An excerpt from John Main OSB, “Second Conference,” THE GETHSEMANI TALKS (Tucson, AZ: Medio Media, 1999), pp. 35-37.
We must take extreme care about using terms like “self-renunciation.” In prayer we do truly seek to turn our whole being to a contemplation of God’s goodness, of his infinite love.
But we can only do this with any degree of effectiveness when we have first truly come close to ourselves. Prayer itself is the way to experience the truth of the words of Jesus: “The man who would find his life, must first lose it.” But we have to take a preliminary step. And this first step is to gain the necessary confidence to lay down our life in the poverty of the single verse in meditation. [. . . .]
Meditation and the poverty of it is no form of self-rejection. We are not running away from ourselves, nor do we hate ourselves. On the contrary, our search is a search for ourselves and the experience of our own personal and infinite capacity to be loved. The harmony of the real Self that lies beyond all selfishness, beyond all ego-based activity, is so well attested to in the Christian tradition. St Catherine of Genoa put it succinctly: “My me is God. Nor do I know my selfhood save in him.” But to arrive at our selfhood---and it is to that invitation we respond when we meditate---or, putting it in the more felicitous and perhaps more accurate language of the East, to realize ourselves---we must pass into the radical experience of personal poverty with an unflinching self-surrender.
And what we surrender, what we die to is, in the thought of Zen, not the self or the mind but rather that image of the self or the mind which we have mistakenly come to identify with who we really are. Now this is not a proposition that we need, in the language of the Cloud of Unknowing, “to expound with imaginative cleverness.” But it does indicate that what we are renouncing in prayer is, essentially, unreality. And the pain of the renunciation will be in proportion to the extent that we have committed ourselves to unreality, the extent to which we have taken our illusions to be real.
After meditation: from THE ILLUMINATED RUMI, tr. Coleman Barks (New York: Broadway Books, 1997), p. 122.
You’ve read where it says that
Lovers pray constantly.
Once a day, once a week, five times an hour,
is not enough. Fish like we are
need the ocean around us.
Do camel-bells say, Let’s meet again
Ridiculous. They jingle
talking while the camel walks.
Do you pay regular visits to yourself?
Don’t argue or answer rationally.
Let us die,
and dying, reply.
Carla Cooper - firstname.lastname@example.org