Thus declares Prospero in The Tempest, speaking of the
monster Caliban whom earlier he had called ‘a demi-devil’.
The story of St. Francis taming the wild wolf of Gubbio is symbolic of the need we each have to tame our inner wolf, that aspect which Jung refers to as our ‘shadow’. All too easily we project our darker side – meanness, jealousy, lust, anger – onto others and fail to see that it lies within us.
A commonly recurring image in dreams is that of a
house in which unsuspected rooms are discovered, or dry rot is found. In such
dreams, as also in reality, a person may have within them many locked rooms
which have never been entered, where the shutters remain unopened and no light
penetrates. It is not surprising, therefore, that we speak of ‘skeletons in
Until we have learned to open up all our rooms,
whether through meditation or some form of therapy, we cannot expect to grow
spiritually. It is like a garden. Until the ground is cleared of weeds, bright new
shoots cannot break through.
Among some of the most haunting stories in the
Gospels is Jesus’ cry to his sleeping friends, knowing he is about to be arrested,
tortured and executed: ‘Could you not watch with me one hour!’
I am thinking of those who are dying and how few
people know how to respond. Some talk in very loud voices as though the dying
person is deaf. Some talk entirely about themselves, or make mundane remarks.
All that is needed is that we should be totally present to that person, perhaps
holding their hand, silently keeping watch, and responding if the dying person
chooses to talk. Those who practise meditation will know best how to sit
silently for an hour, holding that person closely in love.
It is a sad comment on our deeply divided country that some half a million children arrive at school without breakfast, and so are unable to concentrate because they are undernourished. The gap between rich and poor seems to grow ever deeper and our politicians are not facing up to it. Charities and food banks try to fill the gap. One such is the Magic Breakfast charity which seeks to provide children from disadvantaged backgrounds with at least one solid meal a day.
The sharing of food is one of the most important as well as practical rituals we have, even if it is only inviting someone in to have a cup of tea, or a bowl of soup. It is often over such a simple exchange, that we share also the anxieties and burdens of others, especially in our society today when there is less and less a sense of community. The latest statistics show that loneliness is not only the problem of older people: it is increasing among the younger generation too. Jesus’s command was, ‘Feed my sheep’ and the fact remains that sharing a simple meal with others is one of the most positive things we can do.
A note from James:
In my last blog, I quoted a verse by Elizabeth Mills. She has now produced a small book entitled, ‘The Beauty of Stillness‘ which offers simple reflections, one for each day. This book is endorsed by Laurence Freeman OSB, Director of the World Community for Christian Meditation Movement. Copies are £2.50 plus postage and you can order yours by contacting Elizabeth: email@example.com
Church prayers usually end with the phrase, ‘Through
Jesus Christ Our Lord’, and there is a sense in which the man Jesus is like a
window through which we see beyond to that ultimate reality – the force, the
energy, that holds the entire universe together. In the same way, each of us,
whether we are Buddhist, Christian or Muslim can be like windows reflecting
something that lies beyond. But we need to keep our windows clean! One way is
through the practice of meditation. As Elizabeth Mills writes in her book In The Stillness:
We need to be open
For the Divine
To enter in
Not too full of self
That there is no room
By being humble
And seeking to live in Simplicity
Asking for Love to flow in
And make its Home
In the centre of our hearts.
In other words we need to learn how to step aside to
let the light through!
As we grow older it is important to be open to change, and when we reach
our seventies onwards it is important to learn how to let go. It may be letting
go of too many possessions, or too busy a social life. As we grow older it
becomes ever more important to listen to the silence within. From a busy
outgoing life we realise our task now is to cultivate our own garden, to
practise silence, and just being, not having to do anything. In this way we become a still centre to which,
perhaps, others are drawn and we find ourselves listening to their needs. The
wisdom of old age is something that our society needs to rediscover.
At the end of the play, Hamlet’s last words are ‘The
rest is silence.’ Words can convey so much, but not everyone has the ability to
articulate their feelings. As Robert Frost once said, ‘If I write a poem about
heart-ache or heart-break, and a reader says, “That is exactly what I feel but
I couldn’t have put it into words,” then I know I have achieved what I set out
to do.’ Again to quote Shakespeare: ‘I were but little happy if I could say how
much.’ Which is why silence between close friends is such a gift, just as
silence is at the heart of the spiritual journey.
The word ‘God’ can be a stumbling block, partly
because of the anthropomorphic image, cultivated over the centuries, of an aged
man with a long white beard. The Arabic word ‘Abba’, which Jesus used, means
both parents, mother and father, as well as the divine source of all being.
Yet, even to refer to God as father and mother is to remain stuck in
anthropomorphic imagery. Meister Eckhart wrote, ‘God is no thing.’ For myself,
Hamlet’s use of the word Divinity (i.e. a force, an energy) is helpful, as when
he says, ‘There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, rough hew them how we will.’
And the image that comes closest for me is St. Paul’s reference to God as ‘an
ocean of Love … in which we live and move and have our being’.
Gustav Mahler wrote that ‘Tradition is the handing
on of the flame, not the worship of ashes’. It is all too easy for spiritual
teachings to become enshrined as part of an organisation with rules and
regulations. It is often forgotten that Jesus said, ‘I have come to bring fire
to earth and what will I but that it be spread!’ The simple practice of
meditation is one important way in which we can keep that flame alive within
‘Contradictions have always existed in the soul of man,’ wrote the Cistercian monk Thomas Merton. It is only when we prefer analysis to silence, he says, that they become constant and insoluble problems. We are not meant to resolve all our contradictions but to live with them and rise above them. As the Orthodox nun Mother Maria used to say, ‘Learn to carry conflicts, don’t force solutions.’ And so, patiently, through the practice of meditation, we learn.