‘The most dangerous man
(or woman Mr Merton?) in the world is the contemplative who is guided by nobody…The world is covered in scars that have been left in its flesh by visionaries like these.’
I have been trying to respond honestly to a couple of enquiries about who and what sources do I draw from? So what follows is a meandering around the visionaries who currently seem to be my most significant guides:
Mostly I realise that many of my guides are magnificent, humbling and, alas dead! Yes, Thomas Merton whose words from above have moved me to day, is probably the biggest influence at the moment. I love his ‘Seeds of Contemplation’ and maybe more so his ‘Intimate Diaries.’
And then there is Richard Rohr and Shuntaro Tanikawa (how thankful I am that these two are still ‘breathers’), ah yes, and at one point Henry Green (who was especially influential in my teens when I read and re-read ‘Living’)
But who else has shaped this weirdly constructed 53 year old?
Meister Eckhart and Jan Van RuusbroecR, both peripherally come into view. Both maybe a trifle too dense and distantly complex for me to wholly digest and embrace. I still find it hard to be immersed in them and their writings, but I am greatly refreshed by spending regular times communing with snippets from their mysterious writings.
Guides, more present and tangible? Certainly, my father-in-law who unknowingly in his advancing age offers wisdom accrued through 87 years of dedicated Christian journeying. He offers a surprising openness to my need to spread wide across spiritual disciplines and faith groups. He has helped me form and thread my spiritual path, (sometimes by me internally clocking and rebuffing his Scriptural recitations over a shared Sunday lunch of salad and processed ham and always by our open-hearted entering into discussions about daily living and growing up continents and generations apart).
My wife, she is central: her direct, loving, no-nonsense exterior, her drive to be kind to others, her ‘Pa! what nonsense,’ approach to my over-sensitive over-clinging insecurities that billow out time and again. Her thoughtfulness, her steady love and our mutual trust that has blossomed over the past 27 years.
Nothing has been more grounding and fundamental to my growing and letting go into newness than she.
And what of others who have guided me along the way: Brian Thorne (as I struggled to find a male voice to guide me through my initial counselling qualifications), and I want to say Titch Nhat Hanh, who after my fathers death nearly ten years ago, gave me the openings and encouragement to begin upon a road of peacefulness within very present and sometimes overwhelming suffering.
But latterly I have found that the more of him I read the more repetitive his message has become. Simple, grounding and refreshing but kind of lacking within the omnipotent deity department.
My goodness can I really say that of the writings of such a wonderfully present spiritual soul?
Maybe not, maybe I am clumsily trying to express, to recognise my need for a deeper more spiritual heart to times of meditation, to stillness and to my present living. I love his book ‘Living Buddha, Living Christ,’ and still try to live alongside and within the ‘Five Mindfulness Trainings,’ transmitted to me on a Plum Village inspired UK retreat in June 2016. But last two years of journeying into Contemplative Prayer Meditations has unwrapped and amazed me within different dimensions altogether.
Llama Surya Das and Natalie Goldberg, Martin Laird, Michael Mayne and Rilke (how I love your ‘Book of Hours’), all of you, by your human love and humorous gentle honesty infused within your writings, have inspired me. And oh my goodness, yes, Neil Douglas Klotz (I love, love love to read and re-read your ‘Wisdom of the Desert Fathers’ and revel in the gorgeousness of ‘The Prayers of the Cosmos’)
Neil Douglas Klotz, yes, you have, so recently opened my eyes and heart to poetic translations of the Aramaic sayings of Jesus of Nazareth. These multi-layered, delicate and expansive offerings have been nothing more than an ever-unfolding revolutionary revelation.
And then there is the wealth with Sufism, within Sufi Contemplation, Rumi and Hafiz and…… breathe,,,,breathe so
Breathing into Stephen Cherry’s gentle guide to walking with Jesus (‘The Barefoot Disciple’) I re-remember how his words encourage me each time I flip open a page and absorb the goodness therein.
It is as if the more I write the more I crumble at the thought of how many wonderful works I have missed, I am ignorant of, I have dismissed, forgotten or misunderstood.
My delicious resting in contemplative meditation comes back to me, yes it certainly guides, uncertainly teaches me in untastable, unknowable and yet deeply felt ways. In ways beyond this present litany of self-absorption.
I look back over this emerging list and more and more names topple forward. Hero’s Hero’s Hero’s one and all. And I have a sudden urge to include Julian of Norwich, more for the fact she was a woman than for her overall effect on me. I wish I was more moved by her Showings , but repeatedly find them too Christ centred. She is a Shero all the same.
As is Emily Dickinson and the wonderful, painful and inspiring diaries of Ettie Hillesham, and the profound Sharon Salzberg offering ‘Loving Kindness’ and Evelyn Underhill espousing ‘Practical Mysticism,’ to the modern man of 1903.
Memories of journeys, of readings so moving and influential and yet right now not much more than mere graspings of time and place and sense gone by.
I am none the less enthralled, unravelled and dug deep within layers and layers of otherness. I am sunk within compostes of goodness and yet nd yet their actual words, (humming quietly within the closed pages of my diaries), are often beyond my current, specific recollection.
And so I also attempt to grow by physically touching this earth while giving thanks for all sources of spiritual richness, all my ancestors and breathers alike. By physically touching this earth with my forehead, by privately giving fulsome thanks to all those who stand steadfast and grow deep roots into my soul, praises and thanks to all sentient beings and star dust that continue to emit goodness, to all those who inhabit this wonderful multi-dimensional space, I bow in softened recollection, within growing obedience and supplication to all that is far and away beyond this bundle of skin and blood and ageing bone.