Christian Meditation Guru Comes to SA
In September a priest who leads an international Christian meditation movement will visit South Africa. PAUL FALLER provides some background.
In September the spiritual leader of the World Community for Christian Meditation will make a ten-day visit to South Africa.
The visit by Benedictine Father Laurence Freeman is being hosted by the Catholic Institute of Education and the Jesuit Institute of South Africa.
Fr Freeman will lead a number of public events in Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg and Pretoria during his stay.
Laurence Freeman, born in London in 1951, was educated by the Benedictines and studied English literature at Oxford University.
After working at the United Nations, in merchant banking and journalism, he entered Ealing Abbey in London as a Benedictine monk. He was ordained in 1980.
His teacher and spiritual guide was Dom John Main (1926-82). After studying with Fr Main during his novitiate and helping with the establishment of the first Christian Meditation Centre in London in 1975, Fr Freeman accompanied him to Canada where they formed a new kind of Benedictine Community.
That community taught and practised a way of meditation whose roots lie in the desert tradition of early Christianity, dating back to John Cassian and others in the 4th century.
After Fr Main’s death in 1982, Fr Freeman succeeded him. When the World Community for Christian Meditation (WCCM) was formed some nine years later, with its international office in London, he became its spiritual guide.
The WCCM presents an annual John Main Seminar, retreats, seminars and introductions to meditation developed by its School of Meditation.
It supports the practice through the quarterly Meditatio newsletter, social media, a daily reading and weekly mailings, apps and online radio.
New identity found
It was at the John Main Seminar in 1991, led by Bede Griffiths OSB, that the community was named when meditators from around the world came together to shape its future direction and organisation as a “monastery without walls”.
They named it the World Community for Christian Meditation because it was formed and nurtured not only by the practice of meditation but existed to share this gift with others.
The symbol of the community—two birds looking in different directions but resting on the chalice—is a modern version of an ancient way of representing the union of the contemplative and active dimensions of life.
The WCCM community is a global and inclusive contemplative family present in over 120 countries. Countless individuals, close to 3000 weekly groups, and a number of Christian Meditation Centres share the peace and compassion that are the spiritual fruits of meditation.
Groups meet in homes, parishes, schools, offices, hospitals, prisons and universities.
There are groups for the homeless and those in recovery from addiction, and a special emphasis of the community is to share this gift of meditation with the poor and marginalised.
Christian Meditation Centres help to share the teaching. There are also several online meditation groups.
Because meditation is a universal wisdom, contemplative dialogue with other faiths is a priority. The relationship with the Benedictine monastic family is especially valued and a WCCM Oblate Community grows within the larger community of meditators.
Outreach initiatives were formalised on the community’s 20th anniversary with the opening of its Meditatio programme, bringing the practice of meditation to the worlds of leadership, business, finance, healthcare, and education. In addition, programmes were developed to help those in prison and those suffering from substance abuse.
The Meditatio Centre in London coordinates a diverse programme of seminars and workshops. Training programmes share the insights gained in this way with national coordinators and group leaders around the world.
Meditatio’s spiritual outreach thus bridges the religious, the secular and both the local and the global.
Fr Freeman is active in the contemplative meeting of different faiths, affirming the importance of the contemplative dimension in the resolution of conflict and the promotion of peace and justice.
Agent in peacemaking
In partnership and friendship with the Dalai Lama, he led the Way of Peace initiative which formed the centrepiece of the World Community for Christian Meditation’s commitment to meditation as a common ground for seeking peace and justice.
The original three-year programme began in 1998, and included a pilgrimage to India and a retreat in Tuscany, Italy. It culminated in an extraordinary three-day gathering in Belfast in 2000.
Entitled “The Way of Peace: Religious Harmony in the Third Millennium”, the event was attended by 450 people from around the world, and included meetings with community leaders, religious leaders, politicians, young people, victims and survivors of violence, and business leaders.
In a warm letter of encouragement, then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair stated: “The purpose of the seminar could not be more relevant to our goal of establishing lasting peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland.”
In 2009, Fr Freeman was awarded the Order of Canada for his work as director of the WCCM and as a proponent of peace and interreligious dialogue and understanding.
Meditatio’s work in introducing meditation into the business and financial worlds began with the conviction that meditation reduces stress—a major cause of burnout and unethical and dysfunctional behaviour—and promotes personal wholeness.
But, above all, it develops a new kind of contemplative leader—one who has personal depth and balance, insight, a global perspective, clarity and compassion.
A new home
The WCCM has found a home in France in a Benedictine monastery in Bonnevaux. It’s a beautiful property founded a thousand years ago in a gentle valley near Poitiers—and Fr Freeman will take up residence there shortly.
On this ancient foundation the WCCM is developing a contemplative centre for the 21st century.
As a meditation centre rooted in the Christian mystical tradition it will be open to all who seek depth and meaning and desire a more united and just world.
It aims to show the potential of meditation, the oldest wisdom of humanity, to unite and heal people of all ages, beliefs and backgrounds.
Because the focus is radically simple, it is universal in spirit. It seeks to help bring a contemplative mind to the complex problems of our time and bring the fruits of meditation, deeper than we can measure, to people of all religious or secular beliefs.
Retreat facilities will allow people to deepen their own work of silence and so renew their relationships with others. Bonnevaux will have a new Meditatio Centre to unify and pilot new ways of teaching and training teachers of Christian meditation.
Fr Freeman has written many books including Jesus the Teacher Within, Christian Meditation: Your Daily Practice, Light Within, The Selfless Self, The Pearl of Great Price, A Simple Way, and The Inner Pilgrimage.
His latest book, Good Work: Meditation for Personal and Organisational Transformation, deﬁnes good work as “work that brings out the best in the people who do it, and brings enduring beneﬁt to those who are influenced by it”.
For resources and contact details for mediation groups in South Africa, see www wccm.org.za