The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered each to your own home, and will leave me alone; yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said this to you that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but be of good cheer. I have overcome the world.
John 16: 32-3
The above words which the gospel writer has Jesus speak to the disciples are spoken in response to the disciples’ declaration that now they have no need to question because their faith is complete. Jesus points out to them that they shall soon experience the incompleteness of their faith as they enter an “hour” of tribulation in which they shall abandon him and scatter. There remains something they do not yet understand and have not yet fully experienced: the total union of Jesus and the Father.
We, who live in “the world” of tribulation, find ourselves very much in the place of the disciples. We have, or at least struggle to have, faith. Yet, we, despite our attempts to trust in the peace that Jesus promises, are often torn by fear, frustration, aggravation, anxiety, and, even, rage. Often enough, we are so beset by powerfully conflictive emotions, that we “scatter” from the place in and around us where Jesus abides.
Jesus’ peace, which he, unlike the disciples, will not lose in the tribulations ahead, lies in his total experience that “the Father is with me.” He tells the disciples that they will have such a peace only in him (“I have said this to you that in me you may have peace.”). In the hours of Jesus’ passion, the disciples “scatter” and so do not remain with and in Jesus. This is exactly what happens to us in our hours of tribulation. Instead of remaining in him, our fearful and busy minds scatter.
The heart of the mystery of Incarnation tells us where God is to be found. As the account of the Ascension of Jesus in Acts tells us: “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky?” (Acts: 1: 11). Jesus lives is not to be found in the sky but at the heart of human life. To realize that we live in him and so, with him, in the Father is the way to peace. Yet, we must continually become awakened to that truth and presence. We must awaken from the powerful drive of our unconscious to evade reality that gives rise in us to those difficult and conflictive emotions from which we spontaneously flee. Jesus walks through the apparent horrors of his passion in peace because he doesn’t flee those horrors. He goes through them with the Father who is always with him. The disciples, on the other hand, lose their peace because they scatter both from the bodily Jesus and from their own experience and call to go through where they have been brought.
The love and mercy of God in Jesus for us is not conditional. God is always “with us.” So, how is it that we are so, if not most, often unaware of that presence? Unlike Jesus, we often feel alone, forgetting that “the Father is with . . . [us].” It is not easy for us to remain self-present. We carry a persistent fear of our own life (and death), of the sufferings of our own soul, and so we mistakenly think we can scatter to a place of peace, where our inner conflicts do not exist. As St. Augustine, we spend ourselves searching outside for God, when all along God is within us.
For each of us a time will come when we are no longer able to scatter from the loneliness. At that moment, will we know with all our heart that we are not alone because the Father is with us. Perhaps that depends on whether or not we practice self-presence while we are still able. This day can we, as Meister Eckhart says, “remain within as we go out”? As we do our work and attend to our life with others, can we, at the same time, remain awake and attuned to our own life, to what we are going through as we speak and act. It is in our soul where we are passionately living out the sufferings of our own lives, and it is there where Jesus abides in us. When we are awake to the fullness of every aspect of our field of formation, we truly realize that we are not alone because the Father is with us.
Most of us live much of our lives caught in the whirlwind of the stories going on in our heads. As our contemplative practice matures we are presented with opportunities to drop the story and to look straight into these thoughts and feelings that lead many us around by a nose ring. And we see they are without substance. Without the story, they have no power. This insight is behind Mark Twains’s famous line. “I’m an old man now and have had a great many problems. Most of them never happened.” A lot goes on in our heads that is quite worthless. The silent mind knows that what sees the fear, the pain, the inner chaos, is free of the fear, pain, or chaos. But for the noisy mind it all becomes a huge problem.
Contemplation is the way out of the great self-centered psychodrama. When interior silence is discovered, compassion flows. If we deepen our inner silence, our compassion for others is deepened. We cannot pass through the doorways of silence without becoming part of God’s embrace of all humanity in its suffering and joy.
Martin Laird, OSA, Into the Silent Land, p. 115.