Gospel Mt 5:17-19. I have not come to abolish but to complete
‘All art aspires to the condition of music’. When I read that as a student of literature, I was instantly bowled over by what I thought was a new universal truth. Gradually, I saw that sweeping universal truths like this may have value but one sees how they fail to hit the mark or hit it only occasionally. Yet we keep trying to capture the truth in words. The same applies to the failure of success and the success of failure that we learn by learning to meditate. What we see in that process is the importance of always laying aside the words and ideas we put our trust in. There are no answers that fit everything, but learning this illuminates the entire landscape of our experience.
Meditation is a way of wisdom - for all - precisely because it cannot be summarised in a striking sentence or even a long treatise. A scientific approach to the measurable benefits can say things about it that are verifiable. But they are merely observations, illustrations of what is constantly growing beyond us.
John Main understood and taught this with the genius of simplicity. He knew that wholeness is not static but a freeing from all the limitations that stop us from unlimited expansion. In the work of the mantra we detach from yesterday and tomorrow; we discover how limited are these dimensions of reality. As they lose their sway over our minds we experience how we are ever in the present moment and that we can indeed taste the peace and fullness it brings. But experiencing the present is the first step of entering into the eternal now that is God’s bring present to us. The first step into an expanding universe, into the wholeness that is God.
We cannot catch much of this in words or concepts; but we can sit and say the mantra. Learning the humility, fidelity and trust involved on the way of the mantra opens us to the immediacy of the infinite. Meditating therefore brings us home to God but coming home, in this case, does not mean settling down in security and familiarity. It is becoming a pilgrim growing in the freedom of love but with fewer and fewer things we are attached to.
The forms of life this pilgrimage take, even in one lifetime or over one week, are countlessly unpredictable. We learn how to be ready and obedient to the law of perpetual change. Yet whatever the form, there is the peace and certainty of what the Gospel calls the Way itself. John Main understands the daily experience of growth in meditation in direct relation to the Christian calling. I say ‘understands’ rather than ‘understood’ because as I listen to his talks during Lent the depths and vistas of his teaching are like a fresh revelation sending me back to the Way of the gospel with new wonder.
His emphasis on freedom is a pillar of his teaching. Freedom from limitations. Freedom for fear. Freedom to love. This freedom is an energy of the Christ-consciousness that flows into daily life. ‘You died and now your life is hidden in God with Christ’. The Way – and the little way of the mantra – continuously reveal what is hidden even as the expansion shows us what lies beyond what we can know.
Laurence Freeman
Lenten Reflections 2021