CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 16 February 2019

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Meditating though the obsessions
of life to the kingdom of God

 HONG KONG (SE): “I took part in a retreat directed by Father Laurence Freeman, the current director of the World Community of Christian Meditation in Hong Kong,” Louis Tong told the Sunday Examiner after attending a three-day gathering from September 16 to 18 at the Harbour Plaza Hotel.

“I was inspired by some of the key messages shared by Father Freeman in his talks,” Tong went on, saying that the international makeup of the group of over 120 people from 18 countries added a dimension of its own, as did the mix of laypeople, priests and religious.

The programme featured five sitting meditation sessions and two walking ones each day, both aimed at slowing down and freeing the mind from the daily clutter, allowing space to be in contact with both self and God.

The walking meditation takes place outside and involves slow steps, one at a time, for about half an hour. Concentration on the repetitive physical action helps quieten the spirit and allows God to touch the inner heart.

“In addition to these sessions and the daily Eucharist, we had two talks each day. To me, they were full of spiritual wisdom, whereas the Eucharist and meditations were more devotional,” Tong explained.

He added that personally, what he enjoyed most was the sitting meditation, especially immediately after holy communion at Mass.

“In the scriptures, we are encouraged to go to our inner room (our heart) and pray in silence. We need to relax, but stay awake. The sitting position is good for meditation, because it is halfway between standing and lying down, in between the fully alert and completely relaxed, which tempts sleep,” Tong explained.

He said that in this inner room, there is a stillness and silence can be maintained. “Not doing anything, just being,” he went on, adding, “Repeating the sacred word Ma-ra-na-tha (Come, Lord Jesus!), wards off our wandering thoughts.”

He described meditation as a heart contracting then relaxing through the two cardiac phases. “This is the spiritual emptying and filling up—self purification, ridding us of our limitations and impurities, so that the Spirit can fill us up,” he noted.

He called it Christian rebirth, repeating the Pascual mystery of Jesus. He said that Father Freeman called it a union of opposites. “This is the union of Christian life,” Tong reflected. “The idea of union and integration really struck me.”

He pointed out that in Christ, there is no more contradiction and difference. “Rich and poor, free man and slave, east and west, liberal and conservative…, all the binary positions in life are somehow joined,” he explained.

Tong said that the goal in life is to stay awake, becoming more and more conscious of the present moment living in our ever expanding consciousness, while at the same time feeling the presence of God in life and in creation.

“Each moment of our life is like returning home to our source of life and love. We are awakening, every day every moment,” he said.

He added that even though there are ups and downs, joys and sorrows, hopes and disappointments in life, if we imagine the disappointment and sorrows of Jesus’ life, especially during the Last Supper, we see a path through this mess.

“Jesus shared the bread and wine, his body and blood, with all his apostles, including Judas, who was to betray him,” Tong pointed out. “His goal was to bring people back home, back to the Father, so that all will be one.”

Tong reflected that wisdom often comes from failure, pain and struggle, but most often comes at times when we are able to let go and surrender completely to the Lord.

“In fact, the measure of our spiritual growth is the degree of our detachment which leads to liberation and complete freedom. The spiritual path of unity is often the path of division, of struggle. Before dawn is the dark night, which is the prelude to enlightenment for perseverance and complete surrendering to lead us to the dawn, to the source of light—our saviour,” he noted.

Tong quoted Father Freeman as saying that life is full of paradoxes, which can lead us to a deeper experience of truth when resolved.

“Through meditation, just being, we learn to resolve paradoxes, for it helps us break through to a higher level of consciousness,” Father Freeman said.

Tong likened this to the Taoist wisdom of weakness overcoming strength, or the Beatitude message of the importance of becoming poor in order to inherit the richness of the kingdom. “Dark night is good, for it is the prelude of dawn,” he noted.

He calls meditation a way that brings every part of our day into harmony and describes it as the way beyond personal dividedness and anxiety resulting from our denial of God and separation from the Spirit.

Tong then quoted from Father John Main’s book, Word Made Flesh, saying, “Meditation proves itself, through faithful practice, as a way to deep peace and joy. It takes us across the bridge of sadness that arises from the feeling of separation. The ego arises in separateness and when the ego is transcended we realise our unity with God.”

The spiritual journey often goes through dark nights before dawn. But the pain and sorrow can be good for purifying the ego of the false self in a return to childhood. True nature and true self is preparation for the kingdom of God.

In his wisdom talks, Father Freedman dwells on the ego, true self, enlightenment and how meditation helps to arrive at that stage of consciousness.

Ego in Sanskrit is composed of two words; true self and vehicle, but to reach the destination the vehicle needs to be abandoned, as it is only useful up to a point, as there is a way beyond that can only be negotiated with hands and feet.

“That is the Mount Carmel (union with God) that St. John of the Cross speaks of,” Tong pointed out.

Father Freeman says that for us, this means giving up addictions, attachments and obsessions that weight us down in the climb.

In meditation, he recommends the use of the words Jesus, Abba and Ma-ra-na-tha to reach the purity of heart the ancient sages talk about, adding that only with the pure heart of our true self can we arrive at a state of wholeness.

The song, Abide With Me tries to reveal this.

Abide with me,
fast falls the eventide;

The darkness deepens Lord, with me abide!

When other helpers fail and comforts flee,

Help of the helpless,
O abide with me!

However, Father Freeman says that individually, socially and globally, we have within us many wounds to heal. He calls this the hurtful part of the body of Christ, requiring action.

He calls meditation the portal to bringing about the kingdom of God within us and among us and says the best place to present our problems, differences and conflicts is the Eucharist, as in Christ we are one.

But then he asks, “Do we need to abandon all worldly desires to enter the kingdom of God?” as desire can be good and gives us energy to climb the mountain.

“It is the addiction that is the problem. Worldly desire weights us down and becomes an obstacle,” he pointed out.

“Very often it is in the deep wounds in our heart that we find faith in God and our love for God. The heart of the gospel is the turning around, the going home as exemplified by the story of the Prodigal Son. Grace is always greater than sin, greater than our limitations, our shortcomings, our wounds. Christ comes to our weakness and brings us wholeness. Remember the imagery of the loving father rushing out to welcome the Prodigal Son,” Tong concludes.