As I sat in a doctor’s waiting room recently, I saw the words be. here. now. prominently displayed. How appropriate I thought. For a doctor’s waiting room is typically made up of people who would rather not be there at that moment. Indeed, in such a liminal space, we are usually full of thoughts, hurts and fears which do not make it easy for us to be present. We may be occupied with concerns about the past, such as the mishaps or illness which has brought us to that moment. We may be absorbed with worries and anticipations about the future. We may be full both of regrets and forebodings. However, whilst very human, none of this really take us very far. In the face of the, sometimes profound, dislocation of time, space and meaning caused by dis-ease, we need to be able to acknowledge and express these things. Yet ultimately they are not the deepest truth of our lives at the moment and they do not provide pathways to healing. When time, space, and meaning seem to be collapsing around and within us, knowing that we are still ultimately OK, right where we are, is vital. Terrible pain and suffering can of course certainly make it almost impossibly hard even to breathe, never mind acknowledge this reality. However what some of us call 'the divine embrace' is still always there for us, right here and now. Can we trust, and, even in death, let that eternal presence heal and re-create us?...
Later this afternoon I am leading the 'Silence for Peace' community meditation group which emerged out of the Toowoomba inter-faith and community meditation sharing and workshop event I helped organise earlier this year. The group - an idea of an increasingly good friend and wonderful inspiration Jo Anderson - was something I was eager to help create. It meets each week on Tuesdays at 5.30 pm at TRAMS (Toowoomba Refugee and Migrant Services) and has proven a delightful opportunity for many people of many different backgrounds to come together to deepen their sense of peace, silence and relationship with one another. Jo usually leads it beautifully but occasionally Penny and I help out. Tonight Jo is headed to Brisbane, partly to attend a session with Fr Laurence Freeman, who heads up the World Community of Christian Meditation. This body continues to grow and our own parish Christian meditation group (which meets at St Luke's, in the Parish Ministry Centre, each Wednesday at 5 pm) is an affiliate member. For myself, this practice has become an essential part of my life and well-being over the last six years or so. It owes so much to Fr John Main, the founder of the World Community of Christian Meditation, who helped revive the ancient practice of Christian Meditation, picking up the apostolic tradition taken up by the desert monastics and articulated by John Cassian. Today that tradition gives fresh life to Christians all across the world and, as in Toowoomba, to others of many faiths and none, in growing relationships of spirit together.
Is cross-community meditation an idea whose time has come? Does our world badly need it to transform its dysfunctionality and stress and to deepen our shared awareness and connectedness?
- such were questions, answered in the affirmative, which emerged from our wonderful 'Silence for Peace' community meditation workshop in Toowoomba today. It was a personal joy to help facilitate this and to help add a vital new level to our work of 'building a model city of peace and harmony.'
People of different traditions have been practicing meditation as part of the wisdom of the ages. Until recently however we have done this in our separate 'boxes'. Indeed, within western Christianity, the ancient traditions of Christian meditation were largely lost, until renewed lately, not least by Fr John Main and the World Community of Christian Meditation (WCCM). Undoubtedly a major force was the rise of eastern religions and philosophies in the west, especially from the 1960s. In secularised forms, meditation has also now spread to all kinds of hitherto unlikely places, including boardrooms and prisons. Meanwhile, multi-faith and multi-cultural relationships have prospered. A natural step therefore seems to bring people of different backgrounds together to share and strengthen our individual commitments and underpin our wider work for peace with shared inner peace.
From a Christian perspective, cross-community meditation awareness and practice has certainly been a major feature of recent and continuing WCCM work. As Fr Laurence Freeman has written (in a paper 'The Contemplative Parish'):
Two great challenges offer the parish and the Church as a whole an opportunity for regeneration: the rediscovery and reappropriation of its contemplative tradition as a living practice among all its members and the encounter in deep dialogue with other faiths. These two are intimately linked...
Inter-religious dialogue (like inter-denominational ecumenism) thrives in a contemplative environment. Unity is then seen as an already existing reality rather than as something to be created. Friendship and humour replace competitiveness and pomposity.
Such an outlook lies behind significant WCCM initiatives, including the development of cross-community meditation encounters across the world.
For our part in Toowoomba today, we began with an Aboriginal Acknowledgement of Country (by Aunty Gwen Currie) and reflection on 'dadirri' and the ancient 'Aboriginal Gift' of contemplative peace in our land. We then shared in brief introductions to meditation from different perspectives including: Pure Land Buddhist (from Venerable Wu Ping); Christian/WCCM (Jo Anderson, from St James' Church, Toowoomba); Quaker silence (Pam Tooth); and a wider community perspective (from Viki Thondley, a holistic therapist and owner of Mind, Body, Food, specialising in mindset, lifestyle, stress and eating disorders). Their input was interspersed by short periods of silence and introductions to meditative practice, including a memorable walking meditation together in the Pure Land Meditation Hall. Hosted as we were so graciously at the Pure Land Learning College, we then concluded with a pleasant vegetarian meal together. Key common themes were the deep connectedness of mind, body and spirit which is (re)discovered in meditation and the consequent deep re-connecting with self, others, land and universe and the deepest reality of life itself.
When I first met with others to plan this event we did not expect anything as many as the number who came: a sign that indeed this is a powerful need and joy in our hectic and distracted world. We look forward therefore to the regular 'Silence for Peace' cross-community group which will now begin to meet next week (at TRAMS (Toowoomba Refugee & Migrant SErvices), 123 Neil Street), and to future developments and encouragement of inner peace and connection within our wider community (among individuals, schools, and other groups) as a whole.
Jo Inkpin is an Anglican priest serving as Minister of Pitt St Uniting Church in Sydney, a trans woman, theologian & justice activist. These are some of my reflections on life, spirit, and the search for peace, justice & sustainable creation.