Why does the Christian faith not change our lives?
On each Wednesday evening, we meet here for an hour of Christian meditation and contemplative prayer, in a prayer room, with people from the locality. We also arrange courses here throughout the year in an adjoining building where people in religious life give guidance in the practice of prayer and reflection. We also attempt to provide simple hospitality within the context of a family home to those who come here for prayer and for courses.
Out of this practice, which commenced in September 2000, we have felt the need to begin to reflect upon this question and consciously engage in the process of articulating an answer. This document is a first step in this process. As the initiative being undertaken here develops, this document will hopefully grow in expressing a more profound answer to this question. For the moment though, it seeks to start this exercise of articulating a vision and practice of the Christian faith which does change our lives for the better. This is the purpose of Integritas.
The starting point is to begin by identifying what is absent from our expression of the Christian faith which prevents it from changing our lives. We have found that there are three themes which repeatedly emerge.
(a) The fragmentation of central relationships.
The Christian faith will continue to leave us unmoved unless we understand how it addresses the real problem of this era, being the fragmentation of central relationships in our lives. We are scattered within ourselves and as societies in the Western world because we have neglected certain relationships which are essential to being fully human. The most profound of these relationships is the relationship of the human person to God. Once one neglects, or even denies this relationship, the relationships of the human person to oneself, to others and to society and creation progressively fall apart.
The Christian faith is not being articulated in a way which responds to the unconscious distress in each of us arising from the disintegration of these relationships. This initiative searches for a vision and practice of the Christian faith which leads to a re-integration of these four relationships and the term integral is used to describe this objective.
(b) The inner centre of Jesus Christ.
Once we become scattered in ourselves, our relationships fall apart. To prevent this, we need a centre within us which holds. This centre must be spiritual so as to protect us from being pulled asunder by the demands of each day.
The Christian faith is based upon the interior experience of the person of Jesus Christ. He is the steadfast centre in the heart of the human person who holds us and prevents us from being scattered. He is the centre around which all of our relationships may be re-integrated. It is for this reason that this initiative is primarily concerned with prayer and reflection for it is only through them that an inner experience of the Lord can be found.
(c) An additional model of lay involvement in the Christian Church.
To find the steadfast presence of Jesus Christ within oneself, we need to explore the Christian faith in a milieu where we feel at home. The existing structures of the Christian Church, while essential, lack a sense of human warmth and a feminine presence. Furthermore, while the diocesan structure and religious orders draw in many ways upon the participation of lay people, the involvement of lay people can never be total within these contexts. We need an additional model which complements the existing diocesan and religious structures but which relies upon the total commitment of lay people to create centres for prayer and reflection in their own homes.
These centres need to be places of prayer and home, not necessarily for a married couple or with children present, but children must be joyfully welcomed. They must also be places that reflect upon the problems in the human journey to God and in our society and search for the Christian response to these challenges. Yet, the basic characteristic must always be the creation of a place for prayer, for the contemplative experience of God. Bede Griffiths stressed the importance of this when writing prophetically of lay communities in these terms :-
“Whatever the work to be done, whatever service we do, it must be related and intimately associated with our prayer, our meditation, our contemplation. We are trying to bring our whole life, our whole being, our secular life, into this inner life of prayer. That is what we are seeking. That is our hope for these lay communities. And this is our prayer : that all these groups and meetings taking place will gradually evolve into a new kind of church, a church that is focused on contemplative prayer, renewing the whole Christian life and we hope, human life in the context of prayer.”
(“The New Creation in Christ, Bede Griffiths, (1992) at p. 29.)
The small initiative being undertaken here is a “lay community” seeking to address these three concerns so that, by the grace of God, a life-changing vision and practice of the Christian faith may emerge. The purpose of this document is to outline the beginning of this process, both in relation to the underlying thinking and the practical steps which have been taken to date.
In the course of the evolution of this document, many people have given of their valuable time to reflect upon earlier drafts. It has already benefited greatly from criticism which has been generously given. The consistent support of some close friends has also been very welcome. In this respect, we want to acknowledge the friendship of Eltin Griffin O. Carm. and Stephen Costello. With their respective experience in Christian prayer and philosophy, their guidance in relation to this document and the entire initiative has been of immense value. The presentation of this document has also been beautifully enhanced by photographs taken by Donagh O’Shea O.P. when he stayed with us here recently.
Louis Hughes O.P. has given a commitment to this initiative from the very beginning and has been a source of constant guidance, encouragement and enthusiasm. He has opened opportunities for new directions to enable this initiative to grow in a way that is original and attentive to the Spirit. Peter Hannan S.J. has also profoundly influenced every step that has been taken. It is hard to conceive of any central insight in this document which has not arisen from conversations with him. His steadfast emphasis upon the practice of prayer and reflection in experiencing an intimate knowledge of Jesus Christ has been the cornerstone. Without the support of either of these men, this initiative would not have even begun.
In the week that this document was finalised, our friend and mentor John Mackie died. He gave a course here in June, 2002 and he studied this document in all of its drafts. He made further suggestions for its improvement having studied the final draft in the closing weeks of his life. From the very beginning of this initiative, he also gave invaluable guidance and encouragement. He stressed the importance of the need for a contemplative renewal in the Christian Church which is based in family life. He expressed concern at the lack of the feminine in this document and this weakness will hopefully be addressed as this document is revised in time. This document is dedicated to him.
Linda Rainsberry and Patrick Treacy, All Souls,
November 2nd, 2003.