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He who attempts to act and do things for others and for the world without deepening his own self-understanding, freedom, integrity, and capacity to love, will not have anything to give to others. He will communicate to them only the contagion of his own obsessions, his aggressiveness, his ego-centered ambitions, his delusions about ends and means, and his doctrinaire prejudices and ideas. Thomas Merton
So this is my first of ten important thoughts for spiritual reflection. For the last year, I have been influenced by the incredible wisdom and gift of the 12-Step movement throughout the world. One of its core insights, indeed the thought akin to many forms of contemplative religions including Christianity for which I am a part, is the key idea that the violence and problems of human society and systems, comes from within each one of us.
Many have written about the importance of the human ego as an essential tool for survival. But it is a two edged sword. The human ego can also be that which becomes obsessed with the seven deadly sins of Greed, Anger, Fear, Lust, Envy, Pride and Sloth. If we become fixated with these things, then we literally become ‘adult children’ and we literally become distorted and addicted to these various intense behaviours that lead to forms of insane narcissistic violence.
This is why in the Christian contemplative tradition, forms of Buddhism, Sufism and other mystical religious traditions, the taming of the ego is an essential human discipline, because if we stay too aligned with the ego it leads us to put our identity into a false-self.
Merton makes clear that the self-proclaimed autonomy of the false self is but an illusion:
Every one of us is shadowed by an illusory person: a false self.
This is the man I want myself to be but who cannot exist, because God does not know anything about him. And to be unknown of God is altogether too much privacy.
My false and private self is the one who wants to exist outside the reach of God’s will and God’s love—outside of reality and outside of life. And such a self cannot help but be an illusion.
We are not very good at recognizing illusions, least of all the ones we cherish about ourselves—the ones we are born with and which feed the roots of sin. For most of the people in the world, there is no greater subjective reality than this false self of theirs, which cannot exist. A life devoted to the cult of this shadow is what is called a life of sin.
Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, 34-5.
In fact, what ever we do no tame and immerse in the love of God to enable us to find spiritual freedom in our deeper true-selves, then we will unleash egoic violence on those around us and the natural order. What ever we do not own from within ourselves, we wreak on others and the natural order of this world. This is why we have so many adult children who struggled with boundaries and power in the world of Donald Trump and Boris Johnston as examples. This is why we increasingly find ourselves in forms of society with increasingly authoritarian regimes. This is why we have seen forms of the worlds religions formed for being vehicle’s for the love of God, human cooperation, peace and for the stewardship of nature, have been distorted by the violence of religious fundamentalism advanced by the egoic tendency to the deadly sins. This is why our human societies seem impotent to face the drastic threat of global warming and ecocide. We are destroying the planet and self-harming all people and all life through the deadliness of the unrestrained human ego, which ultimately has to be expression of madness and evil, and we are often so ensnared we can not see it.
I believe the only true escape is by appealing to the Higher Power of the 12 Step Movement, the God of world religions, that through the love of God, and through our desire and intention to live another way, that we can reveal and face the consequences of egoic selves through self-awareness, prayer, meditation and spiritual practices, and then through forms of healing and formation, shift our focus of life away from the ego to the true self, or away from the brokenness and self-harm of the deadly sins, to the virtues or the focus on the true-self, through endurance and by being immersed in the love of God. without this focus, I have no hope for this planet, as the evil dark violence within us, can only be subdued through the power of love and humility.
This is why I am so committed to the Christian contemplative tradition and the 12 Step Movement. Both have been for me essential for me to shift away from a life time of self-harming egoic forms of behaviour and living, to something more self-loving, more peace-giving, and more in harmony with the natural order of things.
If we do not face this, then we will continue to destroy, setting up even more despotic regimes, violence to all living things, and an insatiable and unmeetable hunger for power, experience and greed.
I do believe this is what people mean when they say they are spiritual not religious, because they are seeking to go deeper with this striving to take the egoic into the the true self, but I don’t believe you can only do this out of self-will, this is the lesson of the 12-step process. And we are so obsessed with our thinking and feeling and blind to our delusions, that we need forms of loving contemplative spiritual practicing communities who are transformed by the love of God. This is my one hope and trust.
The essential truth is, that only true surrender of the human heart and will can lead to non-egoic spiritual freedom, for which, we all need to do the work.
But there is no substance under the things with which I am clothed. I am hollow, and my structure of pleasure and ambitions has no foundation. I am objectified in them. But they are all destined by their very contingency to be destroyed. And when they are gone there will be nothing left of me but my own nakedness and emptiness and hollowness, to tell me that I am my own mistake. Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, 35.
Over the next few weeks I am going to post 10 thoughts that I believe require some reflection about the way things are and the potential for change in the future. I hope these will promote some deep searching and engagement. The first will begin in a few minutes
2.- The world financial system is not morally neutral
Knowing I have not posted here for sometime, I thought I would repost these words of hope and encouragement as I recognise that so may people continue to suffer, so receives these words for what ever is going on for you in this present moment
To give people the heads up, I will be running two online courses on New Monasticism starting in September, the first I am facilitating on my own which is a 4 week introduction to a more contemplative and missional understanding of New Monastic Community, and the second is a course for people wanting to set up New Monastic Communities which I will be leading with MarK Berry of the Safe Space Community. So see below details for the Intro course and please do send this onto anyone else who may be interested. Intrigued and what to know more about contemplative and missional new monasticism?? Why not try out this short online course I am leading. https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/intro-course-to-new-monastic-missional-communities-by-ian-mobsby-tickets-115539526835
This wellbeing prayer and meditation is a contemplative form of spiritual discipline that attends to who we are and hope in God as the source of all being. This is really good if you are struggling with anxiety or mental health issues.
This contemplative prayer is aimed at helping us become centred, and attending to the different parts of us to and with God to help us again find our strength and centre in the source of all life. Again this is a great form of prayer and meditation if you feel anxious and find it difficult to switch off before sleeping.
We live in tough times, made even harder by the current viral pandemic. If you like me struggle a bit with anxiety and getting overwhelmed, then I commend this form of contemplative prayer. It’s approach of focusing on emotions, the body and surrendering elements of your life to God a powerful combination of embodied meditation and prayer that bring spiritual relief, wellbeing and deep connection to and with God. I highly commend this, so please do see the audio below and the attached doc in words.
If you are feeling stressed and overwhelmed by what is going on, I recommend doing this form of prayer at least twice a day
We the Western Missional Church needs to learn from the ways and practices of the persecuted Church of the Middle East
You many not know, but one of the greatest growing Christian contemplative expressions of Church is in Iran and Iraq. They meet to pray, but have no buildings, no visibility, no formalised leaders but are deeply oppressed where their lives are often at threat, and also at risk of rape by the secret police – both the men and the women.
Their model is a radical openness to the Holy Spirit, to be obedient to the Gospels, where there is a deep relational commitment to be brother and sister Christians, but how they wait and hold back and wait for others to ask religious questions. The focus then is on living the Christian faith – discipleship – not evangelistic events or the approaches we use in the west which just don’t work. For them this is high risk, where they have no religious freedom and oppressed by the threatening domination system.
What can we learn from this?
Clearly at the moment we are not persecuted, but I do believe we are struggling in the west with a massive negative stereotype concerning Christianity and the church which is still too connected to establishment and privilege – and culturally is seen and treated in a way that is not far from forms of prejudice that can easily grow into forms of persecution.
The persecution in the persecuted church allow each of the individual to grow spiritually to have the maturity to cope with oppression but open to God doing things and working miracles that comes from prayer and being an underground network family.
In my new context, Christchurch Southwark, we are struggling because the area is I think sanitised by the market society which isolates the rich and dehumanises and marginalises the poor and vulnerable where our worth is measured against economic or commodified value. So the question is how to we relate to this type of society where many are not free and struggling and not open to Christianity, largely because they have never seen it lived. Living it is critical so people can experience Christians and how faith and spirituality has transformed their life. Only by being an example can we be effective with mission and hence Jesus” teachings and the new commandment and the Lord’s Prayer as a way of life. So this is what we need to learn, and we have got lazy in the west, because we don’t have to fight for the right to express our faith. I am struck by the approach in Iran and Iraq and China because they developed a movement, being able to use forms of relational ministry and do food ministry, friendship and soul friends so we put the focus on living it, and learning to live it better together. If you get a chance see the Youtube clips of sheep amongst wolves. It is cheesy in places and some of its theology is not where I am at, yet I believe the focus on living it guided by God builds mature disciples – I think is helping me to think what I need to get going at Christchurch..,..
Pleased to be able to say that I have finally moved from Peckham to Southwark SE1 to an ancient parish of Christchurch Southwark, with the aims of revitalising an ancient church with a contemplative focus to being an ecclesial community with a focus on mission being contemplative action. I hope to found a residential new monastic community in the parish, and instigate a focus on Christian spirituality for those who live and work in the area.
For more information see Christchurch Southwark on Facebook see: https://www.facebook.com/chrisdtchurchsouthwark/