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.
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the King’s Horses and all the King’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty together again.
These old rhymes which children used to chant contain much wisdom and practicality. If we’re aloof and prone to judging other people from a position of apparent superiority the time will come when we will get our come-uppance and have a big fall!
This is something that we also learn frequently in meditation. We endeavour to be concentrated and still, but every now and then we come a cropper. Our concentration falters, our minds go off at a tangent, our back aches … But all this can be very good for us. It reminds us that we are all beginners, that it is a long journey, and that we shall fall many times. It helps to keep our feet firmly planted on the ground.
When a loved one walks out of our lives, or a beloved parent, child or friend dies, the pain is so overwhelming that it is impossible to meditate. Nor should we attempt it. We have to live with the pain, endure it, talk aloud to ourselves, go for a long walks, weeping all the while, and talking also to the loved one who has gone. Which is worse? A loved one who walks away from our relationship, or one who dies? There is no comparison. In each case something in us also dies. All we can do, especially if we want to avoid the pitfall of self-pity, is to endure the pain, talk about it, and slowly, slowly, work our way through it. There are no easy answers and the journey is different for each of us. It also takes time. The important thing always to remember is the good things we enjoyed with the person who has gone, and what we have learned from them. Then, slowly, we can begin to move on and it becomes possible once again to sit in silent meditation, drawing from the deep well of healing within each one of us.
As we enter our seventies it can be a useful practice after meditation just to sit quietly and reflect on our lives, on our journey thus far – and what may yet be in store. It is important, as we approach the end of our lives, to fill our water-pots for the journey that lies ahead, in which we shall have to learn to let go of all familiar props (including everyday worries and anxieties) and accept whatever awaits us. If there is nothing beyond death, nonetheless it is important to know and feel we have lived our lives to the full. And if there is a continuity beyond this life, then it is important to be ready for the next stage of the journey.