Monday, November 12, 2012

Remembrance Sunday

I was in Kent yesterday and went to the local Anglican Church for the Remembrance Service. The church's heating had broken down and so my body frequently diverted my mind from higher things to the stark material matter of its own chilling!

However, I did listen carefully to the sermon and how it struck a skilful balance between the remembrance of the fallen's sacrifice that, in the particular circumstances, may have been necessary and a deeper questioning of the need for any sacrifice because of our compulsive attachment to war.

Christ is the Prince of Peace who demands the difficult task of a love of enemy grounded in forgiveness. He should unsettle any simple assumption that the fallen had died in a 'good cause', 'our cause' even as we recognise the human need to remember the dead and hope that their death made meaning in a war to end wars or to secure our freedom; however much history disputes that hope!

But it struck me again that the sermon was long on compelling aspiration - for a renewed kingdom of peace and our commitment to it - and short of answering the 'how' question: how is love of enemy possible to us? We find our neighbour sufficient of a challenge!

This was deepened by a book I am reading at the moment: Robert Amis' 'A Different Christianity: Early Christian Esotericism and Modern Thought'. It is a highly discursive book  but at its heart is a desire to restore a view of Christianity as 'therapy' (a view that remains central to Orthodox monastic spirituality). The Church is a practical space for the achievement of 'metanoia' - usually translated as 'repentance' - but in truth a turn around in our being from a dispersed state pursuing happiness in the transience of the world to a centred state where the mind rests in a heart at peace in God. A place where we move from the inside out rather than build ourselves from the outside in.

Learning 'metanoia' is a dedicated craft of interior effort sustained by a continuous offer of grace; and, has specific techniques associated with its practice. Most of these, however, lie forgotten (or obscured) and it is Amis' task to point us to sources of their recovery - in the Fathers and Mothers of the Church, in the on-going monastic tradition and in contemporary practitioners of that tradition, supplemented by insights from the modern world, most especially the practitioners of the 'Fourth Way' -Gurdjieff, Ouspensky, Nicoll etc.

It is a very moving book that invites self-examination: where do I sit in the transformation of my emotions into genuine feeling? How do I transform my 'eros' from the self-centred pursuit of desires into an energy of purifying change? How do I start to love my neighbour?

It is the absence of the realities of these tools for transformation that Amis claims makes the serious spiritual seeker turn East and the non-seeker find nothing in Christianity to awaken their search. I confess, listening carefully yesterday to the service, that without this understanding of the skilful means of transformation, much that one hears even as it may inspire fails to take root - it is seed cast on stubborn, unyielding ground. 

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