This year in my role in The World Community for Christian Meditation I have been meeting with our national coordinators in six regions of the globe. We began with South East Asia and the Pacific in January followed by meetings in three European regions. We have just finished the regional meeting with N. America, Mexico, Haiti and the Caribbean countries and I move on now to the last of this series in S. America.
There are meetings. And there are meetings.
Despite the discomfort and degradation of air travel today these encounters with our national coordinators have for me been worth the wear and tear. These teachers of meditation and community leaders are volunteers with families and careers. They pour talent, time and their selves into this contemplative renewal of Christianity and into sharing the fruits of meditation with the secular world – with children, students, in the fields of mental health, addiction, business, interfaith dialogue and peace and justice. Naturally, we have talked about, programs, events, and organizational and structural matters in our ‘monastery without walls’. But the really transformative and inspirational part of these meetings has been the experience of seeing the marriage of the mystical and apostolic dimensions of the gospel-centred life.
Dr Pierre, for example, is our national coordinator in Haiti which I last visited just before the earthquake which laid low a country you would have thought could not have sunk any lower. He is a centred and modest personality with a clear, quick open mind who graduated top of his class and is now medical director of a hospital. The hospital survived the earthquake and has played a major part in the aftermath. As survivors were rescued the relief teams brought those with spinal cord injuries for care in Pierre’s hospital. He was not technically equipped to handle them but he couldn’t refuse and has since acquired the staff and equipment needed to care for them. He has also started a Christian meditation group with these patients. We could see what a grace it has been to them, to him and to the whole hospital. He has taught them a way of inner healing helping them to accept the new realities of their lives and to live with the hope and peace that no drug or medical technology by itself can give.
Of course Haiti has long learned how to live with tragedy, endemic corruption, exploitation and poverty and yet to remain – one wants to say shamelessly - joyful. Suicide in this most ravaged of countries is virtually unknown. Life is felt to be worth living for its own sake so should never be thrown away. No doubt close family and social networks also help people to endure and increase their resilience. But there is an irrepressible, instinctual love of life that defies analysis. In my room in London I have a painting I was given in Haiti – a tightly disciplined composition of a market scene packed with vitality and bright primary colours that exudes the life and joy you meet on the streets everywhere. It reminds me daily of the real source of hope and of the perspective needed for all right judgment.
Dr Pierre spoke at our meeting about poverty in Haiti, with quiet passion and very reasonably. I remembered the twelve year old boy in a group I spoke with during my visit who told me that before he went to sleep at night he tried to recite his favourite psalm to himself to cope with his hunger pains but how frequently the pangs of hunger interrupted his prayer. Dr Pierre accepts that the poor will be always with us and that all social economies institutionalize some level of injustice. His motivation is not utopian but spiritual. How can those who have neither the self-esteem nor the bare physical necessities of life be expected to see life as a spiritual journey? If you are endlessly worried about where your next meal is coming from religion will be more magical than mystical. But when the poor especially discover meditation as the prayer of the heart, the white magic of religion yields to the faith-energy of the gospel.
His plans for teaching meditation to the poor in Haiti were presented clearly and convincingly, based on an understanding of prayer as more than consolation or an escape for misery. Teaching meditation to the poor is a political act. It leads to new personal dignity, clears the mind, purifies the heart and releases wisdom and compassion. One day, perhaps, when this alchemy of contemplative prayer occurs in an individual with the right intellectual gifts and leadership skills, it will empower revolution, first in the heart and then in the body politic.
This meeting of the richest and poorest countries in the western hemisphere gave us a contemplative perspective on our contrasts but also what we share in common. Such a meeting is worth a bit of wear and tear.
Laurence Freeman OSB
The World Community for Christian Meditation, of which Laurence Freeman OSB is director, has recently opened a new outreach program – “Meditatio” (www.wccmmeditatio.org)