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Aug. 2, 2016

A Report on the International Conference of National Coordinators.

68 Delegates from 44 countries that included Fiji, Latvia, the Ukraine as well as Trinidad and Jamaica gathered together at Ashburn Place, East Sussex, England in the United Kingdom from June 29, to July 3, 2016 to celebrate 25 years of the existence of The World Community for Christian Meditation (WCCM). In the true tradition of “meditation” the celebration was characterised by a lack of fanfare and exuberance but filled instead with a sense of shared inner joy and peace that bound the participants into a community. It was preceded by a Seminar “Meditation and Children” held at Heythrop College on the 29th at which the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams gave the Keynote Address. He has long since been a patron of the WCCM having given the John Main Seminar in Australia in 2001. In ‘Silence and Honey cakes’ a book that was the outcome of the Seminar he says that “to speak of the desert tradition at an event commemorating John Main had its own appropriateness given that Fr. John was one of those who most effectively put the tradition to work in our own day. The roots of his distinctive spirituality lie deep in the fourth and fifth centuries especially in the work of that great expositor of the desert world, John Cassian. The WCCM which continues his mission is for me, as for many through the world, a taste of what a committedly Contemplative Church might look and feel like, with its intense fidelity to shared silence as well as to shared belief and experience."

Given, as he says in an interview with Laurence Freeman to commemorate this event, that “meditation takes us to that space which nobody owns, but in which all feel at home”, it is not surprising that there were 4 periods of meditation each day. These silences punctuated the talks and discussions, putting them in perspective and giving them a meaning and context. We progressed from briefly tracing the history of the past 25 years to assessing the present to looking at the future.

Since its inception, the WCCM now has spread to 120 countries. Translations of various resources are available in Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin, French, German and other Major European languages. (A recent translation into Marathi of “Meditation: Your Daily Practice” by Laurence Freeman is now available in the Vasai diocese). A host of resources are available on line. There is the Weekly Teaching, Weekly Readings, Daily Wisdom, Meditatio CD’s (recorded talks of John Main, Laurence Freeman and others). Meditatio Radio is another app that enables one to be nurtured in the practice while ‘on the move”. Podcasts and webcasts of events are available and there is a Facebook page and YouTube link provided.  The Conference while pleased with the variety of resources offered saw the need for authenticity and consistency. The School of Meditation ensures that. 

The School of Meditation, which is the brainchild of Kim Natraja exists to provide “knowledge” of the tradition and teaching and more importantly to support the experience through its resources. 

Resources for The Essential Teaching Workshop (ETW), The Six Week programme, The Pearl of Great Price (handbook for group leaders) Sharing the Gift are part of the “essential resource”. Her long standing service in this regard was acknowledged as she has decided to move into an advisory role in this regard. To make the dissemination of resources more effective there are now 6 sections each with a sectional head: Essential Teaching Weekends, On-line courses, Publications (Medio Media), Teachers/Exchange and the School Website. Deepening our own understanding of the practice is an essential part of Sharing the Gift of meditation with others. It is the “inreach” that must precede the “outreach”.

The practice of Christian Meditation is by no means meant to be an esoteric discipline. It recognises that we share with those of other faiths a “Common Ground”. It is open to dialogue with other religions and fosters ‘praying and meditating together” in order to affirm that differences need not be a source of division. The “Outreach” initiative “Meditatio” aims to touch people in their daily lives. Meditation promotes healing at all levels. There is now a focussed initiative to promote the practice in relation to Health both physical and mental, especially with the problem of addiction. Prisons, Business, Social Justice, Science, Technology and Education are other areas of interest. The last of these occupies pride of place in teaching children in Schools to meditate. Children are naturally open to a contemplative discipline. The Teaching of Meditation in Schools is now becoming more and more common as a result of this initiative. In some dioceses it is part of the regular syllabus of religious education and Catechism programmes. The teaching of meditation to Children is WCCM looking to the future. It is our firm belief that in doing so we are preparing the ground for a better future, looking forward to the realisation in greater measure of the coming of the Kingdom of Peace and Justice, Truth and Love. Our human nature needs oases of silence, sacred spaces. There is need to provide a “space for prayer” where, as one child said “when I am angry and upset, I can go and put it down there”. 

Holy Places, Monasteries and Retreat Centres have always had a special place in our tradition in promoting a contemplative discipline. As Rowan Williams says, the physical space of a Meditation Centre is a territory of which we can say: “Here’s where they do it. I can go there to soak it in.” There are plans to set up a permanent home for WCCM in the form of an International Centre. It is likely to be either in Southern France or perhaps Bruges in Belgium. Fr. Laurence has outlined the purpose and mission of the Centre. “There will be space for a core community of about twelve, a retreat house for about thirty visitors and a Meditatio conference centre. The atmosphere of the centre will be contemplative and beautiful. National coordinators and other WCCM leaders will come in groups for retreat and for special courses or programs so they can take back to their national communities, first-hand knowledge of the new initiatives of the community. Visiting WCCM Oblates will be welcomed by a core group of resident oblates who will form a key part of the running of the Centre in the spirit of the Rule of St Benedict.

The Oblate Novitiate year which has been tested in London for several years will be able to expand its size and range. Dialogue partners in other faiths and organisations will be welcomed. Support for periods of extended solitude and times of personal retreat - an important and characteristic aspect of the spirituality of our time.

Primarily, there will be a daily Benedictine rhythm of life based on prayer, manual and other work and study, hospitality and service to those in need especially those seeking a spiritual direction in their life. There will be times of meditation, Lectio Divina and study, prayer and worship, a daily reading and discussion of the Rule for the community and guests. Retreats and special programmes led by members of the community and visiting teachers will be scheduled; the initiatives and needs of the WCCM School and of Meditatio, the outreach of the WCCM will be fostered. There will be long-term retreats of up to a year, shorter retreats beginning with weekends for personal discernment of vocation and gifts”

Conclusion: At a personal meeting with Fr. Laurence, he deeply appreciated the work of the Mumbai Meditation Community. Though there are only 6 functioning groups in the diocese, he is keen that they grow in depth in their understanding of the practice. To this end we are being encouraged to conduct more training programmes for leaders, Essential Teaching Weekends and Six Week Introductory Courses. Most heartening was his keenness for us to conduct a “Roots of Christian Mysticism” programme. This course will hopefully be available on-line in 2017. He is confident we have the resources to do it on our own. There is now a renewed source of optimism. We have sensed a growing interest in contemplative prayer and hope that our community may effectively satisfy this need. 

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