing him in the same glance of love as that with which he sees us, then we recognise him as we are brought to full self-knowledge.

Resurrection shows us the way we need (and want) to follow into the conversation with silence itself. (‘Nothing is so much like God as silence’, the mystics tell us). To start this conversation is to activate the seed of contemplation planted at birth, our original act of existence. Every follower of Jesus is therefore called to be a contemplative, just as every spouse is called to tread into deeper union. The levels of silence – of tongue, body, mind and heart – are the great milestones of life and – for the meditator – this is one with the journey of our daily practice. As these levels become deeper we become simpler and more childlike. One day we even learn how to play the game of life, once  again with unlimited joy.

For the contemplative Christian prayer is not, essentially, speaking to God, or thinking about God. It is about entering into a silent conversation with God through the mind of Christ. It is not about opposing our will to God’s or negotiating a settlement over our differences of opinion about what is good for us. It is about an active, whole-hearted surrender to the will of God who knows our needs with an intimate and unique love because he is part of our humanity, sharing with all our woundedness and complexity.

As Christians of our time this kind of language may speak best to those who have already started the conversation with silence. But for many others it can still suggest an image of a ‘personal God’ which is suspect and even offensive. It is true that this image of God can be abused. Personal, in human terms, can also mean jealous, possessive and controlling. It is an image that religious people in the three sister religions of the Word, all born in the same troubled and violent part of the world, sometimes claim to be their own exclusively. Twisted out of its true meaning in the silence of the great peace, the idea of a personal God can infantalise us, become a source of oppression in the power structures of wealth and politics and even a justification for the massacre of innocents.

Yet it is still the greatest of gifts – provided we know how to share it.

A Taoist ruler once said you should rule an empire the same way you cook a little fish. (In one of the great Resurrection appearances by the Sea of Tiberias, Jesus does just this). In another Taoist wisdom story the crew of a big boat saw a small craft sailing directly into its path. They leant over the side and shouted insults to those in the boat approaching them. Then they realised the small boat was empty and fell silent.

Empty and silent like the tomb of Jesus on the Sunday morning, the new sabbath. The empty tomb is recorded in each of the gospel perspectives on the Resurrection. Finding it empty disturbed and mystified the disciples, and Mary wept. Yet emptiness is the correlative of fullness. They are opposites yet perform the same function in the grammar of meaning. The divine kenosis, or self-emptying, produced the incarnation of God in which the fullness of the godhead was able to dwell embodied. We cannot recognise the risen Jesus unless we have looked into and entered the empty tomb of our own heart. It may sound metaphysical theology but it is proven in our human psychology and in daily experience, including the daily practice of meditation, of poverty of spirit. As for the jeering sailors in the big boat (of reason) the discovery of emptiness in the small craft (the egoless self) leads us to silence.

The obvious question reputedly posed to the Buddha once – what do you get of meditation? – is best answered by ‘nothing. But I lose a lot.’

Today we need to cultivate this quality of emptiness and silence if we are to survive the impossible contradictions on which we have built our world. These contradictions torment and threaten us  – irresponsible affluence and the endless exploitation of the earth, nonstop communication and increasing loneliness, luxury and increasing anxiety. The perennial value of the wisdom of contemplation has been drowned out by a compulsion to put utilitarian or commercial values on everything whether a price-tag is relevant or not. Doing this distorts the value of everything. A young lawyer told me recently how the law firm where he worked was systematically squeezing all humanity out of the work by reducing every fifteen minutes of the day to a billable slot; he had to account even for his visits to the bathroom. At the end of such a process we will find not emptiness, which is the correlative of fullness, but nothingness and a vacuum of meaninglessness.

‘Remembrance of God certainly brings comfort to all hearts’, says the Qu’ran. The basis for the dhikr form of prayer in Islam is the interior repetition of short phrases or the Names of God. Its meaning is to remain in the mindful presence of God while performing the most ordinary actions of the day, like rising from bed or walking. In the same way, John Cassian urged the desert monks, and we their successors, to recite their formula, or mantra, while performing any kind of work or service, or on a journey, answering the calls of nature, while falling asleep and on waking up. So, rather than being an esoteric practice for a spiritual elite the prayer of the heart is intended for all as a very simple and ordinary way. It is an immediate, unmediated, way of experiencing that emptiness is the way to the fullness of God. In this incarnate spirituality of daily life, where a contemplative discipline becomes truly part of our life and connects the surface and depth levels of consciousness, we discover that learning and living are the same.

Remembering. Spiritually, this is not a nostalgic exercise. It is not even primarily about thinking of the past. It is bringing the most meaningful essence of events that first happened in the past into the present and making them present now. The theological term for this is anamnesis (‘do this in remembrance of me’). In medical vocabulary the word refers to a patient’s complete and accurate recall of his condition. Spiritually it means recapitulating our past into the present.

There is no greater fear than the fear of forgetting. In dementia, the intimate spouse of the person suffering from this dying of the brain in the one they have loved for a lifetime, watches their loved one progressively fade from reality and withdraw. A very deep act of love is necessary to stay re-membered to someone who is apparently losing even their memory of you as they become dis-membered. Perfect love alone can cast out this fear.To deal with the inevitable fading of memory – which begins as soon as memory begins to function – we need to understand the present as more than the time shown on a digital clock.

To deal with the inevitable fading of memory – which begins as soon as memory begins to function – we need to understand the present as more than the time shown on a digital clock.Easter means the experience of presence, the continuum of real presence in which we are mutually, reciprocally, present to one another and at the deepest level with God. As Jesus was present to the Father and the Father to him, he became present to us by drawing humanity into the most intimate presence of God to Himself which we try to describe as the Trinity.  In this ever-present presence, past and future meet. The fear of forgetting, of death itself, fades. The experience of life in the boundless fullness which, as children, we were able to enjoy on occasion, returns in full force.

Easter means the experience of presence, the continuum of real presence in which we are mutually, reciprocally, present to one another and at the deepest level with God. As Jesus was present to the Father and the Father to him, he became present to us by drawing humanity into the most intimate presence of God to Himself which we try to describe as the Trinity.  In this ever-present presence, past and future meet. The fear of forgetting, of death itself, fades. The experience of life in the boundless fullness which, as children, we were able to enjoy on occasion, returns in full force.


Before Easter this year we let go of Eileen Byrne (photo), a beloved member and teacher in our UK and global community. I first met her when I was a member of the lay community at the first Christian Meditation centre in London. She was an important link with the foundation of the Montreal community and later became Director of the Centre in London. She was quintessentially English but also a citizen of the world and filled with insatiable artistic and cultural curiosity. When we were in Montreal she once drove me, still a monk in training, up to the country and a very active diocesan youth camp which I rather dreaded going to. As she drove away she shouted back to me in a loud voice: ‘Laurence, remember you are a contemplative!’ Eileen, I try…

May she rest in the great peace and may all whose paths she smoothed towards a contemplative knowledge of the risen Jesus thank God for the gift she has been to us all.

Happy Easter!

With much love

Laurence Freeman OSB