Jesus was a man of deep compassion. He was also a healer. Interestingly, whenever someone sought him out to be cured of an ailment, his first question always was, ‘Do you really want to be healed?’ He knew that healing is more than just curing the physical symptoms. The word ‘heal’ is rooted in an older word ‘hale’. To be healed means being made whole, not only a physical level, but mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Deep down the cause of sickness often lies within. Many illnesses are caused by stress, and when we fall ill our body is signalling that something may be wrong with our lifestyle. Only if we remove that cause will we be truly healed.
There is just one resolution above all that we need to make if we practise meditation, and that is to persevere. In season and out. Even when distractions surround us like a swarm of gnats! Our life may seem barren; yet always, deep down, are untapped resources. We have only to reach down into our inner depths and wait for the new life to bubble up.
With the birth of Christianity, the Church not knowing the exact date of birth of its founder, skilfully placed Christmas Day, which heralds the birth of one who would be known as the Light of the World, three days after the Winter Solstice.
The weeks before Christmas are called Advent, from the Latin word advenire, which means to look forward to. What many Christians forget however is the nine month journey of that child in his mother’s womb, a journey that each one of us has made. And with our birth each of us is responsible for carrying a single light for humanity. Lighting a candle at any time is a reminder of the flame within each one of us that we need continually to guard.
I came across a Jewish story the other day. A man was down on his luck, everything had gone wrong for him, and he was now down to his last ounce of tea, his last slice of bread and a pat of butter. So he thought, ‘I might as well make myself a last cup of tea and have a slice of toast.’ As he buttered the toast it fell onto the floor. But it fell with the buttered side up. ‘That must be an omen!’ he cried. ‘It must mean things are going to change for the better!’
He raced through the village and knocked on the door of the Rabbi’s house and told him the story. ‘It’s a sign, don’t you agree?’ he exclaimed. The Rabbi told him he must deliberate on the matter and that in the meantime the man should go home and come back the next morning.
Very early the next day the man was back. ‘I have deliberated all night with the other Rabbis,’ said the Rabbi, ‘and we have come to the conclusion that you buttered the toast on the wrong side.’
Behold the Word
A collection of artwork and reflections for each week of the year pairs beautifully painted quotes.
Available online: https://www.rpbooks.co.uk/behold-the-word-52-visual-meditations
Also from James…
Inner Journey, Outer Journey
Available online: https://www.rpbooks.co.uk/inner-journey-outer-journey
In his journal, Markings, Dag Hammarskjöld, former Secretary-General of the United Nations wrote, ‘Now. When I have overcome my fears –of others, of myself, of the underlying darkness at the frontier of the unheard-of. Here ends the known. But from a source beyond it, something fills my being with its possibilities – at the frontier.’
At this time of the year many, especially the elderly, find the long darkness of winter difficult. As one woman wrote to me, ‘This is always a bad time of the year for me. I seem to go down as the darkness descends and only pick up a bit when it starts to get light again.’ It is no wonder, therefore, that our ancestors in the West grew fearful at this time of the year, and lit beseeching fires that the Sun might not die but recover. And each year, with the coming of the Winter Solstice, they regarded with wonder the rebirth of the Sun, as light began to return, redeeming the darkness. The old Celtic spirituality was deeply rooted in Nature, and it is from Nature that we learn the ultimate lesson: that at the moment of deepest darkness light returns – at midnight noon is born.
The material world about is visible to us. What we can see with our own eyes, touch with our own hands, we can verify. But the invisible world, the reality beyond the present reality, which we cannot physically touch or see – how to verify that? There is no way, scientifically or intellectually, that we can come by such knowledge, for it is knowledge of another order. No one can be argued into a knowledge of God. Truth remains a revelation. No one can be talked into falling in love. Love remains an experience. And in the silence of meditation there will come a knowledge that has nothing to do with questionnaires or encyclopedias, a knowledge that cannot be proved scientifically or even pinned down into words – and yet it is a knowledge of unshaken and unshakable surety.
‘Our real journey,’ wrote Thomas Merton, ‘is interior. It is a matter of growth, deepening and of an ever-greater surrender to the creative action of love and grace in our hearts. Never was it more necessary to respond to that action. I pray that we may all do so.’
So many people today hunger for the things of the spirit which all too often they do not find within our churches or synagogues. And yet the treasure that is beyond all price is waiting there for us, as Teilhard de Chardin discovered:
And so, for the first time in my life perhaps – although I am supposed to meditate every day!- I took the lamp and leaving the zone of every day preoccupations and relationships where everything seems clear, I went down into my inmost self, to the deep abyss whence I felt that my power of action emanates… but I became aware that I was losing contact with myself. At each step of the descent a new person was disclosed within me… And when I had tostop my exploration because the path faded from beneath my steps, I found a bottomless pit at my feet, and out of it came – arising I know not where – the current which I dare to call my life.
Last year Zuleika Books published Older, a day by day journal of my 91st year. The reason for mentioning it is that often people say to me, ‘I am old!’ and I reply, ‘No: you are older.’ The word ‘old’ with its final ‘d’ is like a heavy door slamming, whereas the word ‘older’ more accurately reminds us that life is a journey of continual learning. As T.S. Eliot wrote (and had he been writing in prose he would also have added ‘women’) ‘Old men should be explorers still.’