John Main Seminar 2011 in Cork
Laurence Freeman/Kathleen WellerDear Ones,
Earlier this August, I attended the 2017 John Main Seminar. We were hosted on the campus of the University of St. Thomas in the museum district of Houston, Texas. People travelled from Venezuela, Trinidad, Australia and beyond to attend. I still have much to unpack from the week; much to yet ponder.
The seminar began with a four-day guided silent retreat with Laurence Freeman (Benedictine) who is the Executive Director of the World Community for Christian Meditation. He led us through short talks on finding our way to the "inner room" in our meditation. Citing Scripture, the practice of Lectio Divina, and the images of the Rothko Chapel, Fr. Laurence made a compelling case on how we may be led into stillness and silence. A silence we practiced 6 times a day for 25 minutes each sitting. What I want to share is more experience and interpretation than information. It so happens that the experience I want to share occurred on the very first day and continued to open itself the rest of the week.
Our designated location at the university was a lecture hall with rows and rows of theatre-style seats with steep steps declining toward the stage below. On the stage was a single table covered with a colorful cloth, an icon of Christ, flowers and a candle. Next to the table was a chair for Fr. Laurence.
Most often I made my way down to within the first few rows as the spaces near the top filled up first. The room was chilled for the number of persons who would fill it...but as they say "heat rises" so I was always wrapped in a pashmina I carried for just such an occasion. On this particular day I had the fortune of sitting in the first row, the one with the most leg room. After Laurence's introduction, he led us into our first group meditation..."Heavenly Father, open our hearts to the silent presence of the Spirit of Your Son, lead us into that mysterious silence where Your love is revealed to all who call... Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus." (John Main's prayer)
As the bowl was struck three times, more than 100 people settled in for our first of thirty different opportunities to sit in silence together over the week. The lights dimmed. The sneezes and coughs faded. Still. Very still.
A while into the silence there was a loud "Click" the dimmed lights went off completely and there was utter darkness. On its heals another "Click" and the air-conditioning in the room also went off. With maybe only seconds between there was a third "Click" and a single emergency light came on high in a corner of the room. It was only a few more minutes until the bowl rang again 3 times to end our silent prayer. The lights all came back up by the push of a button in the video control booth.
I didn't think much more about the experience that day, until I realized it happening again and again as we gathered to sit in silence. Not so neatly and deliberately as that first time, but nonetheless, each time. And as Laurence's teaching on creating an inner room in our heart continued to unfold... those now familiar clicks began to tell me a story. A story of how our inclination is to create activity, busy-ness and noise rather than tending to a point of silence.
As I ruminated on it I realized that the first click was the computer-driven smart buildings' way of saying "nothing is happening here." Through its sensors, though there were 100+ people in the room, it saw the space as empty. No need for all these lights, even dimmed. Since there's been no movement for 20 minutes, time to shut down. The smart-building letting us know that silence and stillness are not valued here ... "Click."
The second click was that same building turning off the air-conditioning. With no one moving it sensed no need to chill the place. It was saving energy, although there were a lot of people who would now not have new air to breathe. This second click became for me a reminder that their is a Breath that is of utmost importance in our lives; and it is not the breath a smart-building can take away. ..."Click."
The final click was that a small square emergency light that came on high in the front corner of the room. It was just enough light to let you know you were not on a smooth surface. Just enough light that you could see the outline of rows of chairs and aisles and EXIT signs above the doors. Just enough..but not quite enough. Following the lead of Laurence's teaching I received it as a sign, a hope, for the light within us all that is waiting to shine...waiting to show itself when once we enter the inner room of our heart through stillness and silence. There is indeed a Light within... the light of God, the spark of the divine ... "Click"
In a conversation around a table toward the end of that week, I shared the skeleton of this experience. I shared it again as a devotional before a monthly meeting upon my return. Each time I do, I learn more. There are so many nuances to these three clicks. Maybe there are others that you see or that speak to that still place inside of you.
We indeed have benefitted from the age of technology. But in some cases, as I think the above is evidence, we have created systems and objects that keep us from our true selves, that keep us from the Light that shines in the darkness not visible with human eyes. Perhaps its time to listen for those "Clicks" -- to listen, to wonder, to understand. And to give Thanks!
In stillness and silence of heart,
Kathleen Bronagh Weller