Monday, February 15, 2021

Archived

The Mercy Blog will remain online, but there will be no further posts here or on my other blog, Silent Assemblies.

There is an entirely new blog at An Open Ground, where I hope to continue the journey begun here. I do hope readers of The Mercy Blog will continue to follow along - I am so grateful for your faithful support over the years!

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Being Quiet

During this time when physically attending corporate worship of any kind is difficult, not to say inadvisable, and Zoom meetings have remained their distracting and inadequate selves, there has been plenty of time to be quiet, and to allow the assumptions and traditions by which our spiritual lives are usually conditioned to settle out, as it were, like the cloudiness in a newly-established aquarium.

Wikipedia defines religion as "a social-cultural system of designated behaviours and practices, morals, worldviews, texts, sanctified places, prophecies, ethics, or organizations, that relates humanity to supernatural, transcendental, and spiritual elements."

Contemplation, however differently it may be defined in different traditions, is at root a kind of inner seeing, an experiential encounter with the ground of being that gives rise to, and sustains, all that is. The many techniques of contemplative practice may in the end give rise to contemplation, but their intention is much more modest: to train attention and consciousness sufficiently to still the field of awareness. Of course the outer forms of mediation or contemplative practice are very different, and conditioned by the religious tradition within which they arise, but very broadly something like this seems to be intended by them all.

In this period of quiet settling, separated from the religious atmosphere and bustle of corporate worship, I have begun to sense that the "social-cultural system" of religion is something quite separate from the "experimental faith" (cf. Quaker faith  & practice 19.02) of contemplative practice, and crucially, the one does not depend upon the other.

Where this is leading I am not at present certain, but there is a clarity developing that I had not expected, nor intentionally "worked towards". The inward solitude of these unusual times is proving strangely fruitful. This is what Martin Laird once called a "pathless path": as Dave Tomlinson wrote, "Human language is unable to describe the external realities of God with any precision. As we have seen, this does not make language useless; it simply means that we have to accept its limitations... Religious language or talk about God and the spiritual realm is therefore inherently provisional and approximate in nature."

Perhaps it is time that silence and practice are allowed to stand without language: the field still, and open. It seems to be so for me.