[Summary: a Buddhist’s thoughts on the Christian Meditation seminar with Father Lawrence Freeman, in Bangkok 2008]
What is Christian Meditation?
The all important aim in Christian Meditation is to allow God’s mysterious presence within us to become more and more not only a reality, but the reality which gives meaning, shape and purpose to everything we do, to everything we are..
On Thursday 24th April 2008 there was a special day organized by the Christian meditators in Thailand with Father Lawrence Freeman – a Benedictine monk at the forefront of the revival of Christian meditation around the world. Several Little Bangkok Sangha faces were there among the respectable 40+ audience.
Father Lawrence gave two talks, both with a very informal approach, leaning casually against the desk at the front of the room, and talking poignantly across a range of topics relating to the meditation community, and the practice itself. Practically all he said could have come from a Dhamma speaker: relating as it did to community building and dedication within the group, the benefits of meditation both internally and externally, and finally the technicalities of practice itself – of making the mind quiet. The lone orange clad Buddhist monk was not only spared a theological beration, but felt quite at home both with the fellow seekers, and with the topics discussed.
Meditation in Christianity goes back a long way, and has been beautifully expressed by luminaries such as St Teresa d’Avila and in seminal works like the unsurpassable Cloud of Unknowing. Interestingly the speaker touched on a number of references that go right the way back to the Gospels, including such distinctions as the difference between meditation and contemplation (the former is more of a method and practice, the latter a resulting state of quiet). Despite these references, and the plentiful contemplative traditions that have continued in Christianity in all ages, he did speak continuously in terms of a ‘revival’ of the Christian meditative tradition, acknowledging that it was not a common concept. Meditation had probably never been in the common Christian experience in the way that it has been in Indian religions, and that is something that the WCCM organization is addressing. All of which is very refreshing. Buddhists sometimes think of meditation as being their own special province, but there needs to be a way in which Christians can relate to a meditative practice within the terminology and theology of Christianity, without the intrusion of foreign dogma. And Father Lawrence spoke clearly and insightfully on the nature of meditation itself, in terms that should feel familiar to any meditator from any tradition.
This gave way when it came to the Mass. Now one jumps from close examination of the nature of the mind, to theological concepts such as transubstantiation, or ‘Jesus died for our sins‘, (the lesson on that score comes from Paul, who argued the Son of God can do nothing morally wrong, and so did not die for his own sins. Therefore he died for our sins), or God is the Creator of Heaven and Earth. The gulf between these two extremes between meditation and theology – both of which it must be admitted, step outside the realm of logic and rationality – is somewhat vast, and points to the reason why we need meditation within the constructs of each religion.
Similarly the rituals, the statements and audience responses – were very alien to the sheepish figure beneath the Saffron Robe who had never been to a Catholic Mass before. But really, to an alien looking on any of our world religions and their rituals, would any seem more or less strange? One answer. Yellow Buckets! The ornate and dignified Christian robes of ceremony are another oddity when looking through the eyes of the alien. Why do human beings put so much stock in the style of clothing for different occasions? Wearing black to funerals, white if you are a bride, collars for priests and shoulder pads for army Generals. Some restaurants won’t let you in without a tie – a silly string around the neck in the alien’s eyes. Joking afterwards it was pointed out that the bright orange Buddhist robes at least carry a safety benefit. They are easy to spot on the road at night.