As the sense of isolation begins to grate on Christians secluding themselves away from the reach of Covid-19 in their homes, whether they are working or workless, they are looking for new ways of being community. Many have found their way online to reasonably local churches which happen to be livestreaming Sunday Mass - and taken their pick, no longer trammelled by how far they are prepared to walk or drive on a Sunday morning.
On the other hand, those with an attraction to the contemplative path, dating back to the desert fathers, such as John Cassian of the 4th century, have found their way to the website of the World Community for Christian Meditation (WCCM) and its related branches - the School of Meditation, Meditatio and Bonnevaux the international WCCM Retreat Centre recently opened, near Poitiers in France. The resources available are impressive and plentiful. For those who are unfamiliar with this dimension of prayer - the prayer of the heart, silent, simple and still - a beginners' course is offered for free. For those who have been meditating for longer, a full range of extremely stimulating courses enable them to deepen their twice daily routine which they integrate with their other ways of prayer.
There is plentiful anecdotal as well as academic evidence that meditation - a universal wisdom practice - is good for mental and physical health. That there is a Christian tradition of this wisdom, rooted in the teaching of Jesus on prayer, is less well-known although the work of John Main (1926-1982), the Irish Benedictine monk who reminded the church of this, believed this contemplative dimension of faith would renew the church. Karl Rahner SJ also famously said, "the Christian of the future will be mystic or there will be no Christians". The current corona crisis is awakening the hunger for meditation among Christians deprived of their usual Sunday liturgy, but also many others who have been seeking depth in their traditional faith.
Last week the WCCM, guided by its Director, Fr Laurence Freeman OSB, launched a new programme for those seeking a spiritual path through the crisis - open to all, rooted in Christian wisdom. Recently he hosted a weeklong online inter-contemplative dialogue between Christianity and Buddhism with himself, Alan Wallace of the Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies and Eva Natanya. Originally scheduled to be physically held as a retreat at Bonnevaux for a few dozen participants, it was rescheduled online and many hundreds from around the world connected for each of the five main sessions. The recording continues online at wccm.org
Responding to the spiritual crisis of the pandemic this dialogue was the first event of the WCCM's 'A Contemplative Path through the Crisis'. It offers enriching and hope-filled online meditation sessions, dialogues and talks as well as a live-streamed Contemplative Sunday Mass from the Barn at Bonnevaux. In the words of Fr Laurence: "We can help to deepen our own interior peace and bring it to others during this global epidemic of fear and anxiety. We can all be part of a shared contemplative response that makes a difference to those around us even if we are physically separated. Social distancing can bring us closer together spiritually. We only need to go deeper. To go deeper we need only to be still. Meditation does both. This peace need not only be a temporary relief. It can open us to new and hope-filled depths of faith. Maybe if we use this opportunity, we will not only get through this storm. We will also remember, after the present fear has passed, the lesson of how to live a good life better."
I was awe-struck by the beauty, simplicity and sheer peacefulness of the Mass livestreamed from Bonnevaux last Sunday. For me, it struck totally the right chord. Fr Laurence's teaching on the gospel of the raising of Lazarus was in-depth and searching and the message was one of reassurance and confidence. Nothing was rushed and the meditation a wonderful time to pause in total silence, knowing that I was at one with fellow meditators across the world, and just simply BE - with God within me and without.
WCCM's website offers an App which times you through a 20-minute meditation session beginning and ending with a 'bong' from the singing bowl. So, you don't have to keep opening your eyes to look at the clock.
If you would rather meditate with others in real time, then there are online meditation groups you can join, with the times of meetings listed.
For more information about 'A Contemplative Path through the Crisis', go to: www.wccm.org
Sunday Mass is currently livestreamed at 12 Noon French time and the link is accessible to all via the WCCM website.
Catherine Scott is Head of Operations at WCCM
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