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 Making space 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
First published in th 1980s, Inner Journey, Outer Journey sold out in both hardback and paperback. Now, as part of a new classics series, Redemptorist Books are publishing a brand new edition of James’ book.
The perfect companion for all those who feel drawn to contemplative prayer and meditation, but who need help and guidance going about it.
In the first of three sections, James Roose-Evans explores his own personal journey, sharing the fascinating details of his life as a leading theatre director, and drawing parallels between Christian ritual and the role of ritual in the theatre. He goes on to explain the practical aspects of meditation – such as the significance of posture and breathing, the use of the mantra, and the importance of regular practice. Finally, he provides a monthly guide, taking the reader day-by-day through suggested meditations and reflections which encourage the practice of silent, wordless prayer.
Combining practical help with imaginative insights, Inner Journey, Outer Journey will provide guidance and inspiration for all those seeking a still centre amidst the pressures of work and daily life.
“A very precious and very practical book – it deserves to be loved and revisited often.”
I recall Robert Frost saying how certain lines of great poetry have a way of clinging to one like burrs caught on a country walk. The line from a Shakespeare sonnet, ‘He that has power to hurt and will do none’, had meant much to him, he said.
Many people from my generation kept – do they still?- what were called ‘commonplace books’ in which they would jot down fragments of prose that they wanted to remember. I have kept countless small notebooks for such a purpose and opening them now I realise how certain sentences provide themes for quiet reflection and meditation. They are the kind of sentences one can take for a walk, mulling over them, letting the words sink deep. Here are a few for you to choose from:
From Lady Elwyn Jones (who wrote under the name of Pearl Binder):
‘I always travel slowly and obscurely on cargo ships and slow trains. I travel for the sake of what I see on the way.’
From Sir Isaac Newton:
‘To myself I am only a child playing on the beach, while vast oceans of truth lie undiscovered before me.’
From Jack Kornfield:
‘To meditate and pray is like throwing the doors and windows open – and you can’t plan for the breeze!’
From an unknown source:
‘To enter silence is a journey. Enlightenment is to give birth to something within one’s self, to know that we are part of a greater whole.’
I remember celebrating an early Eucharist at St Mary’s, Primrose Hill, in London, which was regularly attended by an elderly couple, Francis and Elsie Meddings. On this particular Sunday the Vicar had left me a note to say that Elsie had had a stroke, and that he wasn’t sure whether Francis would be in church, but would I say a special prayer for them?
Well, Francis was there and at the end of the service, before I disrobed, I saw him at the back of the church talking with two women. As I approached him he turned towards me as I opened my arms and came into my embrace. I simply held him. Nothing was said nor needed to be said.
And it was the same when my partner of more than half a century was dying. In the final two weeks he was unable to move or speak but we spent much time gazing into each other’s eyes. Again I felt that any words at such a time would be intrusive. We knew what each other felt and what we meant to each other. And when in the final moments the night carer said to me, ‘Pour out your heart to him’ I couldn’t for that would have seemed to me like an intrusion of my personal grief at such a solemn moment.
Words are a great gift and each person, each child, should be taught how to use them, for the difficulty in so many relationships and situations is that people don’t know how to give expression to their feelings, and this can lead to much misunderstanding. But there does also come a time when we need to go beyond words – to rest in the silence of trust.
‘Learn to carry conflicts – don’t force solutions. We are not meant to resolve all contradictions but to live with them and rise above them.’
So wrote Sister Maria, a nun in the Orthodox tradition.
Pondering these words I thought back to something Dr Franz Elkisch told me in connection with his visits, as a Jungian analyst, to the Carmelite nuns at Quidenham in Norfolk who live in a house set in parkland which was given to them by the Duke of Marlborough.
On his first visit Dr Elkisch was invited to stay for three days. Each day he spoke to the whole community, whom he got to sit in a circle.
‘There is a need,’ he said, ‘not merely to let fresh air into such communities (this was in 1969) but also to let air out, to release the charged energy that builds up in such a community, in order to make easier the possibility of personal encounter.’
He spoke to them about the need to ponder and observe what was psychologically unfolding within each of them, and not to interfere with the process. ‘If I cut my hand, thousands of cells will at once set to work to heal it. If I keep removing the bandage to see how it is forming this will hinder the process. Similarly with the psyche – we must allow it to go about its own work of healing.’
Referring to the magnificent trees in the park, he added, ‘If a tree could speak, I would ask it: “Where did you get your great beauty? How did you come to grow so tall?” And the tree would reply, “By doing nothing. One must allow things to happen.”’