Archive for May, 2014

Would You Tell Them How?

Thursday, May 15th, 2014

As you know, I too have a profound love for a wide range of spiritual traditions and contemplative methods, Christian and otherwise. It’s important, however, that we not get so caught up in the undeniable beauty of these teachings—their allure or their charm—that they become simply one more soporific, one more excuse to dream about transformation, and not actually work on real change.

True enough, “The same disposition that thou hast in the church or thy cell, thou shouldst keep and maintain in a crowd and amid the unrest and manifoldness of the world” (to quote, as you do, Meister Eckhart). But let’s not forget: This is much, much easier said than done! I’m reminded of a story Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) likes to tell about “that great man of letters”, Thomas Carlyle. It seems Mr Carlyle had come home from church in a bad mood, and he said to his mother:

“Mother, I do not understand why these preachers preach such long sermons. If I were a man of the cloth, I would simply get up in the pulpit and say, ‘Good people, you know what you should do. So go and do it!'” “Aye, Thomas,” his mother replied—if you’ve not heard His Eminence speak, you may need to sample his impeccably British elocution in one of his lectures on YouTube to get the full force of this punch line!—”and would you tell them … how?”

At some point, all of these trusted traditions and methods, all the wisdom of the saints and sages, all the symbols and diagrams, all the enticing paradoxes and inspiring hagiographies—need to move downward: out of our heads and into our hearts, engaging us practically, organically, in the deepest recesses of our body. Otherwise spirituality is just a beautiful daydream, just another (though doubtless more easily excusable and thus more seductive) form of prelest.