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Monday, 18 August 2014 12:05

A chain reaction: meditation in a suffering world

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Sr Carmel Moore rsj 150Meditation is a journey inwards to the divine indwelling, rather than a resting place. It is still and silent, exteriorly, but can lead to some very uncomfortable places, interiorly, writes Sister Carmel Moore rsj.

 

Sometimes when I meet people for the first time and they say, “Ah, Sister Carmel, you meditate”, I feel distinctly confused. Do they think I am forever like a tranquil lake? The community I am part of would definitely disagree. I disagree too. Meditation is a journey inwards to the divine indwelling, rather than a resting place. It is still and silent, exteriorly, but can lead to some very uncomfortable places, interiorly.

Recently, I took part in a prayer gathering organised by Catholic Religious Australia outside Villawood Detention Centre. On the same day, religious Sisters and Brothers gathered at each of the thirteen detention centres established by the Australian Government in order to protest against our country’s inhuman treatment of those seeking shelter here. Some Sisters were holding a banner which read, “In solidarity with your pain”. I thought of the words of Pope Francis at Lampedusa, that we have forgotten how to weep, we are no longer attentive to the world in which we live, we don’t care – and so humanity loses its bearings. The result is tragedy and desolation.

As I considered how to get rid of the Herod factor in me (“It’s not my responsibility”), I thought of Mary at the foot of the cross in solidarity with the pain of her son. Mary has a special place deep in the Catholic psyche, especially in times of suffering and, as we know, “at the hour of our death”. Multitudes of paintings depict her in tears on Calvary or with joy and tears on her face after the Resurrection. She hasn’t forgotten how to weep for the Body of Christ and so she stands in solidarity with all who suffer now.

Spiritual teachers speak of meditation as a calming influence that doesn’t stop with me but leads me into my better self and so makes me the creator of a better future for others. It’s like a chain reaction. In my experience, when we sit to meditate, we are in the Spirit alongside our brothers and sisters, in every part of the world.

In the early days of the church, after the time of the martyrs, many Christians went into the desert to demonstrate the absolute wholeheartedness of their faith – the same faith the martyrs had shown. Theirs was to be a white martyrdom rather than the red martyrdom of those who gave their lives for their faith. They did not go there to avoid people, but to be one with them, to discover their true self and to grow in loving relationships. Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, makes this the main theme of his book, Silence and Honey Cakes. The aim of their lives of prayer was to be ‘for the neighbour’, ‘to win the neighbour’, to learn to live humanly with others – and in the end to create a loving, non-exclusive community.

So the monasteries began – lighthouses in a bleak landscape – centres of learning, culture, community and prayer, keeping alive the hope of a better life. Monks weren’t deserting the world, with all its needs, like men swimming from a shipwreck; they were creating an alternative and better environment, a city of love. St Paul had given the direction: “Do not be conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.”

The twin goals of purity of mind and compassion for the world’s suffering are the desire of many people who would never see themselves as opting out of society. It seems, now, that contemplative life has escaped the monastic walls. There are far more people committed to their times of daily prayer outside the monasteries than in them. Perhaps this has always been the case?

When we sit to meditate as a group, we are in the company of those whose sufferings we may never know, all kinds of violence and all kinds of sorrows. I remember a young lady who, on her first visit to our Meditation Centre, said, “I sat in the silence offering compassion to my friend whose father died yesterday.” What a lovely example of that solidarity we call the Communion of Saints. This is a way back into our true humanity, to be able to weep again, to be attentive again, to be.

Recently a couple of us visited Mums’ Cottage, a centre for Mothers companioning Mothers, set up by Helen-Anne Johnson rsj in Holmesville. We went to teach meditation to some wonderful women. They were inspiring in their strength in adversity, while continuing to nurture and serve their families. Sitting in that circle of silence was powerful for all of us. It taught me that I don’t always have to know your pain in order to care for you or help you find a better future.

To be in solidarity with the pain of others is why I meditate, so don’t think of me as sitting on cloud nine! While the Buddhists emphasise compassion, Christians phrase this slightly differently. For us, the journey ends in divine love, pure love, practical love, the love that feels your pain. In The Joy of the Gospels, Pope Francis wrote, “the way to relate to others which truly heals us instead of debilitating us is a mystical fraternity, a contemplative fraternity. It is a fraternal love capable of seeing the sacred grandeur of our neighbour, of finding God in every human being, of opening the heart to divine love and seeking the happiness of others just as their heavenly Father does.”

Solidarity with the poor is the essential mark of any real disciple of Christ. To know Christ in meditation is one way to become a disciple.

Why not join in? To learn more about meditation, E This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., P 0412 122 297 or visit www.livingwatersmeditation.com.au.

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This article was first published in the August 2014 edition of Aurora Magazine, the official magazine of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland Newcastle.