Sunday 4 May 2014

Christian Meditation- Part Three

When I go into my house, I shall repose myself with her: for her conversation hath no bitterness, nor her company any tediousness, but joy and gladness.
Book of Wisdom 8:16

I also have had empty months, and have numbered to myself wearisome nights. If I lie down to sleep, I shall say: When shall arise? and again I shall look for the evening, and shall be filled with sorrows even till darkness.
Job 7

In Part One and Part Two we looked at going into our heart-house, reposing with Wisdom and entering into conversation with her. Here we look at the two things specifically excluded from the conversation, bitterness and tediousness. Why is it important to look at what is absent? Well, in a sense, these two things are unknown to Wisdom since she has no experience of them herself. They are, however, known to and by us. Since it is a conversation and not a monologue we must leave these things behind  if we would converse with her. That is, meditation is a process which changes us. Wisdom does not come to resemble us we come to resemble her. Therefore the roots of bitterness and tediousness within ourselves must be removed or at least rendered harmless if we would grow close to this most welcome of guests in our heart.

It seems to me that the two principle sources of bitterness are sin and death. It is no coincidence that the further the West has distanced itself from Christianity the more it has repudiated the notion of personal sin and sought to put death out of sight and mind as much as possible. It might, in polite circles, be borderline acceptable to suggest that we experience bitterness because others have sinned against us but not because we ourselves have sinned. The reverse, however, is true. The sins of other people may cause us to suffer, to suffer terribly, but suffering is not bitterness. If the experience of suffering alone caused bitterness then all sufferers would be bitter but not all are. Bitterness is a fruit of sin Thy ways, and thy devices have brought these things upon thee: this is thy wickedness, because it is bitter, because it hath touched thy heart. (Jeremiah 4)  

In the UK at least it has always struck me as a complete waste of time for street evangelists to shout out invitations to passers by to repent of their sins. Mostly because these passers by for the most part only have a vague idea of what it is they are being invited to repent of. We need to understand what this thing is before we can escape from its grasp. Christianity holds that the purpose of our individual existence is to love. Love is not a solitary pursuit, it needs to have an object. Nor is it an abstract notion, it requires to be expressed. We are called upon to love God with all our strength and to love our neighbour as ourself, these are our objects. Love as an active force in the world takes the form of service and self sacrifice, that is its expression. Sin consists of a radical refusal to feel that love or to express it. It is a form of selfishness that sees self-gratification as the primary motivation for any action. As an aside I should say that atheism is not necessarily a sin as such. If one seeks for God honestly and sincerely but cannot discern Him that is not a refusal of love it is a search for it. If, however, atheism comes from a refusal to search born out of a fear of what might be found then it is a sin.

It is a curious thing that the more one dedicates one's life to self-gratification the more bitter and alienated one is likely to become. This is because we are designed better than that and we are acting contrary to our design specifications whenever we sin. Those things which we gratify are our bodies or our emotional whims. They are only parts of ourselves. Yet to be happy we must satisfy the whole of ourselves, mind and body, spirit and soul, and only a life lived in conformity to our true nature can achieve this. It is also important to remember that why we do what we do is as important as what we do. It is common enough for people who live lives of service to feel at least as bitter as those who are self indulgent (hence the Daily Mail) but that is because they resent serving. They do what they do for any number of reasons but not primarily out of a freely given love which neither asks for nor desires anything in return.

What has this to do with meditation? Wisdom whom you encounter is a servant, her service is love. To understand her you too must be a servant. In meditation you bring the whole of yourself, you cannot pose as a loving servant for twenty minutes a day and learn the secrets of Wisdom as if she were fooled by your pose. The further you are from sin the closer you are to God because the more you resemble Him. And the more you resemble Him the more intimately you can be joined with Him.

Another potent source of bitterness is death. Considered as a finality death robs us of those we love and brings to an end all our own hopes and dreams. It gives a futility to all that we do. All things must pass away so time spent doing anything other than eating, drinking and making merry is time wasted. Why sow for another to reap? Why build for another to tear down? Actually, death as such need not have such an impact. Even many people who have little or no belief in an afterlife do not find it a bitter thought that they will die. They invest their hopes for the future in their children or their community or their country or an ideal society which they devote their lives to creating. That is, they serve, out of love, and so rob death of its bitterness. It is only sin which gives death its sting. If self-gratification is everything then death is the end of everything and constitutes nothing but loss. In meditation it is no bad thing to remember that our time is limited and that we would do well to make the most of it. It is an introducing of bitterness into a conversation where it has no part if we seek Wisdom because we wish to avoid death.

The chances are that if you have read my blog thus far then you already have a pretty good idea of what tediousness is. There goes ten minutes of your life that you'll never get back again. And that is the essence of it. Tediousness is a function of time. Any experience unduly prolonged becomes tedious. This applies to meditation considered as an exercise. It does not apply to our dialogue with Wisdom because this is a leaving behind of time and an entering into eternity where Wisdom dwells. In Part Two I referred, by way of a couple of hobbits, to 'living on the heights'. These are the heights which I had in mind. The period of time you set aside for meditation may be twenty or forty or sixty minutes or whatever. Some of that will be 'warming up' and some will be 'warming down', perhaps all of it will be, but at some point the grace of God may reach out and draw you into a dialogue with Himself. That may be for only a moment or maybe for much longer but time ceases to be relevant during that experience because you have left it behind, you have no consciousness of it and little awareness of much else either. There is no tediousness in eternity.

There is a common experience in Christian meditation called the "Dark Night of the Soul." Tediousness is the common lot of our species but the meditator can divide her experience of it into "before the divine encounter" and "after the divine encounter" phases. That before needs little describing, we all know what it is. That after is indescribably dreary and dark and dry. It feels like a desert without end. There can be days, or weeks or years when we enter into our heart-home and repose ourselves and wait for our hidden guest, Wisdom, to appear and she chooses to make absence her mode of being with us. It would seem that our last state is worse than our first. But it is not so. Our encounters have taught us to know Him better and to love Him more, we are assured of His love for us, we have solid memories of all that we have experienced with Him. Deprivation of the light touch of His presence in the form of Wisdom is a period in which we realise that all that we desire is Him and comes from Him alone. Our encounters were not the result of our skill in the techniques of meditation or a reward for our virtues. They were pure gift, wholly unearned by us. The Dark Night is the season where our root of bitterness is burnt out tediously to prepare us for that which Wisdom will give us in her own time, and that unreservedly. In the meantime all we can do is wait and all we have to sustain us are faith, hope and love.

In Part Four I hope to look at joy and gladness.

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