Clone of Online Meditation Readings: 15 and 16 January


From The Tablet Column (january 2015)

Laurence Freeman OSB

Slea Head in West Kerry is austere in January. But there are magnificent clear days as well as low, slow mists that shroud everything. Walkers on coastal paths on these cold days exchange short, warm greetings, recovering the intimacy of strangers passing in lonely places from the polite, jostling indifference of the tourist season. We are like birds blown off course few enough to notice each other with human interest.

The man in an orange work-jacket repairing the dry stonewalls of the rounded beehive huts didn’t know much of their history. He was using his gloved hands, and no tools I could see except a chisel. The huts were the dwellings of families as well as of the Celtic monks who began to live the spirituality of the Egyptian desert on and off this coast from the fifth century. He was one of a few who still have the skill of building these weather-proof walls without cement or plaster which were characterized local culture here for thousands of years. When I asked him if the huts really kept out the cold he shrugged and smiled and said he’d prefer central heating. I agreed. It’s harder to pray when you’re cold and damp.

However distant we are from our more resilient ancestors there can still be a bridge of shared experience and awareness connecting us. We can appreciate and be thankful for comforts they would have certainly enjoyed if they could. We admire their toughness and it warns us not to get too soft. (Our good days might not last). This connection in difference is very perceptible in relationships between grandparents, parents and children but it has an ominous aspect too.

Here in Ireland a generation ago rural life was still austere and basic – read Tomas O’Crohans ‘The Islandman’ for its Homeric account of life on the Blasket

Islands until the middle of the last century. Those who remember when it was like that show no longing to go back to its discomforts and avoidable tragedies; but as they see the new world of the next generation coming into being they feel the change concerns more than modern appliances. It is a shift, a slide into a new epoch. With the shedding of discomforts there has come the great forgetting.

Italy was stunned recently by a quiz show in which students were asked when Hitler came to power (1933). Only one came anywhere close. Some put it in the 19th century and one even in 2001. The sort-sighted claim by Francis Fukyuama in his ‘End of History’ after the end of the Cold War illustrates that in a sense history has come to an end – or rather our collective sense of time. How could a historian claim history had ended just because one side had won a war?

The movement from analog to digital exemplifies a shift in consciousness and perspective. Audio buffs agree that analog (for example, the old vinyl records which are having a nostalgic comeback today) gives a much more accurate and richer sound than digital. It is direct transposition whereas digital recording translates the sound into the universal binary computer code and puts a further space – a forgetting - between it and the original. Of course, in a digital recording you can do much more – edit, copy, transfer. But multiply the effects of the consciousness shaped by a thousand daily digital tasks and the nature of the cultural shift becomes clearer.

As audio and video recording create an ever more breathtakingly vivid virtual reality the actual original dissolves into the mist of history. There is no longer the first-hand sight of cold hands chiseling stone but a recording of it in the tourist centre (closed from November to Easter). Many more things become immediately present in the digital imagination – the world is never more than a mouse-click away. But the click disenchants. Illusions of relationships that don’t exist in any embodied human sense are sustained in social media and might seem preferable to real encounters which bring so many dangers of disappointment and loss of control. The digital erases process and therefore a sense of real time. The old analog TV sets spun illusion but you could see it fading as the central point of light on the screen slowly disappeared.

What you want now is what you can get and replay. Of course, we don’t want to go back to television tubes or to beehive huts. But what this generation is losing is immense and perhaps as irrecoverable as earlier historical cultures.

Only a recovery of contemplation, direct experience, in our digital society can restore the human balance. Oddly enough, but hopefully, children today seem to feel this better than their elders. If we still remember it, this might well be a better year.



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.


After Meditation, from THE DHAMMAPADA,

“The Path,” verses 276-279, ed. by Anne Bancroft (Rockport, MA: Element, 1997), p. 81.


You must make the effort, the awakened only point the way.

Those who have entered the path and who meditate, free themselves from the bonds of illusion.

Everything is changing. It arises and passes away. The one who realizes this is freed from sorrow. This is the shining path.To exist is to know suffering. Realize this and be free from suffering. This is the radiant path.

There is no separate self to suffer. The one who understands this is free.

This is the path of clarity.




By Laurence Freeman OSB

May this Community 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 retreat 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 Community 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. Amen.