In the Stillness Dancing

December 30, 2009

Today is the 27th anniversary of the death of the Benedictine John Main. There is something extraordinary about his writing … well worth getting hold of his books. The words he uses are clearly the fruit of the most profound silence. His words are filled with spirit, life and meaning. Some of his books I have read many times yet each time they possess a new authority, they present a new claim that I have to meditate. 

This is the Wikipedia article about him, ‘Dom John Main, O.S.B. (1926–1982), was a Benedictine monk and priest who presented a way of Christian meditation which utilized the practice of a prayer-phrase or mantra. In 1975, Dom Main began Christian meditation groups at his monastery in London, England and, later, in Montreal, Canada. These grew into an ecumenical network of Christian meditation groups called the World Community for Christian Meditation (WCCM).

Born 1926, Main was born in London, England as Douglas Main. In the late 1940s he joined the Canons Regular of the Lateran, and studied at the Diocesan seminary of St. Edmund’s College, Ware in England before being chosen to pursue theology studies at the Pontifical Athenaeum Angelicum in Rome, Italy. He then began to doubt his vocation to the priesthood and decided to leave his Order to go to Dublin, Ireland (where his family then lived). In Dublin, he studied law at Trinity College. He graduated in 1954, and joined the British Colonial Service.

He was assigned to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where he met the Swami Satyananda, who taught him meditation utilizing a mantra as the means used to arrive at meditative stillness. The Swami taught him to meditate by giving him a Christian mantra.

In 1956, Main returned to Dublin, and taught law at Trinity College. In 1959, he decided to join the Benedictines at Ealing Abbey in London. He took the name of John, in honor of St. John the Apostle. He was ordained a priest in 1963.

In 1970, Dom John was appointed the headmaster of St. Anselm’s Abbey School in Washington, D.C.. It was here that he began to study seriously the writings of the desert father John Cassian for the first time. Main saw parallels between the spiritual practice taught by Cassian and the meditative practice he had been taught by the Swami in Kuala Lumpur.

In 1974, Dom John left Saint Anselm’s Abbey in Washington and returned to Ealing Abbey in London, where he began Christian meditation groups at an old house on the monastery grounds. He was assisted in this work by Bro. (later Fr.) Laurence Freeman, also a monk of Ealing Abbey. In 1977, Dom John and Bro. Laurence were sent to establish a new Benedictine monastery in Montreal, Canada. Here, too, they taught Christian meditation groups.

In 1982, Dom Main died of cancer. Fr. Laurence (who had been ordained to the priesthood in 1980) continued his work, traveling widely to establish Christian meditation groups across the world. In 1991, these Christian meditation groups were networked together into the World Community for Christian Meditation (WCCM). Each year, the WCCM hosts the John Main Seminar which has been led byMary McAleeseHuston Smith, the Dalai LamaCharles Taylor, Bishop William Johnston, Father Richard RohrO.F.M., Sister Joan Chittister, O.S.B., Anglican Primate Archbishop Rowan WilliamsGreek Orthodox Archbishop Kallistos WareAbbot Thomas Keating, Dom Bede GriffithsO.S.B. Cam., and others.’

From the WCCM website: ‘John Main OSB (1926-1982) believed that the contemplative experience creates community. His genius was to recover and to re-present a way into this experience for ordinary people from within the Christian contemplative tradition. In the teaching of the desert monks on pure prayer he found the practice of the mantra. Realising that this way of prayer could further the search of many modern people for a deeper spiritual life, he recommended two regular daily periods of meditation to be integrated with the usual practices of Christian life.’


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