John Cassian, the 5th century master of the spiritual life, advises us to say the mantra, continuously revolving it in the heart, ‘in prosperity and adversity’.
The global economy illustrates the often dramatic ups and down of life. Boom periods where expectations and greed run amok lead to bust. Then times of austerity follow and, as always, inflict most hardship on the most vulnerable members of society.
Personal careers and fortunes can also ride high and then be smattered over the newspapers in a moment. Our moods and physical health have their cycles, too, of prosperity and adversity.
It is hard not to grab at the prosperous times and fool ourselves into thinking that we have made it for good and that all will always be well. Fantasy – escapism - is the great enemy of moderation. The downturns in life or fortune can also mire us in despair and isolation. Yet we fear moderation because it seems tepid and boring; and we want to feel life as something thrilling and adventurous. If we don’t have the courage to live it this way ourselves, we do it vicariously through films and stories.
Actually the middle way is a knife-edge, a high-wire balancing act. It takes many stumbles and falls from great heights to learn how to walk it well. Moderation is the way and in the deepest sense the goal. The centre of reality exerts the force that holds us in balance as we walk across the ravine of life. When we relapse into thinking that it is achieved by our own willpower or cleverness, it won’t be long before we have another fall.
Personal, interior balance and sharpness of mind is what Cassian is talking about in his asceticism of the mantra. That is where the universal centre is connected with: in our own personal centre.
All prayer that is not an indulgence of the rollercoaster of fortune is the prayer of the heart. The more personally balanced, deeply-centred people in the world there are, the greater the level of justice in all institutions. The more the gulf between rich and poor narrows, the closer we all come to reality.
Soon we will be contemplating the Cross with particular intensity. What does it say to us of balance, rootedness and compassion? What does John Main mean when he says that every time we meditate we enter into the dying and rising of Jesus?
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