THE ESSENTIAL WITHIN
A Primer on Christian Meditation
|by Karin Johne|
|Translated by Ruth and Loren Halvorson|
|Purpose of the course|
|Concerns for this course|
|Trust the Holy Spirit|
|Each person is unique|
|The purpose of meditation|
|A gift to the ill and to the healthy|
|The Goal of the Exercises|
In recent years there has been an immense amount of literature on meditation in which many authors have offered their personal practices as models. I realize that words written or spoken from the depths of meditation and read or heard in a contemplative setting do speak to one in a way that can touch them deeply. In meditation talks I have given I have felt that has indeed happened and often participants acknowledged that. Certainly this also applies to written words.
But this book offers something else: to reveal and open to those reading and practicing these exercises their own method of meditation in simple and doable ways. What my paramount concern is has been stated well by Karl Rahner:
In the past I have experienced some difficult years involving illness which brought me to the brink of death (that was by no means the worst, however). These experiences over thirty five years opened me more and more to the riches of prayer often in overwhelming ways. These experiences were closely connected to the work of meditation (though at the time I could not have so identified it). Then after some years I discovered one day that my life had changed almost without noticing it.
Whereas before I felt that everything was groundless, now gratefully I felt solid ground under my feet once more. I experienced days so rich that they made my whole life worthwhile. I learned that it is not only the light but also the darkness that contains the fullness of life and that each experience in its own way leads to the same goal of fulfillment and desire. The new darkness and dry stretches that came lost their burdensome weight. Finally, I also discovered that one can experience a profound relationship with God not only in special moments of grace, but even more especially in the midst of everyday activities.
I found myself eager to share these these these life experiences in order to help others. But in the effort to share these experiences I acknowledge the painful yet healing truth that what has fulfilled me and given me joy can leave others quite untouched. Why is this so? Little by little the answer became clear. It must have to do with the fact that the questions, desires, needs and experiences of others are different from my own. Clearly my way need not be the way for everyone. Only that which originates in one's own life can meet and fulfill that person in a similar way to the fulfillment I have discovered again and again for my self.
"How can one offer courses on meditation that are self taught?", was the question I asked pastor Geiger. His answer was simple. "You learn by doing. Find a group with whom you can meditate. After each meditation share your reactions as to how it went. That's how you learn best." And how right he was! As I began to offer do-it-yourself meditation days and courses I learned most from the participants themselves. The profound wakefulness and sensitivity which certain meditations unleashed made the participants aware of many mistakes that I made when departing even slightly from the most helpful way. Following a meditation we discovered many times that errors can be made in the instructions that could lead to undesired or even dangerous results. I want to thank everyone who have made contributions to this bookin this way.
An example may help to clarify this. A very close friend was having difficulties with another person. I wanted to help him through prayer rather than well-intentioned advice and not just prayer with my lips but prayer that involved my whole person. That meant that I had to do something in my situation that corresponded to what another person was supposed to do. I was challenged to put my prayer into action meditating each day for ten minutes about another person with whom I myself was having problems. I had not realized what I had promised or what I had gotten myself into. The first five minutes seemed endless. But then the barrier was broken and I felt a genuine connection to that person. The last five minutes passed quickly. As petitioner what I was praying to happen to my friend happened to myself! I received a whole new relationship with the person about whom I had prayerfully meditated. From this brief example some basic principles become clear regarding meditation.
Secondly, a container has to be open in order to receive something. Becoming silent within and without, waiting until something happens to you, being open in order to be filled: these are things one can learn and practice.
Thirdly, every person is a union of reason and feeling. Every one has to deal with both external and internal circumstances in their life. When this union is broken one is split apart. When that union is recovered again one joyfully discovers that he/she has the possibility of growing and maturing in everything that happens. Whoever meditates on a regular basis is already on the way towards this goal.
In a meditation course with youth between the ages of thirteen and sixteen the question was asked about their experiences while meditating. Here are their answers:
But why the ill? Are they not immune from these dangers since they have too much rather than too little quiet time in their life? They are not burdened by the many pressures of coping with daily life but instead they are faced with a shrinking world with fewer people and activities that often leaves them feeling poor and unfulfilled. It is not the overabundance of tasks that impair them in finding a way to a deepened self but precisely the lack of meaningful activities that threatens to make them feel useless and meaningless. How can meditation help them?
First, when you are removed from a healthy life, as the severely handicapped are, you meditate without being told to do so. That happens even to those for whom the word, "meditation", was completely unknown (and here I speak from my own experience with illness). When they read this book they will discover again and again: "I have been doing that already for many years!" And that is precisely the reason why they need to learn these exercises. The more a person has practiced meditation the more gratefully he/she will takes up the exercises when they are introduced in the basic steps of meditation. Many things will be clarified and become understandable for them. New possibilities will present themselves. Other possibilities may not be realized even though one's own way may be clarified and deepened (to speak in contradictions,). Each must find their own way.
Thirdly, there are sick people who don't appear to be suffering but exhibit a radiance to all who visit them. Conversations that take placet at such sick beds usually do not remain superficial. A basic tenet of meditation is "It's a matter of depth not wholeness" and that is plain to see in such people. It is particularly through their illness that they are entirely present and able to fully engage others. They have fewer human contacts but the few they do have reach a depth that many healthy people do not have with their many contacts which deal with life's essentials.
In the fourth place, for those who have reached a point where they can no longer "carry on" and are ready to offer their illness to God, meditation offers a wide range of tasks. Every disease brings with it a special opportunity for prayer. For this task we all share everyone is needed.
The shared exercises were collected and written down because not everyone could participate regularly in a group. Those who were absent were sent the exercises and the explanations so that they did not lose continuity. Often I received priceless answers particularly from those who had to do the exercises completely alone. Consequently this book is especially addressed to this circle of friends. That does not mean, however, being restricted to this particular group. On the contrary this is a confirmation of an important concern that relates to us all. When it frequently appears that only healthy people can find fulfillment, then the meditations of individual ill persons can be a sign that from another, essential area of life they have been given deeper experiences than many "healthy" people "Put your gifts at the service of one another, each in the measure you have received" (I. Peter 4:10). The connection between the healthy and the sick can be experienced in a powerful way . through meditation.
There are many ways to do meditation. Our approach will show contemporary Christians how to cultivate the soil so that the seed of the Word of God can be received, grow and bring forth fruit. Therein you can experience this word of God as a gift to you:". I came that you might have life, and have it to the full" Jn 10:10).