Jack Murta grew up on a family farm, near a village of 50 people in Manitoba, Canada, attended a small rural school, received a University Diploma in Agriculture, spent 16 years in the business community, and then served 18 years as an elected member of the Canadian Parliament, including two Cabinet Minister Posts.
Today at the age of 70 he has been leading an even busier and active life as interim Director of The Mission in Ottawa, a faith based ministry meeting the needs of the homeless, hungry and poor. As if this isn’t enough Jack is a family man with a wife Lyn, three children, and has run in over 40 marathon races in such locations as Ottawa, Boston, New York, London (UK), Chicago and Washington.
To top it all off he is actively engaged in inter-faith dialogue, organizing a national Prayer breakfast yearly, teaches Christian Meditation, and leads two of the 46 Christian Meditation groups in the Ottawa area.
The question is what makes Jack run? In a recent interview he revealed the answer in crystal clear terms. Says Jack: “a few years ago I seriously questioned how I could make a greater commitment to Jesus, bearing in mind my family and work responsibilities. This led to an inner conversion which eventually led me to join the Catholic Church, and then through the reading of Henri Nouwen and Thomas Merton I found an attraction and enthusiasm for the contemplative life.”
The additional teaching and practice of Christian Meditation, he says: “has been a tremendous gift, and I have found a loving and warm acceptance and friendship in the weekly groups, retreats and workshops. This in turn has led me to the realization that one can share the gift of silence and stillness with followers of non-Christian faiths and that in the mutual practice of meditation we
enrich each other”.
Having been on the Board of Directors of the Ottawa Mission for a number of years, Jack has had unique opportunity to guide a faith based institution that offers services and programs to meet the ever changing needs of the homeless in Ottawa. Jack points out that currently The Mission provides food, clothing, shelter, skilled training, as well as faith and hope for the homeless in need. Hot meals are provided for an average of 1300 people a day and sleeping facilities for 275 people at night. 750 volunteers assist The Mission in its programs.
As one might guess Jack is not a hands-off executive at The Mission. According to observers he becomes personally engaged with the homeless, and leads a weekly group on meditation along with other specialists who offer Yoga and addiction therapy. Jack says: “to help control anxiety and frustration amongst the homeless, I lead a meditation group each Friday, because it is useful for a homeless person to calm their body, mind and spirit”.
He also spends time each week serving meals and this past Christmas brought his family to help the chefs with a post Christmas meal. The Mission has won great respect in Ottawa for its spirit of compassion and spirituality which includes an inter-denominational religious service each day at 11.00 am, a hospice for the seriously ill, an educational program, a dental clinic and ongoing support for drug and alcohol addiction.
When questioned about the relationship between prayer and action being both sides of the same coin”, Jack is quite adamant about the spiritual basis of his activity on behalf of the poor.
Says Jack: “John Main continually reminds us in his talks that the practice of Christian Meditation draws us into reality itself, not only ultimate reality but the reality of everyday life around us. My own observation is that the practice itself becomes a reservoir of spiritual vitality that pours itself out in the most varied kinds of social action. I feel that what we do with our lives outwardly, how well we care for others, is as much a part of meditation as what we do in turning inward to the stillness.
He continues: “Meister Eckhart, the great 13th century Dominican priest, once said that once meditators find silence and stillness in the practice of meditation, they must not ignore worldly affairs and responsibilities. He reminds us that the world around us is real and also has its rights. Says Eckhart: “God is present to us everywhere, both in and out of meditation.” A good point to ponder. Like the prophets of old, the person who meditates has an “inner eye” awakened to suffering and injustice in the world and suddenly realizes they cannot refuse the call to action”
St Paul says “we are all running in a race to win”. Jack Murta, the marathoner, is indeed running and running hard.