Sunday 11 May 2014

Christian Meditation- Part Four

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

The light of thy countenance O Lord, is signed upon us: thou hast given gladness in my heart.
Psalms 4:7

In Parts 1-3 we looked at the verse from the Book of Wisdom (conventionally ascribed to Solomon) as a practical guide to meditation. Now we have arrived at the joy and gladness which flows from conversation with Wisdom (personified as female by Solomon)

Joy is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit and should be an experience of any Christian who lives by faith whether they meditate or not. Moreover, since faith is a permanent condition, joy should never be absent from the heart of a Christian. That being so then this joy must be something which can co-exist with suffering and depression since many Christians experience these, indeed suffering is unavoidable in life. So, how can one be joyful and anguished at the same time?

As with most things in Christianity the key to the puzzle is love. Faith is not simply a  'head thing,' the intellectual assent to the propositions of the Nicene Creed, it is a relationship of love between a believer and her God. A life of faith, then, is a life of love. When a child breaks his leg her mother suffers agony and pain right along with him because she loves him. The love causes the pain but also exists as a permanent unbreakable foundation to their relationship. Joy has come into her life at a deep level with her child and does not depart so long as the child lives and has not rejected her whatever traumas and disasters occur along the way. So it is with faith, love and joy. Whatever occurs along the way in a Christian's journey so long as they have faith then they have a confidence that underlying everything  else that happens the love of God is present to them and they are present to Him. This confidence is joy.

It can also be characterised as gladness since along with faith and love there is always hope. Whatever situation a Christian finds themselves in or see's their loved ones facing they have a sure and certain hope that either in time or in eternity God will display His infinite kindness, gentleness and mercy. For the Christian there is no tunnel which does not have a light at the end of it. It is important to emphasise that though this joy and gladness are always present so long as one has faith we are not always aware of it consciously. If we have twenty levels there may be times when it is absent, or appears to be, from nineteen of them. It is no sin to be depressed or to be stressed or afraid. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus went through all these emotions and with good reason. Likewise Mary at the foot of the Cross stands as a model showing us one in whom there was both an agony beyond words to describe combined with a serene faith that the promises of God would be fulfilled in and through her Son. The ladder that links us to heaven may sometimes have frayed to be the merest of threads but so long as it, that is to say we, do not break then we are linked to heaven at all times and all places and so at some level we will be in a condition of joy and gladness.

So much for the life of faith, what of meditation? Much Christian writing on this subject contrasts the abject state of the benighted sinner with the ecstatic experiences of union with God which meditation leads us towards. It depicts what we are fleeing from and what or whom we are travelling towards. My aim is a more modest one. Peak experiences are by their very nature rare events, a normal period of meditation does not include being raised up to the third heaven or having a vision of angels. Moreover, if our aim is ecstasy then we could easily be tempted to practice meditation in order to enjoy spiritual experiences rather than doing so for no other reason than to express our love for and to God through Jesus Christ. I wish here to talk about the hodden grey of daily meditation year in and year out not the gorgeous technicolour butterfly wings of the days when we are able to fly freely in the light of God's Sun.

Most times a period of meditation is like a kiss from a spouse before we go to work, a telephone call from a child who lives a hundred miles away, a Christmas card from our best friend. The conversation we have with Wisdom is seldom about the complex problems of life or the great mysteries of heaven. It is the feather light touch of a presence which at once reminds us of our shared past, holds a promise for the shared future and gives us in the moment in which we are, the only point of time about which we can be certain, a contact with that which we above all other things adore being in contact with be it never so brief or never so faint. Joy and gladness flows inevitably from such a conversation. It is present with us as we converse, and we carry it with us for the rest of the day not merely as a memory of joy but as actual joy itself.

In Part Three I talked about the Dark Night of the Soul where Wisdom chooses to make her presence within our heart-house take the form of apparent absence. Is it possible to say that joy and gladness flow from this conversation where the only words heard are "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" Well, the object of meditation is neither to experience the hodden grey nor the technicolour flight of the alone to the Alone. The object is to make ourselves present to God and say 'behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to your word' and then wait. So long as we are not waiting for 'experiences' or 'ecstasies' but simply for Him and simply because we love Him then however dreary the desert, however arid the months and the years of waiting may be then every moment spent sitting and waiting is a moment where we spend ourselves for love alone. I have some experience of those who sit by the bedside of a dying loved one. It is a great torment to them to do this, and it is a service for which they receive no earthly reward. Yet they would not give it up for worlds and it is a service the gladly and freely give. If the only way to express your love is to hold the hand of the one you love while they die then that is what you will do. In times to come it will be a joyful and glad memory to you that you have known this person and done this thing. In the Dark Night you hold the hand of one who is as if dead but is, in truth, alive and wild horses could not prevent you from doing this, because you love Him so much.

In Part Five I hope to look at Mary and Christian Meditation.

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  1. I think you make a good case for the inevitable link between suffering and love (and this is what sent me skittering off to rewatch that RSA film on empathy and mirror neurones - which also suggests that it's the other way round as well, and that seeing a fox or a badger being hunted is what causes you to love it: Depression's slightly different - in a bad case you might get a good mother who found it difficult to feel anything much at all when their child broke their leg. Katherine Welby's written interestingly about this - sounds like the joy really does go, but that she then relied more on her faith.

  2. PS I like the picture, where did you half inch that from?

    1. Thank you Rosalyn, the picture is 'Ruth Gleaning' by James Tissot. Ruth was an ancestor of both Solomon and Jesus.

  3. Meditation is a practice in which an individual trains the mind or induces a mode of consciousness, either to realize some benefit or as an end in itself....!!

    Meditation San Francisco

    1. Well, the word 'meditation' was widely used in the West to refer to a particular type of Christian practice. A somewhat similar practice was observed in the East during the Imperial era, dhyana, and so by analogy was given the same name. The two different practices are now saddled with the same name although they are radically different in many ways. In Part One of the series I touched on what I meant by the word, ie the traditional Christian sense of it, and I hope to return to this in Part Five 'Mary and Christian Meditation'