During this week, Christians are gathered together. It is a dark week, and there is a heaviness, sensed to one degree or another among the observant and the non-observant, the devout and those in doubt. In all of us, something is stirred. Holy Week.
During this brief time, fewer hairs are split, fewer lines drawn, less distinctions made. Christians are quieted. There is all of Passiontide ahead. No one thinking yet of Resurrection. Now is the time when the test in Gethsemane is coming, when betrayal, humiliation, profound physical and spiritual suffering will be foreseen, accepted, endured.
We witness again, watching, waiting. Quiet, as the Parisian crowds watching the burning Notre Dame were quiet. And in the quiet drawn together.
Imagine a circle with rays going out from its center, asked sixth-century Abba Dorotheus. As we move inward, drawing nearer to God, we at the same time draw nearer to each other. Each time we enter the Lord’s Prayer this gathering is renewed. The whole of the prayer carries a current of communion: our Father, give us, forgive us, deliver us. We pray together, and notice each time that we are not praying alone. And certainly at the moment we pray there are on the earth thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, in every condition of life, praying with us, gathered together.
To be open to God and to others we must be present, “gathered together “in another sense—within ourselves. “Who are those to be gathered together?” asked an early Father of the Church. He answered in a way difficult to understand: he said it was “the intellect, the will, and the memory.” We are to gather together faculties that are usually not united, that live without connection to one another. So, intellect and memory. We might usually associate those two, but here clearly not. Intellect we may assume is mind and reason but the memory lies in another, deeper realm. A memory within us of great mystery, the memory of our source, the memory of God, of who I am, who I was made to be.
When the attention of the mind is “gathered together’ with this deep memory, when it begins to touch it, we come to ourselves. And what is the will mentioned above but a wish to maintain this new opening and sense of unity? The Lord’s Prayer is an instrument meant to gather us together, within and without, and only thus are we present, and open to grace.
Intellect, will, memory—to watch, to wish, to remember—are for most of us newly discovered realms. We are beginners, finding our way. There is no need to label our attempts as meditation, or contemplation, and we have no need of big experiences. Such experiences may in fact become obstacles. A tendency to seek them again can cause us to miss what is being newly brought before us. And they can also engender a particularly insidious form of spiritual pride that does us no good at all. Better not to seek such experiences or speak of them if they come. A slowly dawning light suits us better than a blinding one.
In the words of one writer, a true revelation from above most often takes place in the guise of a “scarcely perceptible inner whispering.” It is this inner whispering we are to be listening for, listening with all the attention and care we can. Gathered together.
Image: Messier 3 global cluster, ESA/Hubble & NASA, G. Piotto et al.