John Main wrote a simple prayer which is recited before the start of meditation and which reads as follows: “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.” Last month we began with the opening words ‘Heavenly Father’ and today I’d like to reflect on the words ‘Open our hearts’.
In asking God to open our hearts, we recognise that while meditation is an expression of our intention to simply be with him, it is God who works on us, not the other way around.
We approach meditation from an attitude of being willing rather than wilful. And that calls us to be open to being changed by our meditation and to recognise that so often we are closed and wilful because of our conditioning and our desire for power, prestige and possessions.
John Main liked to say that meditation opens the human heart as naturally as sunlight gives rise to the unfolding of a flower. And, as the heart unfolds, we discover a new depth of silence behind the noise of our distracting thoughts and preoccupations.
In the deep silence of meditation we leave ourselves open and vulnerable to a graced encounter which happens – and it is important to appreciate this – that graced encounter happens at a level of consciousness deeper than ordinary self-consciousness. So, because it is experienced in the heart rather than the mind, we will not be able to recall the experience after meditation. We will, of course, remember all the distracting thoughts we experienced, but not what happened in between those bursts of thought.
The prayer asks that our hearts be opened “to the silent Presence of the Spirit”. So this is a ‘silent’ presence, not something we hear or interpret with our minds, but something we intuit and experience with the heart.
Meditation teaches us that silence is not so much the absence of sound, as the absence of self. Indeed, anything that you may hear is a distraction…”
Meditation teaches us that silence is not so much the absence of sound, as the absence of self. Indeed, anything that you may hear is a distraction, so let it go and return to silently repeating your mantra in your heart.
I lead a meditation group in Carlow, in Ireland, and I always have an electronic candle lighting when the others arrive. It symbolises God’s presence and the fact that God is always present to us.
However, we are so busy most of the time, we don’t pay attention to that vital presence in our lives. As we say the meditation prayer, we switch on a second candle to symbolise that we are now intentionally making ourselves present to him.
We usually say ‘Open our hearts’ even when we meditate on our own. In other words, we recognise that he is father to all people, all races, all genders, all colours, all nationalities; that we are all children of God, that we are brothers and sisters in Christ.
The opening words of the prayer stress our common humanity and reminds us that God loves all that he created and that we are all equally loved by him. It reminds us of the centrality of relationship in our lives – our relationship with him and with one another.
Meditation deepens our sense of inter-connectedness with all of humanity and all of creation. These words also acknowledge that meditation is not simply something we do for our own benefit, but for the benefit of all.
And we are not asking that our hearts be opened merely for the time of our meditation but we wish them to remain open to God’s presence always. That is how meditation slowly but surely transforms us over time – because we become closer to achieving that awareness for more and more of our lives as our conditioning loses its hold on us.
It heightens our awareness of the true-self – who we are in God and who God is in us and we begin to live life from that perspective. Motivational speakers often tell us that we can be whatever we want to be.
But meditation offers us something much more profound – you can be what you already are. You can be yourself as a child of God, recognising – however obscurely – your intimate connection with the Divine. You can be who you are.
As John Main wrote: “The all-important aim in Christian meditation is to allow God’s mysterious and silent presence within us to become more and more not only a reality, but the reality in our lives; to let it become that reality which gives meaning, shape and purpose to everything we do, to everything we are.”
As that happens, we begin to get a deeper sense of who we truly are, a deeper sense of our true-self. But, as the poet Denise Levertov expresses it,
“A feeling towards it,
dimly sensing a rhythm, is all we have
until we begin to utter its metaphors,
learning them as we speak.”
I invite you now to spend some time in the stillness and silence of meditation where you can begin to experience that truth for yourself.
After 40 years in the education sector Noel Keating was awarded a PhD for his research into the child’s experience of meditation and its spiritual fruits. Noel now leads, in a voluntary capacity, a project which offers free in-service to primary schools who may wish to consider introducing meditation as a whole-school practice. Noel is author of Meditation with Children: A Resource for Teachers and Parents.