Meditation and the Emergence
November 8, 2010
. . . weeping may endure for a night,
but joy comes in the morning.
~ Psalm 30
is an abiding theme in the scriptures, and a promise of good things
to come. Isaiah 51:11 prophesies
. . . Everlasting joy shall be upon their head;
they shall obtain gladness and joy;
and sorrow and mourning shall flee away
The author of Acts declares (2:28)
You have made known to me the ways of life;
you shall make me full of joy with your
and goes on to say in 14:17
. . . he provides you with plenty of food and
your hearts with joy.
“For the kingdom of God
itself,” writes Paul to the Romans (14:17), “is righteousness and
peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
Further advice about the attainment of joy is given to us by
John and James:
Ask, and you will receive,
that your joy may be full.
Count it all joy . . .
when you meet various trials,
for you know that the testing
of your faith produces steadfastness.
And let steadfastness have its full effect.
that you may be perfect and complete,
lacking in nothing.
In the following prayers of saints
and mystics, joy is associated with spiritual presence:
O my God,
fill my soul with holy joy,
courage and strength to serve you.
Enkindle Your love in me and then
walk with me along the next stretch of road
I do not see very far ahead,
but when I have arrived
where the horizon now closes down,
a new prospect will open before me,
and I shall meet it with peace.
~ Edith Stein
O sweet and loving God,
When I stay asleep too long,
Oblivious to all your many blessings,
Then, please, wake me up,
And sing to me your joyful song.
It is a song without noise or notes.
It is a song of love beyond words,
Of faith beyond the power of human telling.
I can hear it in my soul,
When you awaken me to your presence.
~ Mechthild of Magdeburg
O thou dweller in my heart,
open it out, purify it,
make it bright and beautiful,
awaken it, prepare it, make it fearless,
make it a blessing to others,
rid it of laziness, free it from doubt,
unite it with all, destroy its bondage,
let thy peaceful music pervade all its works.
Fix my heart on thy holiness,
And make it full of joy,
full of joy, full of joy.
~ Mahatma Gandhi
Joy, which is deeper than happiness, relates to the
dimension of spirit in us. It may come to us as freely given
grace, or it may emerge within us as a fruit of spiritual
attentiveness and practice.
In Heaven in
Ordinarie, Carmelite writer Noel Dermot O’Donoghue writes
that “joy as we know it is always emergent.”
Joy and sorrow must be understood in relation to each
other, as “intricately correlated and interfused.”
this sense, joy is release from inner tribulation or bondage.
It is also an activity of the spirit that has borne what
must be faced and lived through, coming out on the other side of
travail, if you will.
O’Donoghue describes the movement of joy in this way:
“The spirit must have space to be freely itself, a fountain
leaping upwards to
eternal life, strong to bear both sorrow and joy.”
It is initially somewhat surprising to find a convergence
of insight among various spiritual traditions on the value of
meditation in combating the effects of sin and imperfection in
the soul. In
Judaism, for example, we have the following teaching from Rabbi
Nachman’s “Path in Meditation”: “No person, whether great or
small, can perfect him/herself except through meditation.”
According to Nachman, only through meditation do people
reach high spiritual levels.
Love, p. 26)
The anonymous author of
The Cloud of Unknowing, a lesser known but incomparably
valuable Christian text, alludes to Wisdom 16:20, when speaking
about the nourishing effects of meditation: “. . . the food of
angels . . . bread from heaven.”
Meditation is the “working” that brings about our deepest
By this exercise we are to be restored; and
for want of it we fall deeper and deeper into sin and further
and further from God.
By perseverance and continual working in this exercise
alone, without anything else, a person continues to rise higher
and higher away from sin, and nearer and nearer to God. (124)
In the mystical theology which this text
follows, faithful exercise of apophatic meditation “destroys the
root and ground of sin.” (145)
Therefore, “whoever desires to come to the purity which s/he
lost because of sin, and to arrive at that well-being where all
sorrow passes away, must persevere in the labor of this exercise
and endure the pain of it. . . .” (177)
From the Zen Buddhist perspective, we have the words of
To truly repent does not mean offering an
apology; rather, repenting requires facing life straight on, and
letting the light of absolute reality illuminate us.
What does it mean to be illuminated by absolute reality?
“If you wish to repent, sit zazen (in meditation) and
contemplate the true nature of all things.”
(Opening the Hand
of Thought, p. 116)
When Uchiyama asserts that true repentance
is actualized in sitting meditation, he is declaring with his
Christian and Jewish counterparts that meditation is a site of
emergence, and that the life of the spirit arises in us moment
by moment. As
Shunryu Suzuki taught, “Moment after moment . . . we discover
the true joy of life.”
From the Book of Wisdom we receive this instruction
gleaned from contemplation:
Thus I understand the simple truth of life:
there is nothing better than for you to rejoice
in every deed done in harmony with the moment.
Way of Solomon by Rami Shapiro (Wisdom 11:8, 3:21)