SOMETHING OLD - SOMETHING NEW
By Sue Clarke, one of our Soul Friends
This is not an article about weddings but the title just seemed to say something about my experience of beginning and being part of a Christian Meditation Group.
The ‘old’ is a tradition that Jesus himself was familiar with, used and encouraged others to use. It has been embraced by mystics, desert fathers and mothers, hermits, monks, nuns and yes, even ordinary lay people who through the ages have longed to be with God. In our own time people like Richard Rohr, Thomas Merton, Tom Keeting, John Main and Lawrence Freeman have reinvigorated this ancient practice. We know it as Christian Meditation, a form of Contemplative Prayer which brings people into the presence of the loving creator God who longs to just be with us.
The ‘new’ is a personal story which introduced a group of people to a new way of being open to God. This chapter of a longer story started with Penny who had been ill for some time and had finally received the diagnosis of a condition which was potentially terminal. There was no cure; the only hope was an organ transplant.
On hearing the news I visited Penny not knowing what to say but hopefully being prepared to listen. During that visit Penny said, ‘Sue, can you teach me to meditate?’ I don’t recall ever having talked about mediation and so the request came out of the blue. None the less, I had practiced Christian meditation for many years and so was more than happy to share this precious gift with Penny and her friend who had also come to visit.
I went through the technique I used following the practice of John Main and we settled down to a short time of silence. Penny later described that during the time of silence she had a picture in her mind of a white cloud which came slowly towards her and wrapped itself around her. She felt at peace and she felt warmth and we knew that we were in God’s hands.
Penny’s husband John was determined to do all that he could to help her and with this love and resolve he and Penny started to mediate twice a day. It was Penny who went around the church telling everybody that they needed to ‘ask Sue to teach you how to meditate.’ So a group started with much enthusiasm, I suspect more for love of Penny than spiritual desire.
There were about a dozen in our little group right from the start and we committed to meet weekly. The time of 5.30 fitted most people’s needs and allowed them their evening free. I didn’t want to personally be seen as ‘owning’ the group and so I suggested that we didn’t just meet in my home every week. We took it in turns to host and in those early days we even shared a meal together after meditation. But we soon realised this was too much of a chore for the host and also a distraction from the purpose of the meeting, so it’s now settled into optional tea and biscuits. Some joust want to leave in silence after the time of meditation and that is fine too.
People were committed to the group right from the start coming every week unless something unavoidable got in the way. They were eager to know more and so we invited Sue Purkis, the WCCM Regional Co-ordinator, to come and talk with us and she helped us greatly to both understand more of the aim of this form of mediation and also with a few practical tips of how the group could help people more with their own practice.
Sue advised us to find one venue and stay with it rather than move around each week. It took us some time to come to terms with this, even though we knew it was sound advice, because the hosts so enjoyed hosting. Two things encouraged us to find a static venue though. Firstly the group was getting too big to be accommodated comfortably in most people’s homes. Secondly we had come to realise that the group was being thought of as exclusive, a closed shop. So we decided to move into the more open space of the church for a few months and see how it felt.
By this stage people were saying how much they looked forward to meeting each week, some were even surprised that the meditation meant so much to them. It was the group who were real advocates for meditation and so gradually the impression has changed within the community from ‘it’s something new age’ or ‘it’s not Christian’ to ‘tell me about it’ and ‘we should be telling others’. There are still many who say it’s not for them but nonetheless are very happy that the group is there.
But let’s get back to Penny because late in October 2014 she got the call to go to Newcastle. A match had been found and she was going to have her transplant. From October until Christmas when they came home, the church became a power house of prayer for our very precious and much-loved Penny and John. They came home just in time for Christmas and there were many tears of relief and gratitude when we saw how well Penny looked.
During their time in Newcastle John had come across a meditation group which he joined. He had seen a sign outside a building ‘Meditation Here, come and join us.’ He had gone in and discovered it was Buddhist but that didn’t matter because he knew he was a Christian, it was just so good to meditate with other people. In fact his experience of the Buddhist group helped us all to reflect on our own practice. John reflected later that he would not have got through the time in Newcastle without meditation, it kept him going.
So we realised that we also need to put a sign outside the church inviting people to join us in meditation and not wanting to be half hearted about it a six foot banner was duly erected. It bought people along to dip in a toe, some have decided it’s not for them and others have found a home and stayed.
We have been careful to say that meditation is not just for Christians. Although we do start and end with a prayer and for Christians the aim is to make a space for God, hopefully we make it clear that people of other faiths and none may use the meditation to connect with whatever is in their hearts.
A final word, I personally believe that the weekly gathering to mediate has somehow changed the atmosphere of our community. People comment on the love and warmth, it’s a place where people want to be. It’s not that we were not loving and giving before because of course we were, but somehow it just subtly feels more intense. Perhaps we just know with more certainty that God is with us.
If you would like to know more about Christian Meditation then I am very happy to talk with you or even help you get your own group started. If you want to read more about John Main’s teaching on meditation then please look at the World Community for Christian Meditation (WCCM) or contact Sue Purkis, Joint Regional Coordinator, WCCM Yorkshire Region, Tel No: 01535 632171 / 07702 692117
Contact: Revd Sue Clarke 01484 681828 or 07896464417 / email firstname.lastname@example.org
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