Ramadan and Hajj would be such a time for Muslims. The daily fast of the month of Ramadan with its extra opportunities for prayer, listening to sermons, reading the Qur’an puts ordinary everyday life into perspective. For Jews this happens at this time of the year when they celebrate the High Holy Days but it also happens every week at Shabbat. Shabbat is an opportunity to put aside daily work and take time for reading and prayer. It’s a day of rest, a moment which remembers the day of creation when God rested from his work, rejoiced in it I presume as it tells us in the Book of Genesis that it was all very good. I don’t read this literally but I think it does reflect a deep religious intuition that rest, time out is important and that work, activity is not the be all and end all. It’s good to take time out to reflect on our life, to re - assess our priorities, to see the giftedness of our lives, to accept our failings and limitations, to be inspired by the ideals of our religious tradition and our desire to live according to our best self.
All of this is true of the retreat I was on. It took place over 10 days. There were over 30 people on it and each person was allocated a spiritual director with whom they met each day to reflect on issues that had come up during the previous day – either at prayer, through the reading of scripture or just in personal reflection. It’s intensely personal and there are good and bad moments during it. It’s not easy to look reality in the face sometimes – the diminishments of age and organised religion itself was something that came up for me (not that I’m that old you understand!), the number of ways in which the ego wants its own way but so too was the sense of call which has been present in my life since I was a child.
While the Christian scriptures were a companion on this retreat I was also aware of their resonance with other faith traditions. The sense of call and the underlying reality behind external appearances – what Gerard Manley Hopkins calls the ‘dearest freshness deep down things’ is to be found in many faiths. I was particularly reminded of Hinduism and a wonderful poem by Kabir “I hear the melody of his flute and I cannot contain myself…..” which refers to the story of the young women of Vrindaban who, on hearing the music from Krishna’s flute, leave their homes, their obligations and duties to follow him and spend the night in dance with him.
This is quite a radical message – that each of us is called to follow our inner spirit, to respond to what life throws up for us and to become all that we can be. It’s not about following religious rituals or practices though these are good if they help us listen to that melody at the heart of life – what John of the Cross calls silent music. It’s a melody that some people hear within religion but others, it seems, are increasingly hearing elsewhere - through relationships and family life, through a love of nature, through an understanding of the universe and its interconnectedness. It’s a music which is all around us and also deep within us but can only be heard in silence. Not everyone hears it. While it might be present in ordinary life we need to break through our business, our egoistic concerns, our anxious attempts to be successful and important, our sense that everything depends on us.
We cannot hear this silent music or see the ‘dearest freshness deep down things’ without taking time to stop, to get in touch with our heart’s desire, to listen to what is best for our own well- being and that of those we live with – which nowadays we recognise to be the universe itself. It need not of course be an eight day retreat but it can be a moment, a day, an hour or whatever when we just stop and get in touch with what is going on within us. But we need some help to do this. For one thing stopping brings us face to face with the complexities of our personalities and the busyness of our often uncontrollable minds. It’s not pleasant but it’s a sign we are getting beneath the surface of our lives. We need some help in stilling these inner disturbances and find the inner peace which is behind them all.
Today meditation classes are plentiful and moments to stop, reflect and pray are found on the internet so help is available. More and more people seem to be making use of these opportunities and in some situations meditation is even being taught to children. The transcendental meditation movement believe that the quality of life in a city is improved and the crime rate reduced if a large number of people begin to meditate. I’m not sure if this can be proved and I think it’s probably about the good energies that come from meditation, something I do believe. But would the world not be a better place if politicians, those in authority, indeed all of us could stop and get in touch with our inner wisdom so that what we then do is in the best interests of the well-being of our world and its inhabitants? That's something to meditate on.