'Widen Your Tent' Seminar

A letter to our community from Fr. Laurence Freeman

... John Main saw how the abandonment of contemplative wisdom has led to the folly of materialism and the self-inflicted wounds we are only too painfully familiar with in our affluent, technologically advanced societies. We are like a drunk driver who believes he can drive home. Political or socio-economic solutions are not enough at this advanced stage of the crisis because the core issue is a disconnection from our own spiritual nature. The WCCM continues to develop John Main’s insight that through meditation, when it is taught and practiced as a wisdom tradition and not merely as a self-help technique, we re-connect to spiritual realism and sanity.

He also understood that we do not meditate as isolated individuals but discover the meaning of solitude. This solitude is indeed the cure for the plague of loneliness and alienation spreading in our world. The reason for this is of the greatest importance for the future of humanity which is in such desperate need of unity of mind and purpose: namely that meditation creates community. Not perfect, not without need for renewal, not easy or ever fixed in one form, but community that restores our faith in humanity and in the arts of conviviality – of knowing how to live together. The WCCM is thirty-year-old living proof of the community created among people who meditate. It was conceived by John Main's personal example and teaching. It was born at the John Main Seminar held in New Harmony in 1991, led by Bede Griffiths, the Christian monk who became one of the great prophets of inter-faith dialogue. He knew John Main, calling him ‘in my experience the best spiritual guide of our time’. For his Seminar he took the theme of ‘The New Creation in Christ: Christian Meditation and Community’.

It will also be in New Harmony this year that Jason Gordon will lead members of the WCCM worldwide - and anyone interested in seeing how to expand the tent of our consciousness to global issues which have gathered momentum and urgency in the past four decades. He is Archbishop of Trinidad and Tobago and a patron of the WCCM. He learned to meditate while studying in London as a young priest and now makes it a priority of his work to teach meditation widely, especially to children. He is also committed to serving social and economic justice in the poorest parts of society.

During the first two days of the Seminar, Jason will give a series of talks on the core theme. As part of this general teaching, he will also introduce the theme of the ‘synodal process’ and how to understand and practice it. His conferences will be comprehensive and inclusive and will be illustrated from his personal experience gained throughout his ministry career of pastoral leadership and organisation. In his view, spiritual, religious and social aspects must be held together. Being committed to dialogue and listening, he will encourage small group discussions and plenary sessions so that his input will stimulate a participatory audience, both in person and online. To conclude the first part of the Seminar, he will have a dialogue with Laurence Freeman.

There will be a silent bridge between the first and second part of the Seminar. As there will be more collective sharing in small groups, in this part there will be some short extra times of silence, for example at breakfast. As at every Seminar since 1984, there will be meditation morning and evening with contemplative liturgy and a joyful concluding, contemplative celebration of the Eucharist. The annual general meeting of the WCCM will be held, giving an overview of the community’s life in the past year and a look ahead to the next, and there will be an evening of shared cultural entertainment reflecting the home communities of the participants.

The second half of the Seminar will open with a presentation of the tradition of ‘synodality’ as a way of living together in community with all our differences. ‘Synod’ is a Greek word composed of ‘syn’ (together) and ‘hodos’ (way), expressing a vision of being on the way together. Whatever our differences - of culture, language, generation, religious belief or political views – we can weave them together into a rich unity through the twin arts of conversation and listening. The loss of these human arts of being on the way together has led to the conspicuous challenges to the democratic form of society. No better alternative has yet been proposed and yet there are different kinds of democracy.

Listening to each other and engaging in conversation can show us what forms may suit us now in all institutions and communities. Jason Gordon has personal experience of guiding ‘syn-hodos’ at the local and global levels. This came through his role in the Catholic Church which is the first major organisation of its historical and geographical extent to initiate a full consultation of all its membership from the grassroots. He calls synodality a contemplative experience because it requires deep listening which (like meditation) is reached through silence and other-centredness. No less, on the other hand, the practice of contemplation prepares us for the conversation of a synodal process through the community that meditation creates through silence.

This second part of the Seminar will not be rigidly managed and will enjoy some spontaneity because the real manager of ‘being on the way together’ is the Spirit. But we will address the issues of Christianity today, our world at large and the way the WCCM is meant to evolve in its next phase of (as its mission statement says) ‘serving the unity of all’.

The Seminar is open to all. The physical presence of those in New Harmony will help make those participating from around the world online realise they are present, listened to and can contribute freely through the small groups and plenary sessions. The outcome of this will not be a mere statement, but a fresh experience of how we can be on the human way together: an experience whose hope and vision we can take away with us to share with others.

Please join us for this unique John Main Seminar.

Laurence Freeman OSB