The Living School • Day Three
With eyes closed, my right hand drums out a beat on my chest over my heart. The pulsating action gives off a dull thud like a heartbeat: BOOM-bada-BOOM-bada-BOOM-bada-BOOM. Over and over. 500 people making the same sound, keeping the beat.
Softly at first, in a somewhat falsetto voice, Cynthia starts to chant with the rhythm, "Thy will be done Lord, not mine." Slowly, in our own way, all 500 join in. The low, rumbling chest drumming becomes a meditative undertone of complete embodiment of here and now. The chant flows in and out of the percussive movement like collective weavers masterfully creating a meditative basket of sound and intention. BOOM-bada-BOOM-bada-BOOM... "Thy will be done Lord, not mine."
As slowly as it began, the practice winds down until all is quiet. In childlike sincerity, I sit in silence, observing the depths of my heart somehow in communion with the unspeakable. Once again, the gift of tears is offered and I happily receive it.
Day three begins with a bang, literally. This is the way of contemplative practice. Odd. Beautiful. Countercultural. Not something you usually write home about, and yet... somehow in the vulnerability of sharing, truth resonates in places beyond.
The first session of the day is also with Cynthia, "Using the Mind and Heart to Tease out the Meaning." She starts by echoing yesterday's lesson, we are reclaiming a practice from antiquity. We will be using the raw, original Christian contemplative texts in a process called "Explicasio" (misspelled???), which is a deliberate reading of the text intended to expand the heart space (similar, but not the same as Lecito Divina).
She reminds us, heart does NOT mean emotions. From the teachings of antiquity in all traditions, the heart is the seat of the spiritual center. The heart is where we know God. The heart is a subtle organ of wisdom, unity, intuition, and symbolism that is in direct concert with the divine. This way of knowing was lost 800 years ago (with the growth of academia and emphasis on developing the gifts of the mind). Philosophy and theology became a heady sense of empowerment, reducing mystery to a shadow of itself in linear rationality. The mystics know, your heart is like a drop in the ocean of the ineffable; one in each other. By following the mystics in contemplative practice in the spirit of surrender, attention, and attunement, your heart will align with the oceanic love intelligence of the divine.
Hmmm... I don't remember learning any of this at Lumen Christi High School?!
From here, I wander into the great wonderings of James Finley on the topic of "The Mind of Christ." Uncle James, as he's affectionately called, is a unique creature in that, he self-admittedly doesn't make any sense. He speaks at a completely different level. I find him to be a deep wellspring of unthinkable knowing in what I can't understand, but my heart knows is true what my mind can't grasp (that's how he talks, which, by the way, is absolutely true). I'm hoping we'll be able to achieve unitive, mystical consciousness before lunchtime.
He says, by taking this journey, we have fallen into a graced attitudinal shift in consciousness that grows over time. He spends the next hour+ beautifully unpacking a reading from a Russian Christian mystic. I sit on the edge of my seat in great anticipation of the next set of unspeakable words that flow from his mouth from some great knowing. It's so unthinkably clear, I can't even take notes. I close my eyes and listen with my heart. He says, eventually in our journey, faithfulness brings us to a point of love that if you stay with it, it will break you open to your heart's desire. He adds, we're all being held in the heartfelt embrace of the divine, yet searching for a God that is loving us into this very moment.
Mind blown again. I grab lunch and head back to my lil' apartment to decompress a bit.
The afternoon session is with Cynthia. She's a small, spry, pixie-like woman with a fantastic sense of humor. I'm not sure what lights up the room more, her smile or her eyes. I sense a deep playful wisdom as she sits on the edge of the table, swinging her bare feet, ready to bong the gong. Her topic is Centering Prayer (CP); one she knows extremely well. She starts by saying that, for centuries, Christian meditation was Christianity's best kept secret. It's been part of the tradition since the beginning, but it wasn't shared with the congregation and lay people and it was nearly lost.
CP, co-developed and made famous in large part by Fr. Thomas Keating, is the essence of Christian contemplative practice. "The purpose of centering prayer is to put a stick in the spoke of the wheel of monkey mind," she says. The deeper life moves beyond monkey mind. Until then, she says, you can't really escape its hold on you.
She clarifies the difference between CP and meditation, noting that CP is all about releasing of focus on any and all thought. CP is intention, not attention (meditation). The intention for what? Of letting go. It's the emptying of Jesus on the cross; the emptying St. Paul references; the emptying of the mystics known in Greek as Kenosis; a radical non-clinging. Cynthia leads us in a 20-minute practice followed by Q&A. Centering prayer done faithfully, says Bourgeault, will rewire your brain, disconnect monkey mind, and create a "oneing" with the divine.
The final session was the Sending Off ritual of the 2019 graduating class. Rohr announced two new teachers being added to The Living School; Barbara Holmes and Brian McLaren. McLaren gave the "commencement" speech; a beautiful story about musical masters selecting students to be trained. He tied it back to Jesus' selection of the disciples. Finally, he reminded us that this is a school of Contemplation and Action -- both are required.
After a very fine dinner with my small group peeps, several folks joined in the evening dance. I stayed for LaBamba, then sauntered off to put the finishing touches on this post.
Tomorrow morning: I look forward to another session of walking meditation at 7am.