In silence which is active, the Inner Light begins to glow – a tiny spark. For the flame to be kindled and to grow, subtle argument and the clamour of our emotions must be stilled. It is by an attention full of love that we enable the Inner Light to blaze and illuminate our dwelling and to make of our whole being a source from which this Light may shine out.
Words must be purified in a redemptive silence if they are to bear the message of peace. The right to speak is a call to the duty of listening. Speech has no meaning unless there are attentive minds and silent hearts. Silence is the welcoming acceptance of the other. The word born of silence must be received in silence.
Pierre Lacout, 1969
It seems to me that pretty well all the many thousands of words which have been written over long centuries on contemplative practice probably boil down to these: “subtle argument and the clamour of our emotions must be stilled.” And yet we so easily focus on the techniques available to us – zazen, centring prayer, prayers of repetition – that the sweet core of all practice often eludes us. “An attention full of love” is something so obvious that it seems far too simple. Our busy minds are sure that there must be more to it than that.
I am sure that there must be as many ways for this to be true in someone’s practice as there are people to practice anything, and yet for me two strangely opposite means always rise to the surface. One, of course, is meeting for worship, where I am immersed already in the love of Friends, in the eucharistic community of silence; the other is the Jesus Prayer, where alone my heart opens in a prayer that is so much more than what people in our society mean when they say, “mantra”. The words, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner” imply a whole Christology of love and surrender that does in fact fill my attention with love – and returns it there as often as it wanders off like the drifting sheep that it is.
Surrender is the last act, willingly or otherwise, each of us is likely to make in this life. The Buddhist psychologist Kathleen Dowling Singh has written extensively on death and the dying process, chiefly in her wonderful book The Grace in Dying. She writes,
As we return and/or are returned to our Original Nature, virtues that we have acquired, usually through deliberate cultivation, flow naturally as water from a spring. The qualities of loving-kindness, compassion, presence, centeredness, spaciousness, mercy and confidence all radiate naturally forth from our transformed being as we come closer to death. Many a time I have heard “I love you” whispered softly and easily to a spouse or child or parent who may never have heard those words before. Many a time I have seen the dying comfort those in pain around them…
Love appears to be the last connection the dying have with the world of form. We become expressive vehicles for the power of the Ground of Being, inhabited and vitalised by far greater Being… The Ground of Being is, in a very real sense, Love. As we merge with it, self-consciousness and all questions of self-worth and previous psychological issues of lovability spontaneously melt. Love simultaneously pours into and pours out of us. It begins to pour through us.
“Stand still,” said William Leddra, the day before he was martyred, “Stand still, and cease from thine own working.” To practice surrender is consciously to approach that place of last connection: to abandon ship, as it were, and leap into the endless ocean of mercy that is the Ground of Being itself. (God is nothing less than this.) If we can begin to do this consciously in prayer, then that gracious power of “loving-kindness, compassion, presence… mercy and confidence” will have the chance to manifest in our very lives, poured out for those the Way places in our path.