Friday, September 26, 2008

In love with a monk

Have you ever heard only the voice of someone and fallen instantly and sweetly in love? Voices can have an amazing effect on us humans. You just have to look at the scope of the phone sex industry throughout the world now to get the idea. I mean, really, what other animal could fall prey to this concept? Can you imagine a tom cat getting a little furry hard-on by just listening to a lady cat purring in another room? Well … maybe

Anyway, I digress. Listening to a Canadian Broadcast Commission program, I believe it’s called Tapestry, I heard the voice of the Benedictine, Father Laurence Freeman, and within one lap of the oval I was walking at the time I was deeply besotted.

As someone brought up in the Catholic faith who has ended up deeply suspicious of its modern form (let the poor African folk pop a condom on for God’s sake!) I am always, frankly, surprised when I hear someone from the Christian tradition speaking sense. It’s so easy these days to feel more sympathetic to Buddhism or other Eastern traditions. They tend to seem so much more gentle and wise … and I suppose fashionable.

I’ve written before about my meditation gum tree. I like pursuing a little stillness but I had no idea there was a thing called the World Community for Christian Meditation. Christianity does, in fact, have a history of meditation stretching back thousands of years. Who knew?

Father Laurence, he of the calming, wise and soothing voice, runs the John Main Centre for meditation and inter-religious dialogue at Georgetown University, USA. John Main was a Benedictine monk and priest who presented a way of Christian meditation which utilised the practice of a prayer-phrase or mantra. He only died in the 1980s. Father Laurence continues his work.

“Every day at 12.30pm and 6pm …in the centre of a highly competitive modern university, the students come pouring in,” said Father Laurence on the podcast. “They come with all kinds of experiences of faith or a lack of faith … and what meditation can do in this simple way is bring them to their own centre … to self knowledge …unity … to their own truth.”

I don’t know. He talked about how he teaches classes on love, using Jane Austin and other texts as source material. He talked about modern life, he talked about everything which such remarkable common sense, compassion and wisdom. I just really dug him.

Asked why humanity has, throughout its history, sought out this stillness and silence (in Australia Father Laurence said he met an Aborigine who explained his people’s term for this mediation was something that sounded like ‘digiri’ and they’d been doing it for 40,000 years) the monk said, “I think it is our true nature … that stillness is not static … building meditation into your daily life is simply respecting the law of nature (like accepting you must stop to rest before you can work again).”

In the end, he believes, we are programmed to search for transcendence. So modern marketing – the ads for fast cars or deep blue pools, even the otherworldly buzz of the AFL Grand Final – is just another kind of attempt by marketers and so forth to achieve that transcendence. Hmmmm!

“In a normal health society we need to pass on a way to open the heart,” said Father Laurence. “The mind and the heart need to be in balance … our culture/education system really neglects this heart dimension.”

He told the story of how, whilst travelling in India, a local guide told him that we, in the West, lack heart. “Meditation offers us a way to let go of thoughts and allows the heart to open like a flower … to experience silence … these days we are suspicious of silence but silence is revealing and purifying and nurturing,” he said.

Both Main and Freeman recommend using the prayer-phrase Maranatha, which is Aramaic for "Come, Lord". They say Jesus spoke Aramaic. Regardless, it’s a nice word, a nice thought hey?

* If you're interested in listening to the cast go to:

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