Our parish meditation group meets on Tuesdays at 7 pm for an hour in St Hilda’s room, and all are welcome. We follow the practice of the World Community for Christian Meditation (www.wccm.org ) based on the work of John Main (1926-82), a Benedictine monk who revived the ancient Christian tradition of silent meditation, and his successor Laurence Freeman OSB, the community’s current director.
At our meetings we listen to a recorded talk by John Main, followed by 20-25 minutes meditation, with questions and discussion afterwards.
“Be still and know that I am God”
Meditation is a way of simplicity, stillness and silence, a simple way of deepening spiritual life that is open to all. It is a universal spiritual wisdom found at the core of all the great religious traditions. The practice of WCCM derives from the Gospel teaching of Jesus and the experience of the Desert Fathers and Mothers in 4th and 5th century Egypt as passed on by John Cassian.
Known to the Desert Fathers and Mothers as the prayer of the heart or “pure” prayer, meditation became marginalised for a long time in western Christianity, but a major recovery has been under way in recent times. John Main and the community he inspired have played an important part in this renewal since the 1970s, and WCCM now has groups of meditators in countries around the world. In Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire alone between 15 and 20 groups meet weekly.
“Do not babble on like the heathens”
At the heart of John Main’s practice are the words of Jesus:
“But you, when you pray, go into your inner room,
shut your door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen.
And your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
And when you pray, do not babble on like pagans, for they think that by their many words they will be heard.”
John Main summarised the practice in this way:
Sit down. Sit still with your back straight. Close your eyes lightly. Then interiorly, silently begin to recite a single word – a prayer word or mantra. We recommend the ancient Christian prayer-word “Maranatha”. Say it as four equal syllables. Breathe normally and give your full attention to the word. The essence of meditation is simplicity. Stay with the same word during the whole meditation and in each meditation day to day. Let go of all thoughts, images and other words. Don’t fight your distractions: let them go by saying your word faithfully, gently and attentively and returning to it as soon as you realise you have stopped saying it or your attention wanders.
Maranatha is an Aramaic word from the language Jesus spoke. It means “Come, Lord”. It is probably the most ancient Christian prayer. Both St Paul and St John use it: to conclude 1: Corinthinians and the Book of Revelation.
“Leave self behind”
We meditate in order to take our attention off ourselves, to leave self behind, as Jesus said. The aim is to allow God’s mysterious and silent presence that is already within each of us to become the reality which gives meaning, shape and purpose to everything we are and do. WCCM recommends meditating for 20-30 minutes twice a day, morning and evening. This daily practice may take some time to develop. Be patient. If you give up, start again. A weekly meditation group and a connection with a community can help develop the discipline. WCCM’s online School of Meditation www.thechoolofmeditation.org has courses to help new meditators find their way into the tradition. But the basis of meditation is personal practice. As John Cassian said in the 4th century: “experience is the teacher”.
The great challenge to us in learning to meditate is its radical simplicity. Nothing inspires people of all ages and cultures to meditate more than realising how simply and directly children can learn both to meditate and to love the practice and all it brings to their lives.
Many Christian meditators and Christian Meditation groups use these Opening and Closing Prayers:
Opening Prayer by John Main
Heavenly Father, open our hearts to the silent presence of the spirit of your Son. Lead us into that mysterious silence where your love is revealed to all who call, ‘Maranatha…Come, Lord Jesus.
Closing Prayer by Laurence Freeman:
May this group be a true spiritual home for the seeker, a friend for the lonely, a guide for the confused. May those who pray here be strengthened by the Holy Spirit to serve all who come and to receive them as Christ himself. In the silence of this room may all the suffering, violence and confusion of the world encounter the power that will console, renew and uplift the human spirit.May this silence be a power to open the hearts of men and women to the vision of God, and so to each other, in love and peace, justice and human dignity. May the beauty of the Divine Life fill this group and the hearts of all who pray here with joyful hope. May all who come here weighed down by the problems of humanity, leave, giving thanks for the wonder of human life. We make this prayer through Christ our Lord.