In this article I want to continue to explore the depth of meaning in the John Main prayer which we say before meditation. “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.”
And today I want to reflect on the phrase ‘Where your love is revealed’. The first thing to note is what it is that meditation reveals to us. It is God’s love for each one of us. And, as we have mentioned before, this is heart-knowledge, not head knowledge. It is an entirely different way of knowing, beyond the mind, beyond rational thinking. This kind of knowing is trans-rational spiritual knowing based on personal spiritual experience. And, because the Church doesn’t often talk about personal spiritual experience, we very often don’t recognise it when it happens.
Spiritual experience is very ordinary, not extra-ordinary. It is not necessarily an out-of-this-world experience of bliss but a growing realisation of who we really are at the deepest level of our being. It occurs in fleeting glimpses, moments of insight when we briefly experience our true-self and we apprehend something of the depth of reality.
Much of religious education is in fact religious instruction – teaching about the beliefs, doctrines, rituals, customs, rites, and roles of a particular religion. And, there is, of course a need for that. But there is also a need to help people to explore their innate spirituality through practices that promote personal spiritual experience. The theologian Michael Paul Gallagher expressed this need as follows: Spirituality comes before theology: If faith is not an experience of encounter, we have little to reflect on except the words of others. And they will ring hollow unless touched by personal fire.
As John Main describes it, through meditation the ultimate secret is revealed and “the secret is this – Christ in you”. In meditation “we are not striving to make something happen. It has already happened. We are simply realising what already is, by travelling deeper into the unified consciousness of Jesus, into the wonder of our own creation”.
It may help to think about spirit as the flame on a candle. Have you ever tried to walk while holding a candle? If you have you will realise that the movement often snuffs out the candle, because when we move too quickly, to the candle, the sudden movement through the air is just like someone blowing out the candle for example on a birthday cake. So to keep the candle lit, we need to protect it with our hand, or better yet, we can choose to be very still. That is not a bad way of appreciating the need for stillness in meditation.
Imagine that when we create the space within where our spirit can be still and receptive to the Holy Spirit; if you think of both spirits as candles, what happens in meditation is like the flame of the candle that is the Holy Spirit lights up our own candle. That metaphor helps us to understand how we become energised by grace through meditation. When one candle lights another, the first does not lose its energy but now, suddenly, one has double the brightness and double the energy burning within.
Love is like that. The more love is poured out, the more it replenishes itself. It’s like dropping a stone in a still pond. The ripples grow outward, extending in all directions. When we experience this love in meditation, it reawakens and reignites our spirit so that it burns more brightly, shines more clearly.
The image of an unending candle burning within us also shows how we are intimately linked with the Divine. Once a candle is lit, its flame becomes just like that of the candle which lit it. Ultimately, there is nothing to distinguish one flame from the other.
When we say ‘Your love is revealed’ we mean not just that we encounter God in meditation – even if at a level of consciousness deeper than ordinary self-consciousness – but we come to apprehend that not only is God mysteriously in us but we are also mysteriously in God. We come to understand that our longing for love has been awakened by Love, who loved us first. This discovery, this revelation, often comes to us as a slow apprehension rather than a dramatic unveiling.
And we also come to appreciate that what has been disclosed, uncovered, revealed is true, not just for me, but for all of creation. Although each of us is a unique manifestation of the love of God, ultimately we are all one.
As John Main wrote: “Unity among Christians as well as, in the long term, unity among different races and creeds, rests upon our finding the inner principle of unity as a personal experience within our own hearts.” While the experience may be personal what it reveals is universal because the nature of the experience, as the Spirit prays within us, is that it takes us beyond our egoic selves into full awareness of our common personhood.
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.