Tag Archives: Contemplative Fire

If not now, when?

Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.  (Matthew chapter 7 verses 13 and 14)

The narrow gate? What did Jesus mean?

I am part of a dispersed community called Contemplative Fire. Most of us live in the United Kingdom, though there are Companions on the Way (as we are called) in Canada and elsewhere on the planet. We commit ourselves to a threefold rhythm of life: A learning journey, crossing thresholds and the pivotal one, on which the first two depend is:

‘Encountering the present moment in quietness’.

I suggest that the narrow gate of which Jesus speaks is precisely this: the present moment. Isn’t this the key to much of his teaching? Eckhart Tolle’s book The Power of Now is a world-wide best seller. There’s nothing new in what he says. Look carefully through the teaching of many Christian saints and sages and we discover that they all say the same thing in many different ways – ‘if not now, when?’ If we wish to discover the abiding Presence that we call God we should stop searching here, there, in the past, in the future. In fact we must simply stop searching. Rather, we must, in the words of the Psalm: Be still and know…..

I’ve been talking about addiction in the last few posts – our addiction to worry, anxiety, fear, resentment, anger and all the afflictions that our minds fill us with. Is this what Jesus calls the wide gate and the easy road? Surely he doesn’t mean that we actually prefer this state of mind? But look around you; look within yourself. It really does appear that we do rather like worrying, being resentful, angry and all the rest of it! Otherwise, why do we persist with such states of mind? Why do our newspapers and televisions successfully appeal to our sense of outrage, dissatisfaction and blame? Perhaps Jesus is right: it appears to us easier to put up with all the pain than to find the narrow gate, pass through and start out on the disciplined road of the present moment.

Even those of us who believe in the power of prayer and seek to practice the presence of God can be hoodwinked. We get upset about something and we think, I must get to church, go to Confession, find a quiet spot, book a session with my therapist, wait for this wait for that. What we often fail to appreciate fully is that, to quote Martin Laird,

God does not know how to be absent.

 This is why searching is pointless. What could be more pointless than looking for something that is already Present? This is why encountering the present moment in quietness is the key. It’s simple but it’s not easy. Given the pressures of our past personal experience and of contemporary life, we all need to keep practicing our spiritual five finger exercises (prayer, meditation, yoga – whatever helps us to excavate the present moment). For some of us the wounds of our past life are so deep seated that we can benefit from the outside support of a sensitive therapist or a spiritual accompanier. For all of us the rhythm of withdrawal/engagement is essential. As we practice, gradually it becomes a state of being that we live within moment by moment, whatever the outward circumstances of our life. Eckhart Tolle says, “If you miss the present step on the journey, you miss your life”. Let’s spell Life with a capital L because that’s what Jesus is inviting us into.

Awakened consciousness: living the resurrection

I belong to a dispersed community called Contemplative Fire and here is the Easter message from the founder, Philip Roderick, to all of us ‘Companions on the Way’ as we are called. Most of us are in the UK but there are others in Canada and even Hawaii. Philip writes:

Christ is risen! Alleluia! How is this mystery to be revealed this week, this day, this moment in my life, your life, our life? As the darkness of night gives way to the lightness of dawn (as I write), and as the dying back of winter gives rise to the buds, leaves, blossoms and fragrances of spring, how do you and I discover an Alleluia in our own awareness, lifestyle and service?

I am inspired by the work of Cynthia Bourgeault. I was delighted to learn in Wisdom Jesus of her gratitude to Jim Marion’s Putting on the Mind of Christ, where he explores a different way of interpreting Jesus’ often-repeated phrase “the kingdom of heaven”. He sees this as a metaphor for a state of consciousness, “It is a whole new way of looking at the world, a transformed awareness…” So, “the kingdom could well be translated as “awakened consciousness” or “unitive consciousness”. So often, Jesus would begin a teaching by saying “The kingdom of God is like….” Could a way of doing full justice to the inner structure of his teaching be to say: “Awakened consciousness is like….”?

Living in the awareness of God’s kingdom was the clear focus and aspiration of the Jesus mystery, expressed in his teaching of the close disciples and the crowds. The main challenge to that unitive state and liberated intention during Jesus’ last days was suffering and desolation, pain and disintegration. Or so it seemed to the ones who travelled deep with him. This was the end. It appeared so even to the Marys and to John, devoted followers, gathered in grief in the hellish place of absence and aridity. They were at the cross, holding on to scraps of truth in the midst of lies.

He, the awakening and the awakened one, was not only on the Cross, but in the Cross. Dying into the place of intersection. We, as his disciples, as his body, may find ourselves there also – occasionally, regularly, permanently? The point of departure proves to be the place of arrival, but in a new key, at a new level of being. In his Living Between Boundaries, Philip Sheldrake looks into the significance of a cross over a burial site – a meeting place of apparent opposites. The cross embodies a “cosmic entrance and exit point where the material world and the world of the spirit were believed to come into especially close contact.”

Consciousness of God is not tripped up and ambushed by Christ’s journey into the closed quarters of hopelessness and ultimate homelessness, into death. Rather, immersed in the turbulence of our own aspirations, trajectories and periodic buffetings, to our surprise, we discern that what, on occasion, we feel to be the end of meaning, the eschaton, the terminus, is not in fact. Chaos, we gradually discover, is able to sponsor and release from within itself a new beginning, an unfolding of divine-human solidarity; love at all levels.

Rowan Williams once wrote: “The resurrection is cross-shaped”. As with Yeshua, so with us. The rising happens from within the tomb, from inside the hidden place of dying to self. Absence yields presence. There is a greening of the desert, a leavening of the dough, a rolling of the stone, a rising of the sun. Having negotiated the Lenten beckoning to “Risk Reality”, our invitation now is to “Welcome Life“.

Happy Eastertide! May an awakened consciousness be graced to each of us!

Amen to that!