Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Thoughts on Christian Meditation (Part 5)

The Wild Reed's Advent 2015 series on Christian meditation concludes with an excerpt from William Johnston's 2000 book, "Arise, My Love . . .": Mysticism for a New Era. In this excerpt, Johnston explains how Christian mysticism (expressed and facilitated through meditation) moves through following Jesus to identification with Jesus and union with the Sacred Presence (labelled in traditional Christian theology as "God," "the Father," and "Blessed Trinity").

(Note: To start at the beginning of this series, click here.)


The starting point is not my love for God but God's love for me. Just as Jesus had the deep conviction of being loved by his Father, so the Christian mystic has the deep conviction of being loved by Jesus. "As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; dwell in my love" (John 15:9).

. . . The response [to such dwelling] is love. In most mystics it is love for the crucified like that of Paul, who writes, "I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified" (1 Cor 2:2). Or it is like the love of Francis, in whose body the wounds of Christ appeared. Or it is like the love of Edith Stein, who went to her death in the gas chamber of Auschwitz. It is love not only for the historical Jesus but for Jesus in the poor, the sick, in persons with handicaps, the underprivileged, the persecuted and the dying. It is a love that leads to wisdom.

The distinctive feature of mysticism is that this love-and-wisdom is gift or, in traditional Catholic terminology, "infused." People who meditate may become aware of an all-pervading presence that is within and around and gives them deep peace. "I did not cause this," they say. "It is gift." Yet this sense of presence is no more than the first stage. After some time the consoling sense of presence gives way to a painful sense of absence and abandonment. Now one cries, "Lama Sabacthani." But the dark night does not last forever. The mature mystic experiences fire and light.

The fire is love and the light is wisdom. The Cloud of Unknowing speaks of "the blind stirring of love." Orthodox mystics speak of "the burning of the spirit." St. John of the Cross unites the light and the fire in his cry, "O Lamps of fire" (Oh Lamparas de fuego) and he tells us that the lamps of fire are the Holy Spirit.

What then is happening in the mystical experience?

Traditional theology teaches that the human person is purified and divinized through the fiery love of the Holy Spirit. The old theologians like to quote the prayer of the Second Epistle of Peter: "that you may . . . become participants of the divine nature" (1:4). In a daring phrase they spoke of "becoming God by participation." One is divinized by union with Jesus, the Son, in whom one cries our, "Abba, Father!" Christian mysticism reaches a climax when through him, with him and in him, one enters into that communion of love that tradition calls the Blessed Trinity.

. . . The Spirit [or Sacred Presence] is at work in the hearts of all men and women and in the scriptures and traditions of all authentic religions. In 1986 at Assisi Pope John Paul prayed with Hindus and Buddhists and Muslims and Jews, reminding us that [this Presence], at work throughout the world, is particularly active in the hearts of those who pray. The same Spirit is at work in all religions. The fire and the light will always be given to the human family.

– William Johnston
Excerpted from "Arise, My Love . . .": Mysticism for a New Era
pp. 200-201

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Thoughts on Christian Meditation (Part 1)
Thoughts on Christian Meditation (Part 2)
Thoughts on Christian Meditation (Part 3)
Thoughts on Christian Meditation (Part 4)
Diarmuid O'Murchú on Our Capacity to Meditate: "A Gift Bestowed Upon Every Human Being"
Happy Birthday, Mum! (includes Thích Nhất Hạnh's thoughts on walking meditation)
Prayer of the Week – November 23, 2015
The Source is Within You
The Ground Zero Papal Prayer Service . . . and a Reminder of the Spirituality That Transcends What All the Religions Claim to Represent
In the Garden of Spirituality – Anthony de Mello
"Joined at the Heart": Robert Thompson on Christianity and Sufism
As the Last Walls Dissolve . . . Everything is Possible
The Most Sacred and Simple Mystery of All

Opening image: The Centre for Celtic Spirituality

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