This object is genuine or at least serves as the Grail of the legends. Inner oceans of power open in its presence. (Grail Chapel, Valencia)
Many monks and believers of Christianity thought over the century that Jesus was an ascetic like many others in his time. But he wasn´t as the New Testament explains in several stories. Also, his relationship with Mary Magdalene was of deep intimacy and therefore in alinement with the ascetic path. Furthermore, we went to parties and hang out with the sinners. What then was his practice. It was conscious love and a version of kenosis, which mean to constantly give everything away. In the east, this path is called “Tantra” which does not just mean to have nice sex but a way of life. This is the discovery of Cynthia Bourgeau in her book “The Meaning of Mary Magdalene”. Our spiritual practice is therefor the same attitude and gesture towards God as Christ did and had: Centering Prayer. We give ourselves away including our thoughts and merge into the nothingness of God.
We live in an age of loss of faith. We believe we are safe from the unknown. Children today often think that milk comes from the supermarket and not from the grass and the cows. Our turning away from the forces of the Holy and the Eternal. But the drought in Germany and other changes in the world can show us that this time of self-assurance is coming to an end soon. That’s why we believe it’s time to live together again, in a binding way. This manner of living together must give the individual the freedom to unfold, but also to be responsible for action and thinking. What we need are fields and gardens, what we need to live.
The spiritual style of this community is determined by the great spiritual Christian teachers of the 20th/21th century Thomas Merton, John Main and Thomas Keating and Peter Bernhard. In their books, we have everything we need for spiritual guidance. Thomas Merton is Gigante between these and I recommend to listen to his teachings on audio which is provided on Audible.com. and the Thomas Merton Association. His humor, wideness, and profoundness are unique. This will lead us into an understanding of what our community is about. It’s about freedom, creativity, togetherness, and enlightenment.
John Main reading this classic
The full title of The Cloud of Unknowing is:
‘A Book on Contemplation called The Cloud of Unknowing which is about that cloud within which one is united to God.’ The message is therefore made clear from the beginning this is a practical guide to lead us to the awareness beyond thought and images of the Divine within us, the Christ consciousness, that is our link to God.
The resonance with the teaching of John Main and Laurence Freeman is very strong with the following exception. The author of The Cloud, clearly a spiritual director, warns the one he is guiding on the spiritual path that: “You are not to read it, write or speak of it, nor allow another to do so unless you really believe that he is a person deeply committed to following Christ perfectly. I have in mind a person who, over and above the good works of the active life, has resolved to follow Christ (as far as is possible with God’s grace) into the inmost depths of contemplation. (Cloud of Unknowing – Foreword)
As I mentioned last week mystical prayer, especially of the ecstatic kind was very popular, therefore he does not mince his words: “As for worldly gossips, flatterers, the scrupulous, talebearers, busybodies, and the hypercritical, I would just as soon they never laid eyes on this book….This also applies to the merely curious, educated or not.” (Cloud of Unknowing – Foreword)
The author continues by saying: “there are some presently engaged in the active life who are being prepared by grace to grasp the message of this book. I am thinking of those who feel the mysterious action of the Spirit in their inmost being stirring them to love.” This was very much John Main’s attitude. When people are ready, they often hear about meditation with the help of grace in all sorts of unexpected ways. But he never discouraged or turned anyone away, who showed initial interest in this way of prayer. He felt that those for whom meditation was not the appropriate path would soon by grace be shown another way that suited them better. John Main always stressed that there are different ways of prayer that lead us to the Divine, but that for him it was the path of meditation/contemplative prayer.
The essence to both John Main and the author of The Cloudwas the action of Love that calls us to a deeper way of prayer: “God awakened desire within you, and binding it fast with the leash of love’s longing.” (Cloud 1) But he adds an important warning: “Do not be deceived into thinking that you are holier or a better person because of your great calling.”
The essence of meditation as taught by John Main and his inspiration John Cassian is to repeat your prayer phrase, which will help you to let go off all thoughts and images. These two aspects are also emphasized by the author of The Cloud: “you should choose a short word…..a one-syllable word such as ‘God’ or ‘Love’ is best. But choose one that is meaningful to you. Then fix it in your mind so that it will remain there come what may. This word will be your defence in conflict and in peace.” (Cloud 7) This resonates very much with John Cassian’s “This verse is an unassailable wall, an impenetrable breastplate, and a very strong shield for all those who labour under the attacks of demons [i.e. persistent, often negative thoughts] ….….This verse, I say, is necessary and useful for each one of us in whatever condition we may live…..boiling over with a multitude of different distractions of soul and with a fickle heart and …unable to control… wandering thoughts.” (Conferences)
The author of The Cloud puts it this way: “you must fashion a cloud of forgetting beneath you, between you and every created thing…only the absence of a cloud of forgetting keeps you from him now.,,,, You are to concern yourself with no creature whether material or spiritual nor with their situation and doings whether good or ill.”
John Main recommended the prayer phrase Maranatha because it is one of the oldest Christian prayers – in Aramaic the language Jesus spoke – and has no association for us and thus does not lead to any further thoughts. But he never said that this was the only prayer phrase you could use, but advised to ask your teacher for guidance.