Jesus, the Teacher Within
Jesus, the Teacher Within. By Lsurence Freeman. New YUork and London: Continuum, 2000. 269pp. $24.95 (cloth).
In a variation of the saying “You are what you eat,” Lawrence Freeman reminds-or warns-us in this friendly yet challenging book that “We are disciples of what we pay attention to” (p. 172). If that is true, most of us are in trouble. Freeman, a Benedictine monk, is the director of The World Community for Christian Meditation (www.wccm.org); founded by the late John Main, it is dedicated to promoting contemplative meditation, the practice of which, Freeman says, “has been tragically missing from Christian spiritual formation in modern times” (p. 205).
In some forms of Christian mysticism, Jesus goes into hiding during the human quest to ascend to God and one sometimes wonders how the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection figure in such mystical quests. In other words, how necessary is Jesus? Freeman clearly is aware of this problem: the framework of his book-every girder, brace, nut, and bolt-is Jesus and Jesus’ question “Who do you say that I am?” (Matt. 16:15). Freeman tells us that by asking this question “Jesus invites us to share his self-knowledge” (p. 196). “The more clearly we hear [Jesus] as the Word,” Freeman teaches, “the more silent we become and the more silent we become the more our thoughts and words will reflect him as the Word. He is the Word behind -all the words of the endless Christian chatter” (p. 146).
Freeman, like numerous mystics and contemplatives before him, shows us that our main problem is ourselves. (As Pogo says, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”) He distinguishes the “separate, isolated little ego-self clinging to its memories, desires, and fears” from the authentic Self that we come to know through grace, “indivisible from the Consciousness that is the God of cosmic and biblical revelation alike: the one great ‘I AM”‘ (p. 63). Meditation, “the most incarnate and holistic path of prayer,” is the best-perhaps onlyway to reach full consciousness of God, “where the words of the gospel take flesh in daily life. The teaching of Jesus permeates everything” (p. 213).
Freeman is a very biblical and very eclectic teacher, drawing deeply on Hindu and Buddhist wisdom and worldviews. Jesus is often a guru, and karma figures prominently in Freeman’s theology and spirituality. He will quote Simone Weil and the Hindu guru Ramana Maharshi on the same page. It is surprising, though, given Freeman’s subject matter and the importance of the true and false self to his spirituality, that he mentions Thomas Merton only once in passing, and disappointing that he does not cite Merton in “Further Reading: A General Bibliography” at the end of the book (pp. 267-269).
While fundamentalists and members of the Jesus Seminar often grab the religious headlines, spiritual teachers such as Thomas Merton and Laurence Freeman quietly (silently) go about doing the necessary street repairs on our souls. “The essential work of a spiritual teacher,” Freeman reminds us, is “not to tell us what to do but to help us see who we are” (p. 63). We rarely stop to consider what a profound gift sight is. Just as rarely, probably, do we pause to reflect on the infinitely greater gift of spiritual sight, “the invitation inherent in human existence… to go deeper than all levels of the mind into the pure consciousness which pervades all reality and which is called spirit” (p. 215). In this excellent book Freeman helps us dig beyond the street, beneath the telephone, television, and Internet cables, beneath the sewer lines, down deep to the center.
Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church Bakersfield, California
Copyright Anglican Theological Review, Inc. Fall 2001
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