Practiced meditation for 20 minutes, which is the amount of time chosen as I return to faithful practice. Sessions later will last perhaps 45 minutes. I will add an afternoon session, and 2-3 minute sessions throughout the day. One step at a time, do not speculate on the future, or even plan. Meditate now, for now. What needs to be done then will become clear in meditation. Meditation is grounding in ultimate reality through letting go of everything—of self in all of its forms. What needs to be done must arise from reality, not from self-generated speculation or whim.
The primary spiritual problem for my parishioners: how to enter into the stillness of meditation. As far as I know, only several even attempt it. Ours is a culture of activism, busyness, consuming, doing, watching, eating, gratification of senses. Christianity of the churches does not provide much assistance to those who seek to cross the stream of existence and enter into the quiet place. Christianity of the churches is too busy, too noisy, too concerned with “changing the world,” or with cultic rituals, or with “being born again,” and the like. In such things one does not enter into the eternal, but plays on the beaches. Entrance into non-existence is through letting go of existence in all of its forms.
The two main texts I know for assisting one to enter into stillness are the Dhammapadaof the Buddha, and the Cloud of Unknowing. There are many other texts to assist, such as the Gospels and the Bhagavad Gita. Not by study alone does one enter, nor by doing good deeds, but by the practice of dying to self that is required in meditation. Not this, not that, no feelings, no thoughts, no wishes, no dreams, no images, no movement. One seeks to renounce all that is not no-thing, that is not empty of self in all of its forms.One enters by letting go of the world, beliefs, desires.
Years ago through meditation I formulated my reflection on the divine: Deus nihil. Literally, God is nothing, but to avoid some misunderstanding, one could write, “God is no-thing.” But even the symbol “God” is misleading, because it is understood as a particular thing or being. And that is not what is intended. God that can be symbolized and imagined is not God. One must let go of images and symbols to enter into unknowing, as mystics East and West have long taught.
Just this past week I symbolized the quest in this way: Existo ut esse. Perhaps my Latin is weak, and needs refinement: Existo ut sim. But I intentionally want the non-personal form esse, rather than the personal form, sim. In English: I exist to be. Not, “I exist that I may be.” The particular self needs to be let go, renounced, to enter into life, into ultimate reality, into being itself. Whatever emerges in the process will be.
Contemporary culture, including Christianity in every form I know, is wrapped up in self, to some degree or another, in certain characteristic ways. The point of ritual and dogma is to allow the divine that simply is here and now to shine through. But this much I understand with no little concern: most get attached to particular words and forms, and do not enter into the formless, the speechless, the eternal. It is not profitable to play with liturgical forms and rituals, or with dogmas, or with social activities of various kinds. These things the world chases after.
Each exists in the middle, between sheer particularity and the non-particular. Everything that exists shares in being itself, but is not ultimate being. In meditation, one actively and quietly seeks to allow that which is to be present, without becoming attached to any word or form. If nothing remains from the divine furnace of extinction, so be it. Much dross must be burned away before the gold is purified. And when the gold is purified, one sees nothing.
Too many words have been written. Now is the time to enter into silence.
The Church and explicitly our liturgies may assist us in “making a good Lent,” but if you yourself do not make a genuine effort, do not expect much if any spiritual benefit. In the realm of the Spirit, both divine gift and human response are always intimately related: the more one gives of oneself, the more one receives of the Spirit. Mere passivity, or sloth, will not bring to you or to me the blessings of Lent; on the contrary, sloth, or spiritual laziness, will cause us to advance backwards, to fall from grace, to retreat from making genuine spiritual progress. The Church and liturgies provide us with spiritual gifts, but without genuine effort on your part, they will not profit you for salvation, or for happiness in this life.
Folks often ask, “What can the Church do for me? What is the Church doing for my children?” The answer must be: You yourself must make the effort. Each adult, each child, must make a real effort to receive spiritual benefits. The best that we have to offer is the celebration of the Eucharist together, as our common worship of God, and as our helping one another be attentive, receive, and give. What can our Eucharistic celebrations do for one who does not attend? Or if the person attends, he or she does not pay close attention?
I strongly urge each of us to think now about what we will do, not do, for Lent. Keep in mind the goal: a deeper union with Christ and with our fellow human beings through love, self-discipline, some self-overcoming. Also, remember that Sundays are not part of Lent, so any fast or food abstinence you take for Lent does not apply on Sundays.
I would rather not tell you what you do for Lent, but I make a few suggestions to help you decide what to take on, what to give up:
First, some kind of self-denial in the realm of food and drink is an ancient Catholic practice, and can be beneficial. Those who eat candy and sweets would do well to make a hard effort to avoid candy and sweets during Lent. Another form of beneficial self-discipline is to abstain from all eating between meals. Remember that on Ash Wednesday and each Friday in Lent all Catholics are required to abstain from eating meat; and Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of fasting for all but the young, elderly, and ill.
Second, find a penance that corrects your negligences during the year. The two most important areas: increase of prayer and spiritual reading; and an increase of deeds of mercy and charity to others. Be concrete, and prepare to assist some others in their needs.