Date: Thursday 16th February 2023, 7-8.30pm
Location: Online via Zoom
“Awareness is Anthony de Mello’s best-selling guide to the spiritual life, now firmly established as a modern spiritual classic. It uses humour, compassion and insight to help readers into an understanding of the importance of ‘awareness’ in order to understand ourselves and the world around us.”
“With anecdotes and stories as well as guidelines and exercises in self-help, this book is filled with real wisdom and practical advice. It tackles the universal issues of change, happiness, suffering and loss and also gives direction on coping with love, anger and fear.
“Anthony de Mello SJ was the director of the Sadhana Institute of Pastoral Counselling in Poona, India. A member of the Jesuit community, he became renowned across the world for his retreats, workshops and seminars on prayer and the spiritual life. He died in 1987.”
Overview of Group
This was a one-off discussion of the whole book, which is standard for most book groups, but relatively speedy for us! We therefore decided to extend the session from 60 to 90 minutes.
As usual, we notified the preceding group of the next book group a little in advance, and then publicised it to the wider Cathedral community via the monthly news and weekly sheet. Phil and I met briefly in advance to plan the session content. Then I emailed the group members a week ahead with the Zoom details and some questions to mull over while reading.
- What is touching your heart?
- What is challenging you and making you think again?
- (note the chapter and page reference, ready to help others follow you whenever you are sharing these with the group)
We encouraged participants to continue to sit with the book for a few more days, allowing what had been shared in the group to sink in. Then after a few weeks, Phil followed up with an email reminder of some of what we shared and further thoughts.
We started the session with a short prayer.
We started with a short introductory go-round: name; where you worship (not all are members of the Cathedral congregations); whether you have read book before.
Then Phil set the scene, introducing the person, ministry and writings of Anthony de Mello, and describing the composition of the book.
I then led a guided meditation adapted from Sadhana, another of de Mello’s books. The meditation asks the pray-er to withdraw in fantasy to a place in which they experienced happiness in the past and construct it vividly in their imagination, and note any actions and feelings. Then to come back to their present existence, and notice it in detail, including feelings. Then to continuing switching, noticing any feelings or changes in feelings.
We then broke into small groups to orient ourselves to the book, asking each participant to share…
- One thing that touched your heart
- One thing that challenged you and made you think again
- (not limited to one, but be mindful to give others time)
Back together in the big group, we reflected together on the question(s): What is your understanding of waking up? of awareness?
We closed with a short blessing from the Celtic tradition.
Overall, it’s fair to say that the book was Marmite to the group!
The opening meditation was adapted from #15 in Sadhana (pdf). There are more readings contained in it, including an alternative “where you experienced God in the past”.
When planning the session, I wrote another meditation using the list of contents in Awareness, in the style of Lectio Divina. We decided not to use it, but I have made it available as a script and audio recording.
de Mello mentions a meditation on death in the penultimate chapter “Dead Ahead”. It is called “Symphony”, and is contained in Wellsprings, also by de Mello. I could forward it on request, but it is not for the faint of heart!
The final blessing was from Carmina Gadelica, the collection by Alexander Carmichael of prayers and hymns from the oral tradition in Gaelic Scotland:
God’s grace distil on you,
Christ’s grace distil on you,
Spirit’s grace distil on you
Each day and each night
Of your portion in the world;
Oh each day and each night
Of your portion in the world.
The Contemplative (or Slow) Book Group at Exeter Cathedral was started by Bishop Martin Shaw during the first Coronavirus lockdown. After the first book, I took it on with the help of Phil Wales, the permanent Deacon at the Cathedral. We have kept going, with an evolving membership, reflecting on books broadly on the theme of prayer and the spiritual journey. It’s important to say that leading the group isn’t a question of being an expert and providing teaching. Rather Phil and I hold a space for others to reflect and share.