There were so many people at this service I had to sit outside on the grass well away from the few symbols offering focus and the four leaders of the meditation seated in chairs along the front. There is a photo of Moot’s version of Rublev’s icon of the Trinity below. The service consisted of an opening sung chant (Blessed be the name of the Lord); lectio devino scripture meditation; imaginative prayer meditation; and a repeat of the chant, lasting just under an hour in total. I found it really difficult to concentrate with load music imposing from other venues and general festival noise. So I was surprised that most of those around me seemed to be deeply engaged with the opportunity to turn inwards.
Meditation and contemplative prayer is an essential element to my spiritual life, mostly done on my own at home. Strange then, to be doing something familiar and comfortable in such a foreign and distracting environment. I got to thinking, how is this context, congregation and space affecting my prayer today? What affect does the group have on one’s individual engagement with God and Self?
There is something theologically profound about the creation of community through silence. It is God the invisible-though-immanent One who draws us into community with each other as Christians. In the prayer liturgy we were invited to imagine the Trinity seated on chairs together as family, eternally relating, together but distinct. Then each person, people or situation we brought before God we were invited to bring into the centre of the Trinity, to join in with their communion. When meditation takes place next to strangers, this expression of the invisible bonds of divine community is powerfully expressed. It requires a high level of faith – that God will take care of the communicating Godself on God’s own, in the secret of each person’s heart, and that Right Belief will miraculously extend from that because God is trustworthy.
Another stark lesson entering into an hour of meditation in this context was the accute realisation of the distractions which take us away from God and the source of life and love. It is a choice to turn inwards and though the distractions change according to the context, they are always there. Emails and housework dominate our consciousness just as the loud rap music drifted across from the big top during the Moot worship. Community, beauty, regulated time and place, all assist us with the choice to invest in the inward moment and we desperately need their help. Yes, this contemplative moment felt a little manufactured, but that is always the case. We construct the externals of a liturgy in order to release the reality of the inner life, the working of the Spirit. The advantage of permanent communities and designated spaces is that they can evolve in response to the shared experience of congregation. Over time, the rituals and words are shaped by those who are present and the constructed externals are refined so become more ‘efficient’ and effective which is important for contemplative prayer. Practise, familiarity and regularity facilitate the deeper engagement required for a mature contemplative spirituality.