Right in the midst of a busy business meeting I looked at the boss and pondered, “Where do you find the silence?”
I was wondering if during all the business of the day, all that it presented, in anticipation, excitement, worry, there were times in that day of activity for reflection.
In the midst of a busy year, we find ourselves dropped into a time of silence.
What kind of silence?
It is easy enough to find the silence of absence – the all-too terrible silence after the departure of a loved one, the empty silence of the waiting room, the hole in time waiting to be filled, the vacancy where once there was activity.
The silence of presence – healing silence, fallow fields for wholeness to root and sprout – this kind of silence is precious.
And often it is hard to find.
We find it in days and hours and places and people where we did not expect to find it.
Or often enough it is the result of careful planning.
The silence of presence comes to us when we make room for it. We capture a moment of time – a moment of the day, perhaps, when we are listening and ready – and then we enter into a quiet space.
There may be interstitial moments, small in-between gaps between activity – prayers suit these crevices, arrows shot heaven-ward with brief petition, thanks, or praise – and like longer prayer-times we let go of what we send. (See Herbert O’Driscoll’s book Prayer Among Friends for more on this.) God will hold it; make it holy.
There may be moments to make holy, ordinary (ordinary-seeming) moments in your day, the beginning of activities perhaps. You may already practice these prayers – a co-worker of mine used to cross himself and say a prayer before he got out of the car to start his day.
The prayer of invocation – calling a blessing as you make a start on some task or practice — is an old tradition. In 1900 Alexander Carmichael published a two-volume collection, Carmina Gadelica, of Celtic prayers passed down by Hebridean islanders. These were the people of Harris and Skye and other Scottish islands, their prayers poems they said or sang as they began such commonplace activities as lighting a fire or milking a cow – and by this making the action holy. You can find samples of these prayers in books by teachers like Esther de Waal and Thomas O’Loughlin.
There may be quiet time set aside in your day, fifteen minutes or an hour – when you read the Bible and pray, or take aside some holy book and get lost in it.
Once when I went on retreat the monk I spoke with thought it was just fine I’d begun by reading a novel – it got me out of my every day mind set as novels may do – but then it was time to make room for the real retreat to begin.
The real retreat is within a quiet space, of time and place, and so is the real Lent.
We hope you can find some quiet time and space this season. In an hour or a day, by yourself or in good company.
During Lent, here at St. Alban’s, we offer evening worship on Wednesdays at 6 o’clock, followed by a simple soup supper (potluck) at 6:30 – at 7pm there will be meetings for some; and we plan to offer a class at that hour for others who wish to delve deeper into their Christian faith. Sunday worship will revolve around themes of preparation – the tremendous events of Holy Week (Passiontide) are not far away, from the false dawn of Palm Sunday to the final morning of celebration the following week.
Here’s a prayer for you and me, for the beginning of Lent, from the prayer book of the Iona Community (2010):
God of all life,
I lay my life before you. I give my life to you
from whom nothing in me is hidden.
You are before me, God; you are behind.
You are around me, God; you are within.
I bring the faith that is in me and the doubt;
I bring the joy that is in me and the sorrow;
I bring the hope that is in me and the despair;
I bring the hurts that I carry and the hurts that I have caused:
To join these faiths and doubts,
Joys and sorrows, hopes and despairs,
Hurts carried and hurts caused;
To the faiths and doubts, joys, sorrows,
Hopes, despairs and hurts of my sisters and brothers.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your liberation,
and sustain in me a willing spirit.
For you have shown me the paths that lead to life
and your presence will fill me with joy.
For the Gospel Grapevine, parish newsletter of St Alban's Episcopal Church, Edmonds, Wash., February 2010.