A Contemplative Christianity
for our Time
with Rev Dr Sarah Bachelard
This course is based on five talks with the overarching title “A Contemplative Christianity for Our Time”, given by Sarah Bachelard at the John Main Seminar in 2019. The talks take on the most urgent issues facing not just the future of the Church and Christianity, but also that of the world itself. Sarah’s contribution to the seminar was described by Laurence Freeman OSB as “a breakthrough in the understanding of modern Christianity”.
Sarah reviews the history of the Christian contemplative tradition, paying particular attention to its revival over the past sixty years. She examines its current place and function in the life of the church. This proves to be a starting point for an even wider and more radical analysis of the role of Christianity in our increasingly secular times – in a world which, in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words, has come of age. What kind of claim – if any – does the Christian narrative have in such a world, where it seems to have lost not just meaningful authority, but any purchase at all? This is the central question to which Sarah’s talks constantly return her listeners, encouraging us to take nothing for granted, to be ready to surrender our perhaps long-cherished ideas and models of reality which might, however, be no longer valid or effective in the world. Helping us to see through the strategies of both a nostalgic conservatism and a potentially infantilising liberalism, this redefining of contemplative Christianity makes it inspiringly clear that our practice of Christian meditation might just be the great gift of hope that the world now so desperately needs.
There is also a book of the same title which you can purchase here It is recommended as an accompaniment to the course, but not an essential purchase in order to begin.
Organized by the World Community for Christian Meditation, the John Main Seminar (JMS) has been an annual event since 1984. It was established to honour the memory of Fr. John Main and to take forward his legacy of broadening and deepening the teaching of Christian meditation. The seminar has been held in many different countries over the years. Featured speakers have included His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Cardinal Walter Kaspar, former Irish President Mary McAleese, as well as contemplative Christians Abbot Thomas Keating, former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, and Father Richard Rohr.
“The first step in faith is to stop thinking about God at the time of prayer. We have instead to believe – not just mentally but with the whole of our being (that makes belief into faith) that he is with us, and we in him.”
– John Main, OSB
What you will discover in this course:
– Lesson 1
Contemplation and Christianity in our Time
Sarah describes the revival, since the 1950s, of the contemplative tradition in Christianity. The Church, at first resistant and suspicious, has gradually come to welcome meditation as a valid form of prayer. But now the religion itself is facing an enormous challenge, seeming to have lost all relevance and authority in our secular times. What does Christian meditation have to offer in such a world?
– Lesson 2
Religionless Christianity in a Secular Age
Jesus came to challenge all received ideas about the firm boundaries between the ‘sacred’ and the ‘profane’. For this very reason it is – paradoxically – valid to see the world’s current secularism as a working out of the Gospel, even as being a “friend to faith”, a purification. Rather than having to choose between a “liberal” or “conservative” theology and Church, we are now being shown another way, a practice.
– Lesson 3
Jesus the Christ
The personal encounter with Jesus invites an openness and a receptivity that will change our sense of who we are. We cannot use our pre-existing categories for the world and for experience any longer – we must be prepared for a time of unknowing which can feel like a death. Meditation guides us into a trusting relationship and an experience of union that transforms everything.
– Lesson 1
The Vocation of a Contemplative Community
We are called to participate on the inside of divine life, by being co-creators with God. We respond to God’s self-emptying gift of creation and life by celebrating its goodness. We are also called – like Etty Hillesum, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and countless others, to challenge injustice and sometimes to bear unbearable pain. Learning to undergo what must be undergone, we are no longer victims of wishful thinking but able to live in authentic hope.
– Lesson 5
A Church Come of Age
Meditation enables us to be before God with “undefended openness”. The Church itself must also learn and embody this attitude, no longer competing for space in the world, simply intent on its own survival. To be “self-dispossessing” in this way it must no longer be tribal and hierarchical. A contemplative Church is not busy, anxious and controlling but offering a way of fully being in the world, trusting and loving.
What's Included in the Course
PEER DISCUSSION GROUPS
Expand your perspective by engaging in peer discussions around learning objectives, or start your own topic.
SEARCHABLE GLOBAL NETWORK
Search our global network of meditators and find local groups to support you in your spiritual journey.
Get access to our vast and ever-growing resource library to supplement your practice at every stage.
Sarah Bachelard is an ordained Anglican priest and retreat leader, based in Canberra, Australia and the founding director of Benedictus Contemplative Church. She was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University where she studied theology with former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. Sarah was the keynote speaker at the John Main Seminar of 2019, held in British Columbia, Canada.