We have heard John Man and Laurence Freeman stress the transformative power of meditation. Indeed, when we faithfully repeat our prayer word, our mantra, soon there comes a moment when we leave the surface of mental prayer and slide into a deeper way of prayer, a profound, focused prayer of the heart; no longer do we pray with the mind, but we pray with the heart: we are no longer talking to God, but are in the presence of God in a self-forgetting way. Some people intuitively feel that this is so and are precisely for this reason attracted to meditation; they’re pulled by a longing to draw closer to God. Even in our ordinary way of prayer we can spontaneously reach that deeper level. That is ‘pure’ prayer as the Early Christians called it – the essence of prayer. T.S.Eliot points out the difference beautifully.
You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity or carry report.
You are here to kneel, where prayer has been valid.
And prayer is more than an order of words, the conscious occupation
of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.
This ‘pure’ prayer is very potent. We have forgotten in our scientific age how powerful prayer can be. There is no way you can seriously meditate, pray with all your heart, and not be gradually changed. The essence of this way of prayer is attention and in its train follows awareness. And that awareness is the key that leads to change. The degree of change of course depends on the level of your commitment to this important discipline, but change you will! But we are not too sure that we like the idea of that though. Why do I have to change? Surely, I am alright as I am. The ‘ego’, the surface aspect of our being, our conscious centre, is our survival expert and therefore does not like change, which would involve changing its survival tactics; after all it has spent the whole of our childhood building itself up to keep us secure and safe. The ‘ego’ sees going into the silence of deep prayer as threatening to its own existence, as we leave its sphere of influence – we are after all leaving words and images behind that have shaped our ego. Its defensive mechanism is instilling in us fear of change, fear of the unknown. It even will make us think that change it not possible, by convincing us that our present attitude or opinion is right.
Yet in this uncertain life the only thing we can depend on is that everything does change on the surface: “we cannot step in the same river twice.” said Heraclites, the Greek philosopher. He said this already in the 5th century BCE. We know from personal experience that our bodies change over time, whether we like it or not. An interesting article in the Scientific American described how open to change our brain is. They did an experiment which showed how the brain of each person engaged in an intent conversation is changed. Another experiment proved that when people sit and meditate in a group, although their brain wave patterns are quite different at the start, after ten minutes or so they start to resemble one another, calm waves dominating. A scientific proof of how we support one another in a meditation group!
If we are changed by interaction with others, how much more will we be changed in the silence of meditation, when we enter the sphere of influence of our ‘true self in Christ’. It is this communion in love in the depth of our being that affects and changes our personality on the surface in a profound way. All we need to do is pay attention to our word, not afraid, but open to change, open to love, allowing the Spirit of the risen Christ to do its work of transformation.