John Main, an ordinary spiritual teacher

By  Paul Harris, Catholic Register Special
  • September 28, 2007
{mosimage}The 25th anniversary of the life and death of Benedictine monk John Main (1926-1982) will be celebrated at the John Main Seminar in Orford, Que., Oct. 18-21. It will bring together more than 200 speakers, teachers of spirituality, meditators and the general public from around the world to join in a three-day colloquium on the influence of this extraordinary spiritual teacher and prophet.

From his small Benedictine monastery in Montreal in the years 1977 to 1982, Main gave birth to a spiritual renaissance that is today bearing fruit around the world. In 250 recorded talks, now digitally available, he revealed the depths and importance of a deeper understanding of the need for silence, stillness and simplicity in the daily practice of contemplative prayer. He also gave it a new name in contemporary language, calling it “Christian Meditation.” These talks have become a unique resource for introducing newcomers to meditation.

{sidebar id=2}Today the seeds planted in Montreal have grown to embrace meditators in over 100 countries, with 2,000 Christian Meditation groups meeting on a weekly basis. In addition a flood of books on his life and teaching have been published this year, including works by John Main. These books are: Word into Silence; A Manual for Christian Meditation; Monastery Without Walls: The Spiritual Letters of John Main; Door to Silence: An Anthology for Christian Meditation by John Main, and a book with memories and tributes from meditators and friends around the world entitled John Main by Those who Knew Him. In addition a new book will be launched at the October John Main seminar entitled Coming Home: Teaching Christian Meditation to Children.

John Main believed the practice of Christian Meditation creates community and felt this was of great significance for peace in a divided world. The World Community for Christian Meditation (WCCM), founded in 1991 and located in London, Eng., co-ordinates the worldwide growth of groups.

According to many observers John Main had grasped the meaning of Bob Dylan’s great song “The times they are a changing,” and saw silence in prayer as an antidote to the noise and excessive activity of our contemporary world. Today the increasing return to the daily discipline of John Main’s teaching on meditation would seem to have much to do with our age of speed and frenetic activity.

In response to this clamour John Main once said: “Silence gives our spirit room to breathe, room to be.” And he added, “You discover in the silence that you are loved and that you are lovable. It is this discovery that everyone must make in their lives if they are going to become fully themselves, fully human.” Nor is this meditative silence a value only in Christianity. It is found in the spiritual paths and traditions of all the world’s major religions.

John Main’s teaching on prayer today is being handed down primarily in small groups of meditators meeting on a weekly basis in homes, churches, schools hospitals, work places and a variety of other locations. In the weekly meetings “newcomers” can learn how to meditate, and on-going meditators receive the support and encouragement to continue the daily practice of meditation in their own lives each morning and evening. Christian Meditation is not just a middle-class or first world interest. In many countries such as Brazil, Indonesia and India, meditation bridges the gap between rich and poor. There are also groups meeting in maximum security prisons in many countries.

Since his death on Dec. 30, 1982, John Main’s influence has coincided with a remarkable worldwide renewal and return to the practice of contemplative prayer. John Main tells us that to be with God does not require words, thoughts or images, but the silent consciousness of a Presence. He reminds us that the spiritual pilgrimage invites us to have the courage to become more and more silent. The journey starts, says John Main, when we accept the daily discipline of silence, stillness and simplicity.

(Harris is a writer who lives in Ottawa, Ont. For information on the John Main Seminar, contact jms2007@bellnet.ca, or phone 416-485-9718.)

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