THURSDAY OF LENT WEEK 1
Ask and it will be given to you; search and you will find; knock and the door will be opened
The confidence in these words is compelling. But we might feel they describe an unreal world of fantastic hospitality, a world of always happy endings. The universe is not so welcoming and accommodating as this. Every day children cry for food and perish of hunger, the innocent pray for justice and are treated badly.
Even so, his authority compels us to dig below our scepticism for a deeper spring of meaning. Seek deeper and it soon seems we are plunging in freefall, toward a bottomless ground. From this point the journey into the silence of the desert becomes both more demanding and more rewarding as we undergo an awakening we did not bargain for.
So far, we have just learned to sit still in the four familiar dimensions of space and time – with an upright but comfortable posture. At the morning meditation thoughts fly around us like gales. In the evening, like mosquitoes and itches. But soon we see that the stillness itself is revealing another dimension: a journey into meaning deeper, stranger, more familiar, more self-verifying and richer than we could have imagined. We feel welcome on this journey: a sense of homecoming, despite the strangeness, a genuine hospitality not a false consolation.
Each step on this path advances the transformation being worked in us. Our mind itself becomes more lucid and more loving. To sustain this journey step by step we say the mantra: a word we repeat first in the mind superficially and eventually in the heart resonantly. With practice we evolve from saying it to listening to it. This interior evolution is reflected in the far-reaching changes in how we interact with people, work and time. We see meaning in what seemed to us before as merely contradictions or absurdity. From deep within the apparent nonsense of saying that we will always receive what we ask for, there arises a light-winged wisdom.
The word we recommend is maranatha: a sacred word in the gospel tradition, Aramaic, the language the historical Jesus spoke. The word means ‘come lord’. But as the mantra is for laying aside all thoughts even the thought of its own meaning and because saying the mantra is the work of silence, we don’t think of the meaning as we say it. To the babbling mind this is refreshingly challenging. You can choose another word but the same principles apply to any word used as a mantra – it is better if it is not in your own language and best to say the same word continuously throughout each meditation period from day to day. This plants the seed deep and allows growth to happen, ‘how, we do not know’ as the gospel says.
Meditation takes us through the jungle overgrowth of all our thoughts, imagination and feelings. It is a narrow path – but better have a narrow path in a jungle than no path. The mantra is a short step and a giant leap of faith. Each time we return to it, we take another step on the path. For however long we may wander off it, into the undergrowth of fears and desires, we are happily never more than one step from re-joining the path: we simply start saying the mantra again. This immediacy introduces us to the dimension of the present moment. Here, asking and receiving become one.