Today the newspaper had a list of things people identified as making them happy. Surprisingly, in our oft maligned materialistic society these were very simple to the point of being clichéd. ‘Sleeping in a freshly made bed’ was the first, followed by ‘feeling the sun on your face’ and ‘the smell of newly mown grass.’ Despite our acquisitive mentality where status is so often measured by the expense and number of material possessions we own, it is interesting that the response to a basic question ‘what makes you happy?’ is answered so simply, and in a sensual rather than self centred grasping way. Smell, touch,sight, sound all bring enhancement and a sense of well being which cannot be bought.
When the Holy Spirit enters the lives of the disciples at Pentecost it brings them special perception they have not known before. All their senses are affected. A wind blows around, touching their skin and tousling their hair, heat emanates from a moving flame visible on each head, while their ears are filled with the sound of new language. It is all so dramatic that it brings laughter from other observers…’they have had too much wine’
This deeply felt personal experience is not just received in the apostle’s minds, it also resounds in their body and soul. A new energy brings fresh vision to live differently and vibrantly. A sense of community is born as the believers support each other, sell their goods to help the poor and find themselves empowered to perform miracles. A simple, new joy is evident as they’ broke bread in each other’s homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people.’
The felt experience is perhaps less important than it’s outcome. These men (and I hope women too) began to lead fulfilling lives that brought change and benefit to themselves and from then on to all those with whom they came into contact. Energy, creative living, love and generosity fired their lives and touched everyone around them. This new way of being, emerged as a natural process away from self pre- occupation, towards a fresh vision of life as being most fulfilled when lived in significant relationship with others . A barrier seems to have gone down where it becomes less necessary to be self protective. Any modern notion of needing to hedge myself around with possessions in order to authenticate my identity is quite turned on it’s head. The apostles are quoted as ‘turning the world upside down’. We are invited into their new way of thinking where relationship and an open, involved stance with others is key. Our meditation group has been discussing how this involvement with others, if genuine, is never a purely philanthropic experience. As we meditate and discover a place where our own need for love, support and affirmation may be met, so those resources flow healthily out to others. The early church knew how to encourage and sustain each other.
This movement from personal experience to a creative expression of community is something we are familiar with. John Main says ‘in my own experience, meditation is the way of pure simplicity that enables us to become fully, integrally aware of the Spirit Jesus has sent into our heart; and this is the recorded experience of the mainstream of the Christian tradition from Apostolic times to our own day….the Kingdom of God begins in the human heart…to see God in the world, in other faiths, in our lonely cities and dismal suburbs, we have first to find the image of God within ourselves…meditation affirms the essential naturalness of spiritual growth.’
For all of us committed to a regular meditation practice this teaching is born out. Spending time in the mysterious presence of God, allowing the Holy Spirit room to breathe in our hearts, is to discover a creative energy that inevitably moves out from an integrated relationship within ourselves towards more loving relationships with others..into community. Our WCCM groups, retreats, conferences and gatherings of all kinds testify to this widening sense of connection as do the innovative programmes taking place throughout the U.K. and so many other countries in the world. A characteristic of our events is the natural friendship, affection and joy manifest among meditators who firstly, know the personal experience of being quiet, trusting and at ease with each other within the silence of meditation. Most of us would probably put this as a priority on our ‘what makes me happy’ list.
An initial reaction to my cancer diagnosis was to feel deeply unhappy, indeed, distraught. I will never forget sitting, like the apostles, ‘ together in one room’ within my GP’s surgery, hearing words that may as well have been in another tongue as they refused to settle in my head ‘ I am afraid you have a secondary cancer in your bones’. Like the apostles there was a physical reaction as I was filled with dread, felt paralysed, hot, cold and locked in this moment of time.The bare facts of the X Ray illuminated on a screen before me showed ominous shadows clear even to my unpracticed eye. Further words of explanation made no sense, since shock blurred my mind and tears my vision so I could no longer see or understand anything at all. My GP, usually somewhat brusque and matter of fact excused himself to go and make me a cup of tea. Returning back into ‘normal’ life from the small confines of that room was daunting, frightening as I was no longer the same, everything had changed.
There is no trite solution to such undesired transformation, it has to be handled gently, and slowly allowed to reveal what it means. Over the past two and a half years I have learned to accompany my disease, get to know it and accept that it is there. This is very hard work indeed. However, to my great amazement I find that new life emerges. It would take too long to explain the complexity of this process but it will be enlarged in a booklet on ‘Meditation and Dying’ I have written, due to be published soon.
Essentially, rather like the early Christians, I find a mysterious energy breathed into my life that gives me profound appreciation of the beauty of this world and the people within it. Illness brings vulnerability, a certain shedding of old roles but alongside that, genuine and close relationships emerge. My physical limitation means I am more likely to be at home when people phone or visit and there is a new quality of communication (akin to the experience of the apostles?) that enables an open sharing of the meaning, mystery and potential around this wonderful gift of life we have. Communication of this kind offers renewal and healing since an honest, open sharing of life brings strength, comfort and inspiration; a new way of looking at things. Mysteriously, it is in not by evading pain and difficulty but in finding a way of remaining with it, that a route to true happiness may be found.
When the apostles experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit with them in such a special way, it was not given at a time of high confidence. They had been sad, unsure, fearful and bewildered by the string of extraordinary events they had passed through. It was in this context, a time of confusion and deep uncertainty, that their lives began to change. Now nothing would ever be the same, an old familiar order had been transformed.
May we find ourselves as open to the unpredictable as they were and not be afraid of it. In our meditation we listen for the still small voice of the Spirit as it promises to quietly breathe new meaning and inspiration into this formidable mix of unpredictable joys and sorrows that form the gift of our wonderful life.
Therefore if anyone is in Christ they are a new creation. The old has passed away, behold the new has come.
2 Cor.. 5 vs 17