An excerpt from Laurence Freeman OSB, “Dearest Friends,” The World Community for Christian Meditation International Newsletter, June 18, 1999.
Deep prayer teaches us what the angel of death teaches. When the meditator meets poverty of spirit, it is like an experience of death.
Poverty means gazing steadily into an emptiness whose meaning at first eludes us. It is the painful awareness that everything we hoped or dreamed would last forever carries a hidden expiration date. Poverty means recognizing that we are not self-sufficient and that we depend upon a reality we cannot name for our very existence.
Our life is changed, threatened and made even more fragile, by that discovery. At first there is the nausea of death, the sick feeling of loss and deprivation which we undergo whenever relationships founder or expectations are disappointed or the faithful proves to be unfaithful. This feeling is followed by the grief of mourning often mixed with anger at God, at life, at the dying or the dead, or at one's own body for failing us. Coloring these feelings there can be the bitterness of guilt or shame at the fact that one is dying and implicated with the terrible, unwelcome, taboo stranger of death. All separation arouses the primal anxiety of betrayal, of being abandoned to the naked forces of nature. But as we wrestle with the terrible angel we find it is not a foe but a friend. A messenger from the God, of life not of death. As our complex reactions to the messenger unfold there are joyful moments of pure soaring in the emptiness of space that is the Spirit. Then we see the emptiness to be fullness of potency, an abundance of life coming to be, a void not to be avoided.
One sees this at times in the eyes of a very sick or dying person. In the depth of their soul they are witnessing the armies of feelings clash and retreat and clash again. Moments come when the eyes are filled with a peace and wisdom that bears a blessing to all who see them. Those you come to console, console you. Those who you thought would be the object of your compassion turn the tables on you and it is you whose burdens of living are lightened by them.
[T]here is way of being with a dying person that avoids th[e] trap [of feeling awkward and useless]. That is simply to be a companion. To be in touch with one’s own mortality. To be reminded that we too are dying. To learn from those we are serving. However withdrawn a person may become they will value companionship. To be a true and faithful companion, not withdrawing when you feel withdrawn from, is at the heart of compassion. It is a fruit of being at home with oneself. To companion another is to live out the truth that solitude is not the loneliness one first fears it is. It is the condition of simply being the person God calls us into existence to be: a person who in their deepest nature is loved and capable of returning love.
The art of human accompaniment develops in deep prayer. To meditate with another person is to find an intimacy and spiritual friendship in the silence which is inexplicable at other levels of relationship. Barriers of fear or formality tumble when the work of interior silence is shared. At moments with the dying being truly present to them depends upon overcoming one's own self-consciousness and self-centeredness. Transcending them means seeking that powerlessness in one's self which instinctively one avoids and runs away from. We may like to look at this “poverty of spirit” from a safe distance and make appointments with it for a later date. We like to read about it and hear other people describe it. But everything hinges on when we decide to cross over the checkpoint of poverty in person, from the land of illusion to the kingdom of reality. When we do so we taste the joys of the kingdom of God in this life.
After meditation: an excerpt from KABIR: Ecstatic Poems: Versions by Robert Bly (Boston: Beacon Press, 2004), p. 43.
As long as a human being worries about when he will
die, and what he has that is his, all of his works are zero.
When affection for the I-creature and what it owns is dead,
then the work of the Teacher is over.
Carla Cooper - email@example.com