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Tuned up

May 2023 – How does he do ? One of the international leaders of L’Arche reveals for Inner Life his morning routine: to nourish his inner life, Stefan Posner takes a moment, every morning, to read the Jewish Bible. This tunes him up “like a musical instrument.”

I was about 28 years old when, on weekdays before the start of my working day, I got into the habit of deciphering a few verses in Hebrew from the Jewish Bible. For about thirty minutes, after a few moments of meditation or prayer (I’m never quite sure where one ends and the other begins), with the help of translations, a dictionary and a concordance, I would ruminate on 3 to 5 verses, carefully deciphering the words and phrases. The next day, I would go over these verses before moving on to a few more lines. This painstaking reflection (it took me 25 years to complete a first reading of the Bible), over an obligatory cup of coffee, while switching my gaze between the square Hebrew letters of the book and the goings-on outside my window, has given me a joy and peace that has stayed with me for decades.

At weekends, the setting is the same: same chair, same coffee cup, same window: but the rendezvous is not so early, the Hebrew Bible is replaced by some book of poetry and this is all accompanied by a little music. Then again, the space is similar: it will slowly open up and untie, at least in part, the tensions or knots that are also my faithful companions.

In recent years, I have been asking myself more questions about “what is going on here” and I still come up against the same fundamental incomprehension. I never come up with a definitive or even satisfactory explanation. I know that “it comes” like a joy coming from outside; something is rising up that is tuning me like an instrument.

However, one should not neglect the part of the experience that has a quite simple explanation. Basically, this is an exercise in paying attention. An exercise, because one must stick to the discipline of this daily appointment. But also (and this is already a little more mysterious) because there is the confrontation with poetic or biblical texts, and that does not happen without a certain amount of work which perhaps, first and foremost, is the task of paying attention. We all know that inevitably, one’s mind will wander, given that concerns and distractions are our steepest slope. However, there is no disadvantage in responding to concerns or distractions, unless we lose our ability to listen or to contemplate, in happy passivity.

It is undoubtedly in the very nature of this experience of joy or peace that it cannot be named. I can, however, attest to its unmistakable character, which faces up to the miseries of the world and of oneself without pretending to solve them. And if there were one word that gives an indication of this, against all that shuts me in on myself and diminishes me, I would say that it leads me towards ‘openness’.

Stephan Posner

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