The sea offers the seafarer two delights: the delight of leaving land, launching out towards an ever-receding horizon, riding the waves over the mysterious and dangerous depths. And the delight of homecoming, entering the safe harbour, treading familiar ground and returning to the security of community after the solitude of the sea.
Each of these delights is full of truth about ourselves and the human journey. We learn through delight. Joy is the great teacher for which suffering is a preparation, an excavation of our capacity for being.
Much of life, from the beating of the heart to our cycle of sleep and rising is repetitive. Perhaps that is why humans become creative and restless, to escape from natural rhythms that seem to entrap us. However, unlike frogs or mushrooms we are aware of the repetitive nature of life and can name it. That awareness itself is our escape beyond the karmic cycle into a different kind of existence characterised by limitless freedom.
There was a rich man who used to dress in purple and fine linen and feast magnificently every day. And at his gate there lay a poor man called Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to fill himself with the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table. Dogs even came and licked his sores. Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried.
Jesus liked to teach by parables no doubt because they are like a passkey that lets you into any room. We read them and make sense of them to the degree that we can let them read us and make sense of our own experience.
The greatest among you must be your servant. Anyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and anyone who humbles himself will be exalted.
What a ridiculous and unworkable ideal. How could any system of government or organisation really operate on this principle?
Of course, everyone entrusted with power and authority claims to be serving the people. We all pretend to be more humble than we actually are. But in all relationships there are projections, role-playing and the games that people play with or against each other. In most games, too, people like to win.
Give, and there will be gifts for you: a full measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be poured into your lap; because the amount you measure out is the amount you will be given back.
John Main loved this image and would read it with the kind of exuberance and delight that the truly contemplative person feels about life even with all its sufferings and losses.
Someone who caught this wisdom and breathed it deeply into her own life was Rosie Lovat, the first oblate of our community, who died peacefully at home in London on Saturday night at the age of 93.
God put Abraham to the test. ‘Abraham, Abraham’ he called. ‘Here I am’ he replied. ‘Take your son,’ God said ‘your only child Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him as a burnt offering, on a mountain I will point out to you.’ (Genesis 22:1)
Not a nice story we feel. A God we would prefer to throw on the rubbish heap of anthropological waste. Yet the land of Moriah is a reality in the deeper, inner realms of our being. It is where, as the mystics of all traditions, remind us, we have to surrender (‘sacrifice’) everything to which we are attached. And what human being is not attached to what they love?
'You must therefore be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect.'
With such a challenge how did Christianity ever dwindle, as it often does, to being a mere morality or another ideology competing for world domination or even worse, a refuge for those fearful of the revolution of the spirit?
It is not just that ‘perfection’ is off-putting. In context the word refers to God’s boundless, non-judgmental love that is tested in human affairs by our capacity to love those who do us harm or reject us.
Come to terms with your opponent in good time ( Mt 5:25)
Time is the problem but it also holds the solution. The question is always what is ‘good time’ and how long does it take?
Perhaps the ambiguous nature of time is why it is so easy for us to postpone the necessary and deny the inevitable. We think there will always be more time to do what we have to do. Then we realise at the last moment, when it is too late because time is running out, that we can no longer reconcile with our opponents
If we receive this encouragement at the magical stage of our development we will either become very disappointed very quickly; or we will be forced into metaphysical gymnastics that mess up our minds.
Even the rational mind cannot make much sense of this affirmation that our spiritual practice is worthwhile. To ask.. but for what? And how often? What are we supposed to offer in return? A thousand rosaries, giving up drink for Lent? To the contemplative mind, however, where paradox and subtlety are more at home these words of Jesus make perfect sense.
Relaxation and calmness is a by-product of good work. Obviously if you try hard to relax the effort to do so will only create more tension. Give meditation all you’ve got but don’t try too hard. Meditation is good work and leads to a kind of rest that is not passive and dopey but clear, alert and dynamic. It is called peace.