This weekend I read Laurence Freeman’s lovely short book, Pearl of Great Price. The book takes a couple hours to get through, and it’s available as a free PDF, so if you’re interested in contemplative practice there’s really no good reason not to read it.

All pictures are of Bath Cathedral

For me this throwaway line about how contemplative practice became suspect in Western Christianity was rather compelling, and a nice explanation of how what had once been very important in Christianity became marginal:

Many think it [the declining respect for contemplation] began in the twelfth century with the divorce between theology and prayer, when theology became a university subject and deep prayer the specialty of monks. At the Reformation, this situation worsened as Catholics grew suspicious of contemplation because it seemed too Protestant in its emphasis on personal experience and unmediated relationship to God. Protestants were wary of it because it seemed too Catholic and too related to the elitism of monasteries. (14)

There’s also a great chapter explaining why some Christian demoninations consider meditation to be non-Christian, is merely a form of stress reduction that doesn’t have anything to do with spiritual life, or contend that it’s downright evil.

More quotes from the book after the jump (but really, go read the whole thing yourself).

There is nothing simpler than meditation…. But as anyone who has tried it knows, simple is not easy. (7)

Contemplation is not an escape from the problems of personal life or work, from family or social responsibility. Meditation is the work of contemplation and, as a daily practice, it becomes part of our life-work. It helps us to do the other, active, part more productively and peacefully. Mary and Martha are like the two chambers of one heart. They don’t even just complement one another; they need each other to realize fullness of life. (15)

Spiritual discipline is necessary if we are to free ourselves from the tyranny of selfishness, addiction, fear, compulsiveness, delusion and self-fixation. (23)

[M]editation is simple not easy, life-giving not life-denying, embodied not abstract (24)

Prayer is not an alternative to action but its very ground. (33)

In meditation we make the discovery that the repetition is not mechanical but faithful. Faithfulness makes for creativity, as the practice of starting and leading a group is creative work. (42)

Meditation is as natural to the spirit as breathing is to the body. (49)

The root of all distractions is self-consciousness. In meditation we are ‘leaving self behind’. Distractions will come, but don’t try to repress or fight them. Simply let them go. When you find that a thought has hooked your attention, simply return in faith to saying the mantra. This is the ‘work of the word’. If you are led to a level of peace and clarity and think ‘I have no thoughts’, that thought is a thought. So keep saying the mantra and allow it to become more fine and subtle as you go deeper. (51)

[D]on’t assess your progress. The feeling of failure – or success – may be the biggest distraction of all. Do not expect or look for ‘experiences’ in meditation. (51)