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The students and some of the faculty of the WCCM Academy are meeting together in Bonnevaux this week. Although most of our previous encounters have been online, an extraordinarily warm, trusting and energised bond has developed among all. Vladimir Volrab, the Director of the Academy, has helped create this unique environment for a contemplative learning group, with skill and sensitivity. He manages the connections between participants from different parts of the world in class and other times with personalised care which allows each to grow interiorly but also see each other’s growth. As St Benedict understood, in any community practical things should be done smoothly and ‘in good order’. Then, all involved need not become sad. Few things make us sad more quickly than messy organisation. Meeting with the students to discuss their reflections on the course on Jesus (‘Who do You Say I Am?’) that I taught last term, I was moved and inspired by their joy and the wisdom evident in their eagerness to share.
I had asked them to share their personal experience of the stages of the journey of their relationship with Jesus. How difficult it is to put this into words in an abstract way – as we do when we reduce experience to ideas or formulas. It is like the challenge of explaining to people who don’t meditate why you do. Our relationship with Jesus – even this phrase can be discomforting - can best be expressed by a simple but transparent telling of the story of how it happened and how it continues to is evolve.
Most referred to their early childhood, whether in a religious environment or not. Religion in early life, even when very flawed, at least gives us a language for the future. Where there has been no such formation, reflecting on our raw experience will develop a language of its own which can later engage with the language of tradition. But the strongest formative influence in the development of an ongoing encounter with Jesus at an authentic level was people. It was through the individuals who influenced them at different times of their life – people of all kinds and ages from a childhood friend with a terminal illness to an old person who compensated for something missing in their lives. In these relationships faith could be felt to be alive without any attempt to persuade or manipulate. Simply by their presence and personality, their example of living embodied it.
This can be put even more simply. It was through certain individuals that the members of our group here first felt unconditional love. A love that was characterised by tenderness and concern, but also marked by great personal detachment. What releases our capacity for spiritual growth, it seems to me as I listen to these stories shared with such transparent trust, is discovering that we can be loved with a perfect love by other human beings. These are otherwise ordinary people whom we relate to in an extraordinary way. They have become channels of the love we yearn for and may call ‘God’. Then we see how God can be, is, fully human and indeed was so in an individual we dare to call Jesus who is the grace of the great encounters of our lives and whom we can meet even when we don’t know it.
Laurence Freeman
Lenten Reflections 2024
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