I write this just before going on a pre-ordination retreat which is being held at Elim Conference Centre, Malvern, a beautiful place set in lovely grounds. The focus of the four days is on ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’ and the afternoons are given over to free time in which to find space for God. Wednesday has been assigned as a silent day and after breakfast we will keep silence until Holy Communion at 4.30pm. I find myself both excited yet somewhat in trepidation at the prospect because I don’t really ‘do’ silence – well, not for more than about 15 minutes at a time anyway! Yet meeting with God or discovering him in silence has always been an important faith practice.
John Greenleaf Whittier was a Quaker. In the Quaker tradition the believers gather together in a lengthy silence: there are no set hymns, prayers or sermons. In the stillness they open their hearts to new insights and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps it is not surprising then that he wrote a hymn that has in it no less than ten references to quietness/ stillness/ silence. I refer, of course, to the well-loved Dear Lord and Father of Mankind.
Verse 4 says this:
With that deep hush subduing all our words and works that drown
The tender whisper of Thy call, as noiseless let Thy blessing fall as fell Thy manna down.
We live in a society where background noise is the norm: TV and radio, shop ‘muzak’, traffic, conversations, the insistent demand of the phone. We are so used to it, we have probably stopped noticing. We are not aware of how distracting is the hubbub of sound and activity.
‘We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence.’
Words of Mother Theresa, but she was not alone in making such observations.
In 1 Kings 19 we read the story of Elijah, in which he finally meets with God:
11 God said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’ Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. 13 When Elijah heard the silence, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then God’s voice came to him…….
Elijah met God in the silence…… I wonder how often we meet with God in the silence, spending time in quiet prayer that we may hear HIM speaking to US and not just the other way around? That is just what I am hoping will happen during the silence and peace of the retreat – that I might have the joy of drawing close to God and hearing the whisper of his voice. (I will let you know how successful – or otherwise – I am at staying quiet!)
Thank you to all of you for your prayerful support and loving messages at this special time. Each one of you will be in my prayers whilst I am away.
With every blessing,