Four weeks ago I began a series on Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, a Carmelite monk who lived and served in the 17th century at a monastery near Paris.
Please read the posts of the past week or two (or preferably the entire series) for more background. As always in my comments on any topic, people are encouraged to adapt to their chosen tradition of faith or philosophy those insights they find to be relevant and to set aside the rest.
The general practice Brother Lawrence calls “Practicing the Presence of God” is to maintain an awareness of God’s life throughout the day. The question raised in earlier posts of this series is, “What are the best ways to do this?”
The subject of this week’s post is the suggestion that you find sacred texts, or books on meditation, you can study in a practice of daily reading. Here is the challenge I am working with as I make this suggestion.
To gain any real depth of experience and insights I feel it is important to go very deeply into at least one tradition, and to have a general knowledge of at least one or two of the other established faith traditions of the world. As one does this it is necessary to share the insights they have gained without any dogmatic sense that their way is “the only true way.” There are many true ways, although all true ways will share certain common and essential features.
What I feel can work is to share a process of study that people can adopt to support their own search regardless of the beliefs and traditions they feel called to explore. My core suggestion is that when you discuss what you have found to always be ready to say something like, “Here is what I have found in my tradition. But, I do not assume that you will agree with the foundation assumptions of my tradition, and I understand you may be conducting your own search in ways that may be very different.”
For my practice of daily reading I make a careful study of the Hebrew and Christian Bible. I also read, on a daily basis, writers such as Brother Lawrence, St. Therese of Liseaux, The Philokalia, Bishop Kallistos Ware, Thomas Merton and many others. I set aside those passages I find to be dysfunctional, downright unintelligible, or just plain wrong. I keep looking for those passages that are superb and clearly divinely inspired such as the 23rd Psalm, or the Sermon on the Mount Matthew 5:1-9, or Corinthians 1:13, or Isiah 2.
You may very well choose another theist or even a non-theist tradition as your vision of life and focus of daily reading. But what I am trying to say with all these careful preludes is that an immersion in the literature of a venerable tradition allows one to engage the best spiritual or philosophical writing at a uniquely visceral level. You can work with the key phrases or images that you find as your way of maintaining practice throughout the active hours of the day.
The practical steps in the study are to make a careful search for a key word or short phrase in those passages that strike a chord within you. In the Catholic tradition this is called Lectio Divina or divine reading.
As you conduct your studies you will find from time to time a suitable short phrase which you can use as the prayer of the day or week or month. Several times throughout the day, or more if you wish to, you can recite this brief phrase silently within yourself without any strained emotion or fanfare. Rather the intent is to call to mind great and noble sentiments throughout the day amidst the hassles and joys of every day work and life. Maintaining this steady awareness of divine life throughout the day, through a variety of practices such as this, is the essence of Brother Lawrence’s practice and teachings.
Here are some examples of passages that are meaningful to me:
“My hope is in the Lord who made heaven and earth.” (my own paraphrase)
“Those who drink the water I give them will never thirst again.” (John 4:14)
“I shall dwell in the house of the lord forever.” (Psalm 23:6)
“Blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God.” Mathew 5:8
“Into your hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46)
But as I give this suggestion I do so with this qualification:
It is important to remember there is no single tradition that is free from error and dysfunction. As noted, my suggestion is that you set aside passages that seem to be disturbing or just plain wrong. Keep looking for those superb brief phrases or images which speak to you at a mysteriously deep level.
And remember, any sincere person, whether they follow a God centered path or a Non-theistic path, can find a way to know the halcyon joy and freedom that is possible in this life. But there are some common traits that all valid paths will have.
A high level of diligence and personal integrity needs to be applied to the study of virtue, compassion, love, wisdom, and concentration.
Let me know your thoughts. Is there a short phrase you have been repeating quietly within yourself over the past few weeks during the day and evening?
will at meditation practice dot com ( Spelled out to avoid spam)