This is a photograph of Bede Griffiths, the Benedictine monk who went out to India to find, as he said, the other half of his soul. There he took charge of an ashram called Shantivanam. in Tamil Nadu in southern India. The Indians, in the small village community where the ashram was situated, all looked upon him as a saint.
I never had the good fortune to meet Father Bede, though I had tried a couple of times. I did, however, visit his ashram in December, 1993. Bede had died in May of that year, and the place was still full of his presence. I felt it profoundly as I sat in the hut where he had lived, or in front of the Library where he liked to sit, gazing out over the landscape.
I was fortunate, though, to meet Brother Martin, the guest master who took over from Bede Griffiths in giving the afternoon talks. I did not, at that time, feel I was a really committed Christian, but listening to Brother Martin made me see Christianity in an entirely new light. In fact, I was bowled over by him.
Recent events in the political world have been profoundly disturbing, not least the election of Donald Trump as the president of the United States, the most powerful nation in the world. This is a man who seems set to overthrow our present system of democracy and liberal ideals and replace it by a narrow, self serving, fear laden, racist and isolationist ideology, based on greed, self aggrandisement and an appeal to man’s lower instincts.
How did we get here? How did all this come about? I have recently been watching two films, one a short film, three quarters of an hour, one a full length film of an hour and half. The last one, WN, by Zadie Smith, I nearly turned off. I thought ‘I don’t want to watch this, but I did watch it as I always get hooked by a story, and it did, in fact, have a good and sweet ending. The other film had two stories, based on greed and pornography: both had their comeuppance in the law.
So many films nowadays are based on murder and crime of some sort, and on people’s unhappy lives, which must reflect the state of our society. Most of my friends do not live this kind of life. Why, I wonder, do the people who make these films think we would want to watch them. There must be sufficient numbers of people watching to make it worth their while. I think this surely must have a drip drip effect on people’s psyche, because willy nilly one does end up watching some of them.
There was a man called Gurdjieff, he came from Armenia, in the early part of the twentieth century, who used to say that men were half asleep, their minds were disconnected from their bodies, and so they lived in a semi hypnotic state, barely conscious of what was going on in their lives. His aim was to try and bring people into the present, in much the same way as Eckhart Tolle is trying to do today.
The media has played a large part in the manipulation of people’s minds, and the advertising industry very cleverly manipulates people into buying certain products.
I think this present situation has come about because the majority of people no longer have a religious faith, and they no longer believe in God, the Creator. Yet they are still looking, searching for a deeper meaning to their lives. Having a car, money, possessions, even a loving relationship, does not entirely fulfil them.
At the same time, I know that a lot is going on at grass roots level. It seems to me that the world is being polarised, the forces of darkness against the forces of light. I think what I am trying to say is that all those who are on the side of the light must come together, must work together, to combat these dark forces. We need to be aware, we need to be vigilant, we must not fall asleep, for we are indeed living in very dangerous times.
I started off with an image of Bede Griffiths, a wise and holy man. I would like to end by talking about Cynthia Bourgeault, an American Episcopal priest, an equally wise and holy woman. She recently came to Bristol and gave a talk at St James’ Priory on centering prayer and inner awakening. She has written two books on the subject. The theme of her talk was finding God through silence and stillness, she described it as ‘standing still in the centre.’ It can reduce stress and anxiety and bring equanimity and balance.
She was in England just at the time of the presidential election results in the States. Back in her hermitage in Maine, she recorded a brief reflection on the election result. I would like to share it with you here. It is worth listening to. You can find it on: http://www.vimeo.com/191109234. We need all the wisdom we can muster in these dark times.
PEACE BE WITH YOU