Anglican priest the Revd Linda Chapman, who has a passion for nature and meditation, recently led a silent retreat at Pallotti College in Millgrove. She spoke to Roland Ashby about the lessons that silence, meditation and nature can teach us about grace and finding our true selves.
By Roland Ashby
FEBRUARY 5 2018
The key thing in life is to “come home to yourself”, says Linda Chapman. “This can mean coming home to yourself in terms of your particular personality, or what you want to do with your life, but ultimately the deeper meaning is coming home to the Christ who lives within us.”
And he can live more fully within us, she says, when we “divest ourselves of our superficial selves, when we slough off the kind of layers of self that get in the way of our capacity to love fully.
“It’s coming home to that love that is waiting to receive us and to live through us. It’s a place beyond personality, and beyond what we do, say and how we look, where we encounter the deeper reality of being in God, abiding in God.”
Being on a silent retreat, she explains, is a helpful part of the process of “coming home”. “The first thing is that we don’t have all the distractions. We’re constantly being pulled out of ourselves in a busy and noisy world.
“But when we come on a silent retreat, we first come to it with deliberate intention, and in that place where there are fewer distractions and when we’re able to slow down, we are drawn into that sense of ourselves that we find in silence, in stillness, in solitude.”
It is a place, she says, in which we can experience what the Anglican anchorite, Maggie Ross, calls “‘the deep mind’, which is our capacity for knowledge of the ’unfolding truth of our true self, our shared nature with God’, in deep silence and continual ‘beholding’, free of self-consciousness.
“When Maggie Ross refers to ‘Deep Mind’ she does so in relation to ‘Self-Conscious Mind’. Self-Conscious Mind correlates with left brain thinking (analytical, rational) and Deep Mind with right brain thinking (intuitive, creative). She suggests that for the mind to function optimally it needs to be re-centred in Deep Mind, restoring the connection or flow between the two ways of knowing (right brain/left brain) so that ‘ordinary daily life draws on Deep Mind’s wellspring of silence and transfiguration.’
“In my understanding this is the Deep Mind of Christ that St Paul tells us to put on, which is actually silence. It’s the deep silence in which Christ dwells.”
It was after a period of crisis in her life that Linda discovered Christian meditation. “I was in my late twenties and working in a driven way with Youth Off The Streets in Canberra and ended up getting pneumonia and glandular fever at the same time.
“I came back down the NSW coast. I had not been a churchgoer, but it was at that point which bought me to a complete standstill physically that I realised I needed to slow the thinking down, the busy mind, and instinctively, as I had always been drawn to nature, went just to sit by the water. It wasn’t long after that that I realised that I was encountering a reality that inexplicably I knew was Christ.
“And so I took myself off to the local Anglican Church, and I met the right person there, rector of the parish, Geoff Ballard, listened to my story, and to what was happening for me, and he gave me a pile of books on the Christian contemplatives and mystics, and I took them away and drank them in.
“Geoff also happened to be just starting a Christian meditation group at Lilli Pilli so he invited me along. We watched the video Coming Home, an introduction to Christian meditation. And I felt I had come home. So I started meditating with that little group, which is still going today.”
Linda says she has found meditation to be a great “stabiliser”. “The daily practice really does confront us with the daily temptations of the ego, and also helps me cope with all the demands and expectations of being a parish priest. It provides a kind of centredness or groundedness, and a liberty of spirit.”
Nature also can teach us much about the “unforced rhythms of grace”, she says.
“Nature teaches us to let go of our control. In nature we see creatures as they are, and nothing in nature is forcing itself to be other than what/who it is. We find it difficult simply to be because we are human beings with complex consciousness and thinking.
“As Indigenous artist and writer, Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr says, nature doesn’t hurry, and when we come into relationship with that world, we’re reminded of a rhythm that is beyond our own self-engineering. It teaches us that we can’t ultimately control life, or the stream of grace. We have to simply be available.”
Linda said she was sitting at home recently when she looked out of the window and noticed a white heron, an occasional visitor to the garden. “She was approaching our fire-pit become bird bath. As is the way of herons she was moving very slowly and deliberately. I stayed to watch as, with unhurried grace, she eventually hopped up onto the lip of the ‘bird bath’. After some time of utter stillness, she hopped into the water and sat, seemingly quite at home.
“I stayed watching her until eventually she rose, hopped up onto the lip of the bird bath, stretched out first one wing and then the other before with quiet dignity she moved on silently.
“Her still attention brought me to attentive stillness that day, and was a wonderful example of how nature can teach us about gracious, slow and deliberate entry into the deeper well of being.”
While a “contemplative intimacy” with nature seems relatively easy to nurture on retreat in a place like Pallotti College, Linda says she is very conscious of the great challenges presented by modern urban living. “Because so many live in urban environments there’s a disconnect from nature, and where there’s a disconnect, there’s a lack of relationship and understanding, and we can’t really grow in love for her. We don’t notice her suffering. We don’t hear the cry of the earth when we’re treading quickly on concrete paths.
“So many people live in cities and live lives somewhat burdened by the demands of feeding the economy - huge home mortgages, the stresses of work and everything that goes with it.
“Technology has also become a dominant force in our lives. I believe we have to take a much clearer look at the way it’s shaping us. The problem is the speed at which it’s developing is carrying us along, rather than us choosing, essentially, who we are becoming. This is a very significant issue that we need to confront.
“Unless we develop interior quiet then we will be unaware of what is happening, which is very, very critical. That’s where meditation is part of the answer, I believe, because even within an urban context it’s a practice that helps us to still the noise, such that we might notice even the ant on the ground or the little bit of greenery, and begin the journey of contemplative intimacy with all of it.”
Linda has established Open Sanctuary, a place of contemplative ecumenical gathering and creation spirituality, on the NSW Coast at Tilba Tilba. See https://opensanctuary.weebly.com/. She is also the Rector of the Anglican Parish of Moruya, an Oblate of the World Community for Christian Meditation and a Spiritual Director. For more information about Christian meditation see www.christianmeditationaustralia.org
Maggie Ross is author of Silence: A User's Guide.