Recent Open Course “Prayer, Contemplation & Christian Meditation” October 12-16, 2015 by Diana Haynes
Rev. Bastiaan Baan is the author of “Ways Into Christian Meditation”. He has also practiced meditation and prayer for the majority of his adult life and he writes and speaks from his own rich experience. He began this course with a clarification on the difference between prayer, contemplation and meditation. For each of these practices, one must develop the ability to still the mind and focus exclusively on a particular thought – as we are taught in the first of the 6 Basic Exercises given by Rudolf Steiner. But even more importantly, for most people, we need to cultivate an attitude of reverence and devotion. These soul qualities have largely been ignored in our society today and unless they are nurtured during childhood, we have a hard time finding them as adults. Reverence is not a thinking activity, it is a feeling state and we must learn to cultivate our feeling life just as rigorously as we are instructed to cultivate our mental life. It was helpful to reconnect with early experiences of wonder, awe and communion with nature to begin to create this inner state. Living with reverence and devotion in daily life helps build up the soil, in which the seed of meditation can be planted.
In contemplation we took a single line of scripture or a phrase from an initiate and ruminated on it (chewed it thoroughly) to extract meaning. Each word has content, nuances and implications and the mind is very much engaged in this breaking down process to distill the most essential meaning. This develops a richness of thought, but is still not meditation. Only after a significant period of contemplation, is one able to hold the thought in all it’s fullness and begin to allow it to work upon you in the stillness of the soul. Baastian referred to the parable of the sower and the seed in one of our lectures. First we contemplated: What is the seed? Why does it not grow in one type of soil, or grow too quickly but lack moisture in another? How do we have ‘poor’ soil in us. How do we cultivate the good soil? How does the word of God take root and grow, multiplying its fruitfulness a thousand fold? Focus and contemplation, till the soil of our soul and make it ready for meditation.
The Gospel, particularly the Gospel of St John provides a potent seed worthy of meditation. Rudolf Steiner guided many of his early esoteric students to contemplate and meditate on the first verses of John. The good gardener knows not to pull up the sprouting seed to see if it’s growing. He waters and tends it rhythmically and allows it to remain buried in the inner life. The spiritual sun contained in the word itself performs the miracle of opening the seed and revealing the plant that lives within it. So, we must not change our meditations too quickly. In fact, Rudolf Steiner has suggested that for many people, one meditation can be sufficient for an entire lifetime. But he was not rigid in his advise to his students and trusted in their inner guidance both in finding a right meditation and in working with it long enough so that it could reveal it’s gift.
I came away determined to cultivate quiet for 15 minutes a day after waking and before sleeping. I began to work simply with the words, “ Quiet, I bear within myself” as a contemplation and was surprised to find what an immediate change I felt developing in my inner life. During the evening lectures by Baastian we learned how to meditate for the dead and the importance of including the dead in our inner work. We learned about the Basic Exercises and the Retrospective of the Day exercise. We heard anecdotes from the lives of the early priests who were instructed by Rudolf Steiner himself and how one’s dream life and day consciousness are changed by the act of meditation.
An open course can have incredibly rich content, but sometimes it is the smaller things that are even more profound. Meeting new friends, reconnecting with old friends and meeting church friends from different communities and sharing stories develops a sense of connection that is the very lifeblood of Christianity. For me, experiencing the Act of Consecration of Man each morning was incredibly healing. Each day had it’s own balance including art, poetry, group singing, study, lecture, solitude and so many conversations all of which were more precious than gold. I hope each of you will come to the Seminary and meet our future priests and be refreshed from the wellsprings of Christian Community.