Two pieces of advice:
- Don’t push up
The 19th-century Danish sculptor Thorvaldsen made a clay model for a statue of Christ the King, with the arms raised in triumph. But the weight of the soft clay was too much for the inner structure, and in the morning when he entered the studio he saw that the arms had sagged downwards. At first he was hugely disappointed, but then he saw that it was in fact better than what he had in mind: because now the statue expressed not triumph but welcome.
In meditation we don’t try to reach up beyond ourselves to God. To say that God is above us is not to elevate God, who doesn’t need our reassurance. It would be to create a distance between ourselves and God. But there’s no need to reach up, because God reaches down to us in Christ. God welcomes us in Christ, whose name is Emmanuel, God-with-us. So we only have to hold our station. Like water, we seek the lowest place, the place of truth and no illusions. It was the water in the clay that made those arms reach down in welcome.
It should be the easiest thing in the world, but somehow it’s very hard to coincide with ourselves completely. We are so used to stretching upwards that we continue to do so even when there’s no need. We’re never at home, in the place that attracts God’s mercy; we are somewhere else, thinking, longing, editing our life instead of living it. ‘But I’m thinking about God,’ we say, ‘seeking God.’ This is a great thing to do, but it’s not meditation. In meditation we allow ourselves to be aware that God is with us, even as we seek God everywhere.
Sit in a quiet place, in a relaxed posture, and welcome God who welcomes you. Hide nothing. Pretend nothing. Say nothing. Let God speak. God does not speak in the way we speak. God speaks in silence. God speaks silence. Inhale silently, exhale silently. This is the taste of God’s presence.
- Don’t push out
There was once a man who decided to sell his house, so he wrote a careful description of it in the advertisement. A few days later, when he read the ad in the newspaper, he said, ‘Well, well, this is just the kind of house I've always wanted!’ So he cancelled the sale, and we can assume that he settled down in greater peace where he was.
We come back to our old house; it’s the only place to be. It may not look elegant or costly, but it’s ours, and it has history and feeling in every corner of it. Our grandparents, perhaps, and our parents lived there ‘for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death did them part.’ Our own house has something over all others. ‘It is, at heart, a house of mercy,’ as Stevie Smith put it. A new house may appear to have everything, but it has no history, no memory, no feeling….
To meditate is not to invent a new life, but to enter with greater heart into the life we have. We are always dreaming of a wider place: greater possibilities, fewer limitations, new experiences, freedom…. It expresses our hunger for life, for more abundant life. But no matter how we push our limits outwards, they are still our limits, and we will tire of them again and again. In meditation we choose to stay where we are, and we study our limits. We look at our craving and our frustration; we refuse all shallow remedies for them. And as we continue to do so, day by day, year after year, they become somehow less blind, less compulsive; and we become a little less driven, a little more peaceful, a little wiser. We come to accept our limitations with more grace; and strange to say, those limiting walls are somehow lowered a little, and we begin to see over them. We don’t need to rush out and lay impossible claims to more territory. Everything is ours, if we see over our walls rather than try to push them out. This is freedom. This is reaching out instead of pushing out.
Sit now for a while in the humble house of your own being, and know that everything is given to you - if you don’t try to possess it.Donagh O'Shea