How do we experience the Risen Christ?
Holy Saturday, 16th April 2017
My dear spiritual family,
Christ is risen. Alleluia. A very Happy Easter to you all!
“How do we experience the Risen Christ”?
There can be as many answers to this question as there are individual Christians. Some might highlight the importance of community and I would certainly expect that all of us might emphasize the Eucharist, but today I wish to address the importance of meditation as an essential way to commune with and recognise the Risen Christ.
Years ago I remember reading in the Benedictine Yearbook an obituary of a Cistercian monk, who was asked by a fellow monk shortly before his death if, in hindsight, he would have done anything differently in relation to his vocation. He replied simply that he would have “talked to God less and listened to him more”. For me this was a very formative lesson, but I regret to say one I have not always remembered over the years. However, this Lent I made a concerted effort, responding more to necessity than inspiration I have to say, to schedule in two periods of meditation each day - twenty minutes to half an hour - morning and evening. It would be wonderful to have time for both the full Divine Office and meditation, but regrettably those of us living “in the world” rarely have this luxury, so we have to prioritise, which in my case has resulted in a shorter office, at least for the time being. Sometimes, undoubtedly it will be right to prioritise the Office but as other times meditation appears to be the way the Spirit leads us. The important thing is that we bring our whole self with one heart and mind to our prayer time to be fed in whichever way the Lord sees fit. In our case as Benedictine Adorers, the meditation time combines perfectly with our Eucharistic Adoration, so we can achieve two objectives at the same time.
As I am sure you are aware, there are quite a few different approaches to meditation. Those that will yield the greatest results in terms of general well being, inner peace and a sense of union with God in Christ, as well as being particularly suited to our troubled times, are the traditions of contemplative prayer taught by the late Dom John Main OSB and Fr Thomas Keating OCSO. I personally favour Dom John Main’s simple mantra meditation which is easy to learn and quickly becomes an essential part of one’s day.
One could argue that this kind of contemplative prayer is as central to monastic practice as the Divine Office, for during the office - particularly if recited slowly and reflectively on one’s own - we feed on the Word, whilst contemplation facilitates the digestion of that same Word until being fully digested the Word becomes perfect silence. It is a journey from an expressible Knowledge to a Wisdom that is normally beyond adequate expression.
Another point I wish to make is that meditation/contemplation is not only an essential part of monastic spirituality, it also holds an important place in our own Liberal Catholic tradition. The founders of the Liberal Catholic Church, our predecessors in the Apostolic Succession, were much enamoured by the spiritual practices of the East, which in turn led them back to the contemplative tradition in the Western church, and among them meditation was often a preferred daily practice. Blessed James Wedgwood wrote a useful little booklet entitled “Meditation” in which I found this beautiful section entitled “Contemplation” in which he expresses perfectly those sentiments I wish to echo today:
“To the beginner attempting the foregoing meditations, they will at first probably appear little more than intellectual exercises, more or less interesting according to the bent of his temperament and capable of arousing a certain degree of feeling. But as he perseveres in his efforts and enters more into the wonder and beauty of the great concepts he is considering, he will gradually acquire something of that personal spiritual experience which spans the gulf between the man of knowledge and the man of wisdom, and he will attain to some realisation of that inner peace and exaltation of the soul, of which St. Alphonsus de'Liguori speaks when he describes meditation as 'the blessed furnace in which souls are inflamed with Divine love'. For meditation harmonises the bodies in which we work, enabling the light of the spirit to shine down and illumine the dark recesses of our waking consciousness. It stills the turmoil of our personalities - the mind, the emotions, the restless activity of the brain - and by reasons of the synchronous vibration of the lower bodies enables the ego to influence the personality. And as the student thus grows richer in spiritual experience, he will find new phases of consciousness gradually opening up within him. Fixed in aspiration upon his ideal, he will presently become aware of the influence of that ideal raying down upon him, and as he makes one desperate effort to reach the object of his devotion, for one brief moment the floodgates of heaven itself will be opened and he will find himself made one with his idea and suffused with the glory of its realisation. These are the stages of contemplation and union. The former is the reaching upwards, when the more formal figures of the mind have been transcended, the latter is the attainment of that state of ecstasy of spirit, when the limbs of the personality have fallen away and all shadow of separateness has vanished in the perfect union of object and seeker. It were idle to attempt further description of such experiences, for are they not beyond the reach of formulated utterance? Words can but serve as signposts pointing out the way to that which is ineffably glorious, so that the pilgrim may know whither to direct his steps.”
So, this Eastertide, I urge you all to go within to meet the Risen Christ as the “Ground of your Being” as well as meeting him in the “Breaking of the Bread”. To be true to the charism of our church we need both, and I am sure you will find both of immense personal benefit.
Warm fraternal greetings and blessings to you all,
+Alistair OSBA (csr)
Abbot & Primus