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A friend recently offered me an ‘energy treatment’. I didn’t understand the theory but I trusted and the practice was effective. The atmosphere was calm, I lay down and was covered in a warm blanket. In the course of the hour, I felt increasingly relaxed and peaceful. My breathing slowed and mind slowed with it. I was curious and so distracted about the process and so despite being relaxing it was not particularly conducive to meditation. The person working on me told me I had fallen asleep; in fact I hadn’t although my breath might have given that impression and I was certainly on the delicious edge of guiltless sleep. In any case, I felt better, nice, relaxed and refreshed and grateful for the gift and skill I had received. I understood why so much of the promotion of what is sometimes loosely called meditation and various bodywork techniques is presented as offering relaxation. Relaxation is good. In a world where greed and speed are also called ‘good’, relaxation, however you may find it, is better.
Yesterday evening, I participated in a contemplative Eucharist in the remarkable Dublin Parish of the Ascension in Balally. It is led by Fr Jim Caffrey who is a meditator, much respected and loved for his vision of a new church in Ireland. The parishioners are responding positively to what he has to share; each morning and evening in the beautiful Icon Chapel there is prayer, following the Bonnevaux Book of Prayer, which integrates a full meditation. The children in the school next door meditate and seeing them enter the church for their weekly meditation with Fr Jim, so calmly and mindfully, is surprisingly moving and beautiful. The contemplative Eucharist, in the low-lit parish hall with everyone seated in a circle, is calm and mindful, with a lectio-style reading of the gospel in which most of the participants offer a word of their own. Meditation follows communion.
I was strongly touched by the depth of the silence and stillness during the meditation as well as by the joy and personal warmth of the people as they were leaving. Irish goodbyes are notoriously extended but this one was because they had so much to express and the goodbye was part of the celebration. Everyone was taking something precious and real away within them.
I’m thinking now about these different forms of relaxation – the energy-work and a Eucharist celebrated gently with an open and accepting community of faith. Under my warm blanket for the former experience, I was passive and I felt good. Last night I was participating and the calmness We were sharing was collective as well as personal – what the early church called koinonia. Today, in our suspicious world, it might be called a ‘safe space’. It is friendship of a high order. Relaxing it certainly was, but the idea just of destressing and relaxing doesn’t nearly do it justice. If the goal is merely relaxation, you will fall asleep (and you may need to). But when relaxation is the preparation or the side-effect of koinonia an awakening occurs.
A contemplative Eucharist and meditation itself could be seen as another form of energy work: the energy of inter-personal peace.
Peace is my parting gift to you, my own peace, such as the world cannot give (Jn 14:27)
Laurence Freeman
Lenten Reflections 2024
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