Letter 22: Meditation and Community

We have looked at the influence on John Main of the teaching of the Desert Fathers and Mothers, in particular Evagrius of Pontus and John Cassian, Celtic spirituality, St Benedict and the writings of St Paul in the previous episodes of Weekly Teaching.

John Cassian stressed the dangers of going it alone and therefore I now would like to highlight another important element in John Main’s teaching, namely the importance of meditating in a group. Laurence Freeman has pointed out: “John Main saw this modern development of contemplation as originating in the communities of faith and the liturgy at the heart of the early church. These early Christians also gathered in small groups in one another's houses. This coming together in prayer formed the "koinonia", or the social interaction and communion that was the distinguishing mark and power of the early church. These small groups met to pray and offer support and encouragement to each other in their common faith.” This is an exact description of our meditation groups around the world. When we meditate, we instinctively realize that this is a journey that is difficult to make alone; it is so much easier if we make it with others. It is true that no one else can meditate for us; we meditate in solitude every day, but at the same time we realize that meeting with others on a common pilgrimage can give us the support and the teaching we need to carry on the journey.

John Main saw clearly that meditating regularly in a group would solidify our individual commitment to the spiritual discipline of meditation: “In contact with others we awaken to the deeper truth of our being that we are meant to see, and so we learn to travel beyond ourselves. This is why meditating regularly, whether daily or weekly, with the same group or community is such a healthy sustenance to our pilgrimage. We cannot maintain the delusion of an isolated pilgrimage when we are present with others. And yet, this very physical and spiritual presence recalls us to a deeper personal commitment to stillness, to silence and to fidelity…..The group or community similarly signals the end to all false heroism and self-dramatization. Being in touch with the ordinary failings and limitations of others puts our resources and fidelity into perspective, which we need for balance and harmony in our life. In the presence of others we know ourselves.”(The Present Christ)

The important reason why we should meet in a meditation group once a week is therefore clear: it allows us to be taught the essentials and the background of our discipline of meditation; it promotes a spiritual bond amongst the members and a mutual concern between those who have set out on a common pilgrimage. In commenting about meditating in a group, Fr William Johnston SJ, in his book, The Inner Eye of Love, says: “For example we can sit together in silent and wordless meditation. And in such a situation we can feel not only the silence in our hearts but the silence of the whole group. Sometimes such silence will be almost palpable and it can unite people more deeply than any words.” This sharing of silence is the heart of the meditation group meeting. The power and strength of meditating together comes from the words of Jesus, ‘Where two or three are gathered in my name there I am in the midst of them' (Matt 18:20).

Kim Nataraja