Meditation Part 3 – Infant or Adult?

August 21st, 2006
Once again thinking about meditation brings up an issue that is relevant to all spirituality: the issue of adult v infant. I think that this is best illustrated by the story of the fall. Having made the transition from an angst-free infant state, to a shame-filled self-awareness, man and woman seek to re-enter the garden of innocence, only to find the way blocked by an angel with a flaming sword.    

The implication is clear: the way forward lies not back to the womb, but forward to maturity.

Maturity is a goal that the New Testament points us to: where we make the hard decisions and do not give in to escapism. When our spirituality becomes an escape from the real world, look out!

Another problem I have with charismatic, transcendental worship is that I believe that the mind state sought is a womb state, where ego-barriers and self-consciousness break down and the mind enters a suggestible state, where it absolves itself of responsibility for making a sound decision. In my experience, churches that see this type of worship as central tend to have a membership that see maturity as a low priority and tend to place value on harmonious living and a shared dogma.

But maybe we do need periods in our spiritual rhythm when we return to the womb for a period of safety and comfort. Maybe I need to acknowledge that just because some churches have made the mistake of pursuing the womb in all of their worship, does not mean that their is not a legitimate need for the odd womb experience for those pursuing maturity.

Churches have tended to be home to two groups of people: those desperately pursuing reality and those desperately seeking to avoid reality.

Meditation Part 2 – Writing Meditations

August 20th, 2006
In the previous post, I highlighted some issues surrounding the practice of meditation: issues of immanence and trancendence, reality and story. I concluded by saying that it is important what kind of stories we tell.Of course this is not only true of meditation, but of all our communications. So what is it about meditation that influences the kind of stories we might use? 

We are envisioning a scenario where a group of people will relax and imagine a story that is fed to them. The fact that the audience will be passively receiving the story puts a great responsibility on those writing such meditations. There is a temptation to write something acceptable to all: a fake, fluffy puppy faith of the sort that we are all familiar with.

The writing of meditations is thus an art form. Here are some of the factors that I think are involved:

  • Beauty of language. The use of poetic devices, rhythm and alliteration
  • Poetic and metaphoric language also allows each individual to take something different from it within the bounds of the overall message. This gives space for profound effects while lowering the risk of condemnatory effects.
  • It is a good idea to have an ‘edge’: some sort of shock element or surprise perspective that holds interest and sheds new light
  • Performance: The fact that meditations are word-based, does not mean the method of transmitting those words is irrelevent. A good vocal performance is important.
  • Environment: the setting for the meditation, including lighting and ambient sound/music will also enhance the experience.

Meditation Part 1 – Mental States

July 22nd, 2006

My first question about meditation and mental states is, “What form of meditation would facilitate connection with God?”.This, of course, is really the universal question found in worship and in prayer, “How does the interface between a natural human and the spiritual god work?” (Of course being a programmer, ‘interface’ makes sense to me. An interface is the link between two separate modules, or programs. It handles the passing of information from one module to another).

There are a number of models for this interface. For the purposes of this discussion of meditation:

  1. There is the sacramental model, where the carrying out of a rite by an ordained priest, somehow brings the Grace of God into the material realm.
  2. There is the incarnational/immanent model, where the Grace of God comes from within and around, as life is lived out trusting in the indwelling God.
  3. There is the ecstatic/transcendant model, in which emotional worship draws the individual (and indeed group) into a trans-rational experiences which, by their very nature, are not easily analysed, but are seen as the presence of God. From these experiences, gifts, such as prophecy and healing emerge (which is not to say that this is the only model in which gifts occur).

As a refugee from what currently passes for charismatic churches, my preference lies firmly with the incarnational model.Traditional meditation or contemplation is firmly in the incarnational model. The practice involves consciously holding yourself in the present moment.

Newer forms of meditation (derived, I think, from Ignatius of Loyola, so not that new) involve the use of the imagination to visualise stories and scenarios. For me, that has until recently contrasted a commitment to reality with a commitment to fantasy, and thus closer to the trancendental model, but I am rethinking it. This re-think has to do with the nature of stories and their relationship to truth.

Most famously, Jesus told many stories which, while not absolutely true, had the potential to communicate truth. In telling stories, rather than lecturing in ethics or philosophy, Jesus was stimulating the part of the mind that imagines and visualises the story. In this, he stands in a long line of prophets who used story to communicate revelation. From the Reformation on, there has been a move to purify and distill the pure truth of the Gospel out of the histories and stories of the Bible: orthodoxy seen as believing the right thing. Faith became a matter of the mind, which was identified as the spirit (that part of man that is from God and unique to humankind of all the earthly creatures).

More recently, the resurgence of a more holistic view of man has led to a renewed interest in emotional and aesthetic factors. There has been a shift from ‘what you believe’ to ‘how you believe’. Thus it is possible for a holistic hearing of a story to lead to a reception of more than pure facts.

This leads to the question, “What stories should we be telling and imagining?”.

emerging leadership

May 9th, 2006
Posted over on smallritual.org blog on the post about emerging leadership.The problem, from my point of view, about discussing emerging leadership, is that the word ‘leader is a self-defining pictoral word. You simply cannot use it without in some sense accepting the concept of someone going out in front whil others trail behind. In fact, I think that it is possible that the word is also a problem for traditional churches because it is such a physical concept that following can be interpreted as ‘sitting in the same room’ as the leader. 

However, there are aspects of ‘leader’ that are useful but better addressed in different language: initiative-taking, authenticity, responsibility, for example.

This always leads me to the vast store of New Testament concepts in which the initiative of the Holy Spirit works through individuals. Lists of gifts (charismata), ministries, spiritual gifts (pneumata) and bodily organs all point to a universality of autonomous/spirit-directed activity.

How that dynamic works within the individual to produce a unique product of God and the individual in his/her culture, how this activity combines in groups to produce a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts and how initiative-taking individuals in community resolve conflict and questions of self-delusion: these are subjects that emerge from this concept, rather than how to shoehorn in ‘leadership’.

The Inner Call

March 29th, 2006

I have been thinking about the call of God: that God is seeking us and calling us to himself and into his world. That out of this intimacy is born our own unique expression of God. There are those who seek to invade the space between us and God and to dictate to both of us how things should be. Jesus spoke about people causing us to stumble. Others, from fear of intimacy, hire people to do the business for them and pretend to themselves that they have heeded the call. Still others dabble at the edge and write and speak about such things rather than doing them, but the call is to intimacy first and then authentic action.

In light of this, what sort of leadership is valid? What help is truly helpful? Witnessing to your own experience has to be valid, but bear in mind that others walk a different path. Encouragement too is valid. There has to be a place for asking questions and exposing double standards where necessary, but over all there must be a caution about stumbling people: about destroying through ignorance what God and your friend are expressing together.

Scotlands New Start

March 28th, 2006

I spent the last few days of last week wandering around the New Start Scotland exhibition at the SEC in Glasgow. This was an event sponsored by Scottish Enterprise to encourage new business starts. The exhibition was designed to encourage new-start companies to begin and grow by bringing them together to network, introducing them to suppliers and potential partners, and running seminars on business. The idea is to get initiative moving and stimulate economic activity.

All this got me thinking about the Scottish spiritual economy and the stimulating effect the Dreamday Edinburgh has had, at least from the reports I have read. Activity has been stimulated in a similar way to the exhibition I attended: through networking in order to link up with partners, resourcers, others with relevant experience and those who wish to consume the ‘product’.

If spiritual activity is to increase in Scotland, there must be spaces for this sort of networking. A lot of the attendees at the exhibition were not ready to start businesses. They are just browsing and dreaming: fantasising about the day when they break free of their current wage-slavery and build something more suitable for themselves. It starts with a dream, then you realise that it can be a reality. Others have taken the step before you. Then one day the decision is made and you begin to make your dream real.

It is time we began networking and dreaming those dreams. Mine are tiny at the moment, but I remember how it was when I dreamed of running my own business. Fantasies do become realities.

Foundations 4 – Group or Meeting?

March 6th, 2006

When I was a young Christian, the question ‘Group or Meeting’ was an easy one. I was brought up in a church that I perceived as having a meeting mentality, where people met each week, but did not really know each other. After my ‘conversion experience’ I was convinced by a theology that said that Church is a community of redeemed people working out how to live out Christ’s way together. Accompanying this was a sense that outside the Church there was only evil and false dealing, but inside we work things out together under God’s appointed leadership. I think/hope that most churches have rejected some of that attitude. For those that have not, consider the following:

  • The maximum time that the average churchgoer spends with the church is seven hours per week as opposed to 35 plus hours at work and a similar amount of time with the family
  • The nature of churches generally is that time in church is mainly not spent relating to people, and when it is, it is generally about trivia. The nitty gritty is in home life and family life.
  • When you have experienced your first church split, it becomes difficult to rate church leaders as effective arbitrators

Even after you have filtered out the rhetoric about Church communities you are left with problems. Groups tend to quickly develop an ethos, derived from the interests and personalities of those involved. Groups develop around one or more people who had the initial vision. New initiatives are approved or rejected according to their conformity to the initial vision. In these ways, the establishing of groups within the wider church and society retards diversity. It would be better if we claimed less and set up meetings to pursue particular interests. You could see the current church model as a soviet-style planned economy, in which all the product is commissioned and authorised by the church commisars. There is a growing black market in spiritual materials, but the restructuring of the economy to enable local entrepreneurs is yet to happen. What is needed is a free economy, where initiatives can be launched and live or die based on commitment and response.

In this context, launching a group is counter productive, but developing and holding meetings, becomes my contribution to the market place.

Foundations 3 – The Gift of the Spirit

February 14th, 2006
In many ways this repeats some of what I said about unity in diversity, however, I still think that it is profitable to view things in the light of this core theological concept.
At Pentecost, Christ poured out the Holy Spirit on a diverse bunch of people. Out of the interaction between each individual and the Holy Spirit, a variety of expressions of God emerged that we refer to as gifts, but the Bible refers to as ‘spirituals’.  

 

What causes the variation in expressions of God? In the interplay between how God gives his Spirit and how he is received, variety is produced. The interplay between the Spirit of God and man is a mystery. In Genesis, God breathes his ‘spirit’ (breath) on a statue of mud. The breath from heaven combined with the creature from the earth produced the living soul which is man. Each expression of the Spirit is ‘incarnational’ and, as such, is a product of both the Spirit of God and of the person involved.

The Bible tells us a number of things about these gifts.

  1. They are diverse
  2. They vary in degree
  3. All are necessary
  4. All are partial, imperfect expressions

From these foundations, we can see that there must be a forum for the expression of Christ in diversity and there must be humility about our own gifting and careful listening to others. Paul intimates that the correct handling of gifting will lead to a corporate maturity. This is the goal we are aiming at.

Foundations 2 – Diversity in Unity

November 29th, 2005
Diversity in Unity is one of the great ideals of the British multi-cultural society. I also happen to think that it is an ideal with Christian roots. The whole concept of the body of Christ with it’s members, points to a situation of a diversity of task with a unity of goal.The question is, ‘To what extent should we expect a variety of belief and opinion to form part of the diversity aspect, and to what extent should it be subordinated to unity’. In this post-modern age the point should be moot. We have churches full of people of diverse opinion and theology who sit silent as a party line is preached. At some stage there is a disconnect, as churchgoers develop their ‘in-church persona’.  

In order to reconnect, church must embrace the diversity of opinion and spiritual experience of all it’s members. This is why a gathering that celebrates and explores diverse opinion is fundamental to my model for church.

small voices Foundations 1 – Purpose

October 3rd, 2005
Having started to post small voices resources on the net, I realise that, in many ways, I have put the cart before the horse. There is a lot of background to discuss. First, what is my purpose in doing small voices?        

  1. To get post-evangelicals, church leavers and spiritual seekers together.
  2. To stimulate and validate thinking, belief and spiritual practice.
  3. To facilitate the beginning of new spiritual expressions.
  4. To provide resources for others to do the same

To be honest, I expect that post-evangelicals and church leavers will benefit the most from my resources because that is what I am. However, the basic format and some of the materials may be useful to others. I acknowledge that, to some extent, this is a deprogramming exercise for disillusioned churchgoers, but I also feel that there is plenty of positive stuff that will encourage such people to find a suitable path, rather than throwing out faith altogether.