I was a young Protestant boy when Vatican II concluded in 1965. It didn’t impact me until 20 years later. But it is one of the reasons I am a meditating Christian.
Vatican II opened the windows and let some air into our religion. At the council, the pope gave two jobs to the monastic orders, and particularly to the Trappists.
First, he asked them to restore our contemplative heritage. Recognizing the historical shift we’ve talked about, Vatican II began to explore spiritual practices to help our souls in this era. Second, he asked the religious orders to open dialogue with the other religious traditions; particularly the contemplative traditions from the East.
This new openness didn’t make it to my little beach town until after I left. I’d read about our ancient contemplatives, but didn’t know about the contemporary revival until I got to graduate school. When I discovered it, I’d been through several years of depression. I was losing my Enlightenment faith. I was hurting. I was ready.
Hungry for a spirituality that worked, and fueled by what I’d discovered, I sought out a spiritual director at a nearby convent. She was a precious older nun who met with me, taught me to meditate, and exposed me to books about the contemplative side of our faith.
Catholic contemplatives showed me that meditation is not something to be feared; that it has always been part of our faith. They also helped me not fear the East. Because the Eastern religions didn’t go through a Western-style Enlightenment, they have a gift to give us. They remind us of a truth we once possessed.
One Trappist, Thomas Merton, showed me how similar the Eastern contemplative practices are to the practices of the Christian Desert Fathers (NOTE). Early in his life, he was surprised when a Hindu monk encouraged him, not to read Hindu scriptures, but to read our own Christian mystics (NOTE). His writings helped me see that Eastern meditation techniques are completely in sync with our own tradition. As we move toward our own contemplative center, he said, we often share more camaraderie with Eastern contemplatives than with institutional Christians (NOTE).
Consequently, when I discovered contemplatio (the last movement in lectio divina), and how similar it is to Eastern meditation, I wasn’t frightened.