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Enter a Monastery Without Walls
Christian Meditation introduces an ancient practice to a contemporary audience. James Finley, a former monk and student of Thomas Merton, presents the fundamentals of both understanding and practicing Christian meditation. He provides simple, helpful instructions, as well as explaining the deeper connection with the divine that meditation can bring. Above all, he makes clear that the aim of meditation is to allow us to experience divine contemplation -- the presence of God.
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About the Author
James Finley is a former Trappist monk who studied closely with Thomas Merton. He is the author of Thomas Merton’s Palace of Nowhere. He is now a renowned psychological and spiritual counselor in Santa Monica, CA, who leads retreats and workshops on a regular basis throughout North America.
Read an Excerpt
Experiencing the Presence of God
The reflections in these pages are intended to serve as a guide in understanding and practicing Christian meditation. In broader terms, these reflections are intended to help those who are being interiorly drawn toward meditation as a grounding place for learning to be a more awake, compassionate, Christlike human being.
In an attempt to be as helpful as I can be to as many people as possible, I have written this book with both the serious beginner and the experienced meditator in mind. For the serious beginner, these reflections will introduce basic ways of understanding what Christian meditation is, along with guidelines on how to practice it. This attention to the particular needs of beginners does not, however, mean that our inquiry will not be, at times, challenging. This is so primarily because meditation itself is challenging in the ways it draws us into a wordless awareness of oneness with God beyond what thoughts can grasp or words can adequately convey. The truth is that we can venture into meditation only in our willingness to be, at times, perplexed. What is more, we must be willing to befriend our perplexity as a way of dying to our futile efforts to grasp the ungraspable depths that meditation invites us to discover.
It is with more experienced meditators in mind that these reflections explore more refined and subtle levels of realized oneness with God. This does not mean, however, that we will be dealing with lofty matters far removed from the concerns of those just beginning their spiritual journey. For, as you have no doubt discovered, the further we travel along the selftransforming path of meditation, the more we realize ourselves to be immersed in beginnings that never end. To be more advanced in meditation means, paradoxically, to discover that the oneness with God we seek was wholly present, without our realizing it, in the humble origins of our spiritual journey. To be more advanced in meditation means to be in the process of realizing that God is wholly present in each step along our way to divine fulfillment. It is to be someone slowly awakening to the divine destination of our journey manifesting itself in the divinity of our own breathing, our own beating heart, our simply being who we are. Or, to paraphrase a line in T. S. Eliot's poem Four Quartets, to be more advanced in meditation means to realize that "the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time."
I am committing myself to being as true as I can to the essential spirit of the Christian contemplative traditions. This essential spirit is the Spirit of God, groaning within us that we might awaken to our eternal oneness with God as revealed to us in Christ (Rom. 8:26). Down through the centuries and into our own day, Christian mystics, monks and nuns living in monasteries, hermits, and countless seekers living in the world have yielded to the transforming power of the Spirit of God within us. It is to these monastic, mystical traditions of Christian faith that we will be turning for guidance and inspiration.
This specifically Christian focus is not, however, intended to suggest that Christians cannot benefit from Yoga, Zen, and other faith traditions. It would, in fact, be tempting as we go through these reflections to note the stunning affinity that sometimes exists between Christian and non-Christian sources of spiritual wisdom. But to do so would take us away from this work's intention of exploring specifically Christian ways of understanding meditation as a way of experiencing oneness with God, one with us in life itself.
This stance of limiting myself to specifically Christian language within a broader context of respect for the contemplative wisdom of non-Christian traditions is something I learned from the contemporary Christian monk Thomas Merton. Near the end of his life, Merton became very committed to Buddhist- Christian dialogue; and in this commitment he went to Asia to have firsthand exposure to Buddhists and the Buddhist tradition. On December 10, 1968, while on that trip, he died. Shortly before his death he wrote a letter back to his own monastic community at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky. One of the things he said was that in going to Asia he discovered he never had to go therethat everything he was searching for was present in the monastery, was present in his own hermitage, was present in his own Christian tradition. And so it is in this spirit of sensitivity to and respect for the non-Christian contemplative traditions that we will be focusing here on meditation as practiced and understood within the context of the ancient and ongoing contemplative traditions of Christian faith.
In these reflections, I will be sharing with you what I experienced and have come to understand of Christian contemplative spirituality during the five and half years I lived as a monk at the Abbey of Gethsemani, a cloistered Trappist monastery in Kentucky. What may seem surprising is that in my years of living as a monk in the monastery I was not taught how to meditate. In fact, no emphasis was given to practicing any specific method of meditation. This is consistent with the Rule of Saint Benedict, which does not offer instructions in any specific form of meditation. This does not mean that meditation is neglected. To the contrary, Benedict wrote a Rule prescribing a way of life in which the chanting of the psalms in the monastic choir, manual labor, and everything the monk or nun does is to become a meditation. Which is to say, everything becomes a way of entering into a more interior, meditative awareness of oneness with God. It is in this pervasive atmosphere of meditative living that each monk or nun is left free to find his or her way to whatever form of meditation he or she might be interiorly inclined to practice ...Christian Meditation
Experiencing the Presence of God. Copyright © by James Finley. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Table of Contents
|Chapter 1||Divine Destination||1|
|Chapter 2||Learning to Meditate||22|
|Chapter 3||Meditative Experience||42|
|Chapter 4||A Ladder to Heaven||72|
|Chapter 5||A Monastery Without Walls||101|
|Chapter 6||The Self-Transforming Journey||130|
|Chapter 7||Entering the Mind of Christ||175|
|Chapter 8||Present, Open, and Awake||203|
|Chapter 9||Sit Still||216|
|Chapter 10||Sit Straight||229|
|Chapter 11||Slow, Deep, Natural Breathing||242|
|Chapter 12||Eyes Closed or Lowered Toward the Ground||253|
|Chapter 13||Walking Meditation||266|