Dom John Main – a hero

Painting of John Main by Brenda Bury of Montreal

John Main was a Benedictine monk who, guided by the Holy Spirit, offered the church the rediscovered and ancient treasure of Christian meditation.

He died 25 years ago, but the community he left, the World Community for Christian Meditation, is today a vibrant expression of springtime in the church.

There was a memorial Eucharist held in Westminster Cathedral on 29 December 2007. At it, Dom Laurence Freeman, the current spiritual teacher, delivered a homily which you can find here.

This is a small extract:

… [John Main] understood prophetically the needs and the crisis of modern Christianity – how it needs to sink back into its contemplative roots in order to branch outwards to a world – a world changing so rapidly that even the speed of change has already dislocated and uprooted several generations from their culture and their faith.

He was a man of the tradition but understood tradition in terms of roots and so he was a radical, indeed in his way, a revolutionary religious figure of our time. He read the signs of the times – as a son of the great Council – and saw that the old forms and structures need to be courageously re-visioned and adjusted to the spirituality of the new phase of history we have entered. For him – as for the monks of the Christian Desert he had learned from – this meant rediscovering the power of prayer as a way of personal, interior transformation. It meant seeing that all prayer leads to contemplation which is the ultimate goal of human life.

When the early church confronted the institutions of the pagan world it found it could not convert them. If you pulled down one temple, smashed the statues and killed the priests another temple would be built in another sacred wood and the old rites would be restarted. So – pragmatically and perhaps inevitably – the church changed its policy. Convert the temples into churches, re-hire and retrain the priests, make the old gods into new saints. Merge rather than compete. Thus the rich and wonderful era of Christendom began. But we who live at the end of Christendom may well ask how deep did the actual conversion process go. How well did the seed of the Word actually sink into the soil of the western mind? How is it that this great tradition was so vulnerable to new ideas, to science and technology, so resistant to democracy, individuality and modernity and eventually so helpless in the face of consumerism?

John Main did not wring his hands before the crisis of modern Christianity. He is a powerful figure of hope, a teacher of confidence and courage, because he understood that – in fact – Christianity is not collapsing but shifting into a new and deeper spiritual form. One might almost say it is just beginning. But he saw that its renaissance should not be preoccupied with rescuing or shoring up old failing structures, but, in the words of St Paul whose spirit he resonated so dynamically with, he could say,

Adapt yourselves no longer to the pattern of this present world but let your minds be remade and your whole nature thus transformed.

(The painting is by Brenda Bury, of Montreal, and she retains the copyright therein.)


Creative Commons License


This work is licensed under a
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