Whenever I sit to meditate I make the sign of the cross, not in the name of the Trinity, but as a symbol of the integration of the opposites within myself. At the end of the meditation I make the sign of the cross: on my forehead that my thoughts may be true; on my lips that my words may be true; on my heart that the flame within may burn steadily; and finally on the area of my sexuality. This last is important and is so often left out of the spiritual journey, yet it is a very powerful energy and needs harnessing. Even when, with advanced years, there is no sexual activity or desire, nonetheless it remains psychologically an essential part of one’s being.
When I applied to be ordained as a non-stipendiary priest, I wrote on my form that, as far as I could see anything, I saw my ministry as being a bridge that would unite opposites: it would be less a matter of doing than of simply being. It was my task to be what I had always been – a catalyst.
People pass through a threshold into new territory; it is both a departure and an arrival. A threshold is not necessarily a door, rather it is a frontier which calls for decision and commitment. Do I cross or not? Each of us is a pilgrim and like all true pilgrims we are here to help each other on the journey.
At intervals the great Teachers descend in our midst as though they have come from on high, as though there were a region above and beyond our known universe. Not the physical heaven as imagined but rather a region of the super-conscious, for, if there is a sub-conscious then we must be able to envisage a super-conscious.
Here on this planet the Masters, the Enlightened Ones, speak to us of the Transcendent. Carl Jung once remarked to my analyst, Dr Franz Elkisch: ‘Each one of us is capable of being a transistor, each of us can tune in to the ‘other’ or ‘more’ dimension of reality, through meditation or prayer – the label doesn’t matter – through a heightened awareness of reality.’
From the dimension of reality that is beyond all verifiable dimensions, from beyond time and space, we receive intimations of meaning that sustain us. It has nothing to do with the imagination or with fantasy; rather, it is another kind of knowing, a received knowledge, intuitive rather than intellectual. Our age so venerates the intellect that it is chary of that which cannot be neatly analysed and catalogued by the intellect.
Each one of us is capable of tuning in to this other dimension of reality through prayer or meditation, through the heightened awareness that comes from an inner listening. For there is within us all the wisdom we can ever need.
There are a few who in the practice of meditation climb so high that they can see from the top of the mountain. They are the mystics, to be found in all religions. The rest of us trudge along the foothills, knowing we may never glimpse the summit. And the journey is rarely easy. All who have walked the route to Compostela know how rough the terrain can be, and how on arrival at a hostel one sometimes finds the toilet rolls have run out or one is kept awake by the loud snores of fellow travellers! A pilgrimage makes demands. But we plod on!
In past centuries those wanting to enter a monastery would be made to stand outside for three days and nights. Only if they persevered would they then be admitted as postulants. And so it is with all who meditate. We sit outside a door waiting for it to open. Occasionally it does. We hear music from beyond and yet we know it is not our time to enter. It is our task to wait patiently at the threshold. That is all we have to do.
The entering of grace
By the open door
Of a house made ready.
This haiku is from The Ungainsayable Presence. The book, now out of print, was published anonymously. I knew the author. He had a demanding public life; but very few people know that he was a mystic, who began each day with four hours of silent meditation and reading.
All we have to do in meditation is sit patiently at the threshold.
Once upon a time there was a huge flood. A man climbed onto his roof to escape the rising waters. A rescue boat appeared with a lifeguard in it, urging him to come on board.
‘God will protect me,’ the man replied, ‘I have lived all my life as a devout believer.’
The waters continued to rise. Twice more the rescue boat returned and twice more the man refused to climb aboard. The boat left to rescue others.
Eventually the flood engulfed the whole house. The roof disappeared beneath the waters, and the man was drowned.
In heaven he encountered God. Furious that God had not rescued him, he complained loudly: ‘All my life I have been devout. I have obeyed all the commandments. I have given large sums to charity. And the only time I asked for anything you abandoned me.’
‘But I sent a boat three times,’ God explained. ‘Why didn’t you get in?’
For centuries wisdom was handed down from one generation to another in the form of simple sentences which were taught to children and grandchildren. It can be a fruitful practice to take one of these maxims as one’s thought for the day, reflecting on it at intervals.
Here are some of these words of wisdom:
When one door shuts another opens.
Every cloud has a silver lining.
A stitch in time saves nine.
As you sow, so shall you reap.
Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.
Never judge a book by its cover.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
An empty vessel makes much noise.
A rolling stone gathers no moss.
Never put off to tomorrow what you can do today.
People who live in glasshouses shouldn’t throw stones.
Actions speak louder than words.
All good things come to an end.
A ship in harbour is safe; but that is not what a ship is for.
Opportunity did not knock until I built a door.
William Blake wrote:
To see a world in a grain of sand and a heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour.
St Bernard of Clairvaux wrote:
What I know of the divine sciences and holy scripture I learned in the woods and fields. You will learn more in the woods than in books. Trees and stones will teach you more than you can acquire from the mouth of a teacher.