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Posts Tagged ‘Silence’

It’s a Tuesday morning.  School run done and car parked, I hurry up the path to my house.  Key in the door whilst shoving with one foot only to be met by a happy Honey Basset blocking my way in.   Whilst fussing her I’m hit by the lovely smell of fabric softener; clothes drying in the house, too cold outside today for anything to dry on the line.  I walk to the radio left on in the kitchen for the aforementioned Basset, and hit the Off button.  Silence! 

Coat off.  Washing-up away.  Load of washing in and set to wash, all in the space of about five minutes.  I have to be careful not to get engrossed in domestics or, before I know it, they’ve become a procrastination, a means of prevarication, a distraction.  I’ve been doing domestics since 5.45am this morning so everything else can and should wait because I need to pray. 

Matches in hand I head for the lounge to light my prayer candle which sits in my plain but beautiful St Beuno’s candle holder on my altar; I only have to look at it to be instantly transported back to that beautiful place.  I grab this month’s Magnificat and begin.  I stand in front of my altar to pray Morning [Lauds] prayer.  Evening prayer [Vespers] can happen anywhere, in my bedroom, in the car outside school, wherever the opportunity presents itself.  I pray Compline [Night prayer] in bed usually, if I can stay awake.  I am lucky that I have the time to devote to this practice at the moment.  Not working might mean less money but it has the huge benefit of being able to spend more time with God.  After praying I make myself a latte and settle down with this year’s edition of Sacred Space to study today’s gospel.  It’s a time to reflect, to talk to God and just be.  Listening.  Waiting.  [eta Sacred Space for 2019 is out now ~ click the link in the side bar >>>]

Now, in an ideal world every day would be just like today.  However, some days life takes over and prayers are missed or don’t happen at all and that’s just the way it is.  But ideally I like to be able to spend time in prayer every, single day.  Even if it’s just once for a few moments. 

Pray, I hear you ask?  Why would you do that?  It’s not Sunday, you’re not at Mass so why?  And this is a really valid and sensible question and one I’ve asked myself a lot over the last few years.  Why do I feel the need to pray daily?  Have I always done so and does it do any good?

First I feel the need to explain that I am driven to pray every day, it’s a need, a desire, almost a necessity.  If I don’t do it I miss it, something just doesn’t feel right, I feel empty and a bit lost.  As I said before, prayer doesn’t or can’t happen every day, some days I’m just either too busy [not always procrastinating with domestics but running errands etc] or quite simply too lazy.  I don’t give myself a hard time if I don’t get round to it because that’s pretty pointless.  However, I have the intention to pray every day; morning, evening and night with Mass thrown in if I get there.  It’s an act of fidelity.  The definition of fidelity is:- ‘faithfulness to a person, cause or belief, demonstrated by continuing loyalty and support.’  Prayer is me being faithful to God.  As I said somewhere else, it’s a bit like being married.  You are faithful to your husband or wife because you love them and you [want to] show that love through acts of fidelity which can be anything from a hug, a loving word, a gift, washing the dishes…anything done in love for another.  So, back to the question why do I pray?  Because I can’t not, it’s that simple.

Have I always done so?  No, absolutely not.  Certainly not in those early days but in the last few years it’s become a habit that I can’t break.  It ebbs and flows according to employment and commitments but it never completely stops.  It really is a way of life now and is vital to maintaining my faith and my relationship with God.  As my faith has grown and matured, so has my prayer life.

What isn’t always obvious to those ‘looking in’ is that this relationship is a two-way thing.  I am faithful to God and He is faithful to me.  “For the son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matt 20:28 NIV  I’m not sure what I feel about Christ serving me [that was actually a question in last Sunday’s gospel study] and I suspect that’s a post for another day, but in any event this is relationship of equals.  I can sense that all of the time.  I show up and God is always there, never late, never awol, constant and reliable.  He comforts, strengthens and guides me.

Does prayer do any good?  Hmm well that’s tricky and I can only answer for myself and from my own experience.  Firstly, it doesn’t do any harm that’s for sure and it can be very cathartic.  I try to keep a journal of personal intentions and people/situations that I pray for and I can honestly say that I often go back and find that 90% of them will have been answered.  I also find that during unstructured prayer or silent contemplation I often receive the answer to a problem or have a sense of peace about an important decision or difficult situation.  It’s nothing tangible but it’s undeniable and it’s happened too many times to be a fluke.

So, who can pray?  Well anyone obviously.  Those of faith or of no faith.  There are no qualifications required.  Anyone can talk to God, anywhere, at anytime about anything.  It really is that simple.  You don’t need all the structure and books that I use.  I use those things to keep me focussed and accountable but I also have unstructured times when it’s just me and God.  Prayer is not a ‘one size fits all’ thing.  It’s unique to each person to pray as they feel.  Sometimes, it’s just a word thrown heavenwards.  An arrow prayer launched towards God in a moment of desperation or difficulty.  It’s quite simply a conversation with God where you get to say what you want or just sit and listen with the ear of your heart.  

God bless. . .

Sharon xx

You might also like this previous post = “What is prayer?”

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As promised I thought I’d share something of my time at St Beuno’s, a Jesuit Spirituality Centre in North Wales.  I went there at the end of June this year and, although it’s been on my Bucket List for a few years, I can’t actually remember what finally prompted me to book an individually guided [silent] retreat.  One minute I was just browsing their website and the next the retreat was booked and paid for and the train tickets purchased with only two weeks to wait!  I’m not usually known for that level of spontaneity, but sometimes the stars just align and you have to go with it.  As the previous posts explain I was in the middle of a bit of a crisis of denomination which I’d been unable to resolve on my own. I knew about St Beuno’s from a three part, BBC documentary I’d watched back in 2010, “The Big Silence”.  It was later released on DVD but I’ve checked and it seems to be ‘currently unavailable’ so I’m sorry, but I can’t link it for you.  I bought it a few years ago because I enjoyed the documentary so much, certainly worth buying if you ever see a copy.

I didn’t have a set agenda for the retreat other than to just go and be open to whatever came my way.  I was in such a mess spiritually that I just hoped for a bit of clarity and direction really.  I’ve also found, having been on a few retreats before, that if you go with a ‘shopping list’ of things you want to achieve they rarely happen.  We make plans and God laughs, as the saying goes.

I caught the midday train out of MK with a view to arriving in Rhyll just after 3pm.  I’d booked my taxi in advance and, like a star, he was there waiting for me at the station.  I finally walked through the huge front door of St B’s at 3.45pm.  Super friendly welcome and my room was just gorgeous, I’d splashed out on an ensuite room as I was only there for the weekend and it was so worth it; absolutely immaculate too.  I was up on the Priest’s Gallery and the view was outstanding.  I was left to unpack with the promise of coffee downstairs.  I found my itinerary on the desk in my room; I was all set.

There were a few of us there just for the weekend [other longer retreats were happening at the same time] and we were each allotted a Spiritual Guide.  Mine was Helen and she was so calm and wise.  God chose well!  I worried that entering into the Silence would be difficult and I knew I didn’t have long to adjust, but not at all, I literally ‘RAN’ into that silence and embraced it immediately.  Obviously much needed!  It’s made much easier by the gentle ethos of the place and the fact that everyone around you is also being silent.  I quickly settled into the daily rhythm.  The gardens and breath-taking scenery are also very conducive to contemplation and self-discovery.  It’s not boring, oppressive or stifling as some might think, more welcoming and comforting.  I had a sense of anticipation….because there in the silence….sooner or later….you find….God!

We met with our guides at least once everyday at a set time, I met with Helen twice on the last day.  You’re advised to enter into prayer three or more times a day.  There is Eucharist everyday in the main chapel and a smaller chapel for your use with various other rooms set aside for prayer or reflection.  The gardens are stunning and perfect for prayer and reflection.  Lots of beautiful walks due to the location.  A large library for your use.  A fully stocked art room is available for those who enjoy being creative as part of their expression of faith.  The food was yummy and plenty of it with drinks available all day.  I was blown away quite frankly and I’d return in a heartbeat, in fact I plan to do so as soon as I can.

Being a Jesuit Centre you are introduced to a lot of Ignatian spiritual exercises to help you pray, meditate, centre and focus.  I also used art, scripture and poetry to help me while I was there.  I’d never used images before and it was quite a revelation and very productive, I’d always actively shied away from using art but I’ve no idea why because it was amazing!  I’ve continued using religious pictures since I’ve been home with equal sucess.  I have an affinity with Ignatian spirituality and have become a bit of a closet Jesuit over the last few years.  It’s a charism that fits well into daily life and can be lived out very successfully in both a secular or monastic setting.  THIS book by Fr James Martin, SJ was what started my Jesuit journey, but there is a plethora of information and resources online should you be interested.  Fr Martin has also written many other amazing and eminently readable titles which I can’t recommend highly enough.  

So, the end of the retreat came all too soon and Helen and I felt a weekend just wasn’t long enough.  However, as I mentioned before, she promised to put me in touch with a Sister local to me, which you may have read about in the previous posts, and that meeting proved to be a complete blessing.  Usually when I leave a retreat I find it really difficult to readjust back in to regular life, particularly the noise lol.  However, this time I very much brought the peace and stillness with me and I avoided the usual post-retreat hangover as I pretty much floated my way through the next few weeks.  With Helen’s guidance, I had achieved so much in such a short time and was very much back ontrack spiritually speaking; things have gone from strength to strength since.  God’s hand was all over the preparations and the success of that weekend. The ressurection of this blog is also a testimony to that as I feel I actually have something I want to share and write about again.

If you ever get the chance to go on a retreat, be that religious or otherwise, then I’d strongly suggest you do it.  Some places offer Quiet Days which are equally valuable and don’t involve quite such a commitment of time or money.  Our lives are so busy and noisy that time alone in silence and stillness can be hugely beneficial to both your spirit and your mental health.

Every blessing. . . .

Sharon xx

[click on an individual photograph at the top of the post to see it enlarged]

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As the Church of England announces a £27 million growth programme to promote new Christian communities across the UK I am left wondering whether that is really going to help increase numbers long-term.  Is a lack of churches really the reason why people no longer go to church?  It seems unlikely as there are more churches than I can count, all within a stone’s throw or short drive even from where I live.  Not enough churches of the kind that people want to attend might be more like it.  Certainly there is a huge growth in membership and attendance at the more evangelical charismatic churches.  Here in MK it’s one of the few church types that continues to grow in huge numbers.  Professional looking band at the front playing contemporary worship music and songs with smoke and strobes pulsing in time.  Concert style dimmed lighting in the auditorium [yes, I did say auditorium].  Great visual graphics and words on screens to avoid the need for books or sheets.  It’s actually totally fab as atmospheres go.  It really is like going to a pop concert.  I can see why it attracts a younger audience and that’s definitely one area we should be focussing on because that’s where the future of Christianity lies.

I personally struggle to find or ‘hear’ God in that setting.  Don’t get me wrong, I love a rousing hymn and a good jig around praising the Lord, but due to the vast numbers I also feel very lonely and insignificant.  It’s quite impersonal and difficult to feel part of things although there are ‘Welcome Teams’ and areas set aside purely for newbies to grab a coffee from the ‘in house’ coffee shop, and have a chat with existing members.  There are smaller Cell Groups that meet weekly to make things more intimate and personal and courses and workshops offered for those new to the church and/or new to the faith.  But despite all of that, there’s still something missing for me.

I’ve always ‘done’ faith on my own.  I was taken to Sunday School as a small child, left, then picked up later.  I was attending the Anglican church on my own as a teenager.  It’s no surprise therefore that my call to religious life at eighteen received a big fat ‘no’ from me due to my revelation being dismissed out of hand by my parents.  As a result I’ve done most things on my own so my lack of ability to be sociable is probably why I find the Happy Clappy [no disrespect meant] charism so lonely and difficult to fit into; it’s way out of my comfort zone.  It clearly suits the spiritual needs of many people though, especially in our multi-cultural city.

I need to be still and silent to ‘hear’ God.  I ‘hear’ Him loudest in places like Turvey Abbey, St Beuno’s, up a mountain in The Lakes.  Not in a church, in fact if I’m being honest rarely in a church.  My retreat to St Beuno’s [a Jesuit community in North Wales] in June of this year was singularly responsible for reviving my lacklustre faith which took a horrendous nosedive after the terrible events of last year; losing my mother to Lymphoma in July’17 and coming close to death myself due to complications after my hysterectomy in October’17.  I had a real crisis of denomination and I really needed that weekend of complete silence to listen, pray and discern what God had to say and where He wanted me to be.  It was an amazing and very emotional weekend!! 

Interestingly, even in the very beginning I didn’t find God in a church.  I found him in the bible stories I read as a child and many years later He found me in my LOUNGE!  He held out His hand and invited me to follow Him.  No pressure from Him and no answer from me either, at least not straight away.  However, a Call that profound is hard to ignore.  A privilege afforded to few but still no church you notice.

I worry that Ethan’s generation will never be still or silent for long enough to ‘hear’ such a call.  It will have to be heard over a cacophony of electronics and devices and will have to compete with and be more desirable than eight hours on the Play Station!!  There is something amazing about hearing God speak straight into your heart, I’m sad to think that he may never experience that.  Hence my concern that all this funding is brilliant but will it actually make any difference?  Church is central and important in uniting the faithful but there has to be more to it than that, it has to be desirable and inviting, more interesting than the instant hit of social media.  If people don’t have either the time or the desire to read that flyer or leaflet or spend ten minutes over a cuppa with their Christian neighbour who is full of enthusiasm about the new church in the town, then no amount of new Christian communities are going to have the hoped for impact.  Their curiosity needs to be piqued, they have to want it more than what they have already.  That’s going to be tough, really tough.  The priests and clergy will also have a large part to play and I pray that they’ll be warm, welcoming and Christ-like.  There’s nothing like a ‘hell and damnation’ speech and a large dose of dogma to put a soul off instantly and forever.  I also worry that people no longer want or need a faith, that they don’t realise how important their spirit is, that it too needs to be fed and nourished.  I’m praying that God has a plan and that He will use this new initiative in ways that I can’t fathom. 

So, where do you ‘hear’ God the loudest?  Do you listen for Him in those quiet moments?  Do you spend time in silence just waiting to see what comes back? Maybe you ‘hear’ Him in church.  We’re great at looking after our health, our families and our homes but what about your spiritual life?  You don’t have to be Christian or of any faith to get something valuable from being in silence for ten minutes or so a day.  No devices or demands, just ‘being’….quietly and comfortably, maybe with a cuppa or a flickering candle or maybe both.  Rest in that presence.  Surround yourself in the silence and renew your soul.  Try it, it’s truly amazing what you ‘hear’. 

Every Blessing

 

Sharon xx

ETA ~ Silence – Ignatian Spirituality

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cloisters 5Awwww it’s the most beautiful day here in sunny Milton Keynes, UK.  The kind of lovely day that I’d like to wrap up in pretty paper and send to you all so you can share it.

I make no apology for banging on about prayer in my last two posts, it’s something I feel I need to, ‘get down on paper’ if you follow me.  Sometimes you just need to write things down to make them stick. 

I went to the taster session on Tuesday evening, as a forerunner to our, ‘Week of Guided Prayer’ which starts in June.  It was all I knew it would be and much more.  I signed up then and there and paid the small donation.  I came all home full of anticipation for what I’m thinking will be a wonderful week.  It’s certainly a fabulous opportunity, a bit like being on an individually guided retreat but at home.  Perfect!

I found myself craving that silent, peaceful place that a retreat provides.  It isn’t necessarily a ‘real’ place, more a state of mind really.  A silence that comes from within so that, even in a busy street, you can be silent and still on the inside.  Since giving up work in December I’ve created a lot more silence in my daily life.  I’d always been a Radio 2 kind of girl, a constant murmur of background chatter and music; but of late even that has been turned off. 

I watched, ‘The Big Silence’ [further reading] yesterday to remind myself what it’s all about and how difficult it can be for some people to just settle into the silence.  That was me a few years ago, struggling to be at peace without a TV or radio to fill in the blanks, now I crave that silent time because I know that God is there in the silence. 

We’re using a book called, ‘Patterns of Prayer’ by Eugene McCaffrey, OCD at the Carmelite contemplative prayer group that’s just started in my parish.  It’s the most wonderful little book, the kind of book that makes you want to read each page over and over to soak in all that it has to say.  It speaks to me on so many levels.  Anyway, I wanted to share a small part of it with you as it’s relevant to this post and Eugene puts it so much better than I can:~

Silence

Silence is an essential condition for listening.  Prayer is born in silence, a still receptive silence that enables one to hear the deep vibrations of the spirit.  Silence is our way of helping God so that he can help us.  We try to be still, conscious of our own poverty and of our own need to hear and to receive.  Silence is much more than an absence of words or noise, much more even than just being quiet.  Rather, it is a response to our whole being reaching out to grasp the word of life.  It is an alert and attentive receptiveness to “hear the word of God and obey it” [Luke 11:28].  Like the boy Samuel, we cry out with our whole heart, “Speak, for your servant is listening” [1Samuel 3:10]. pp28-29

Earlier in the book it says that it takes two to pray [p26] and I think we often forget that.  We are not alone in that moment, God is with us, always.  But we need to listen and in order to hear Him we need to be silent.  As Fr Christopher Jamison says in, ‘The Big Silence’, “Silence is the gateway to the soul, and the soul is the gateway to God”.

Peace and blessings

Sharon xx

 

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I’m here…

Yes, I’m still alive. Struggling a bit with life and I won’t bore you with the nitty gritty but suffice to say that the struggle is set to continue on for a while yet methinks.

Rain ~ yes well, who ordered so much of the stuff?? Come on, don’t be shy now, own up!!! Mack and I look like we’ve been swimming in our clothes most days by the end of our walk. Mack continues to be a total joy.   He’s really settled in now.  We’ve had him [and Charley] neutered which went completely without a hitch and he’s into a nice routine.  We did end up having to buy an indoor kennel [cage, crate, call it what you will] as he became a bit of an escape artist when I was out at work and for his safety and my sanity we splashed out on a rather nice [absolutely flippin’ huge] black one and he’s taken to it very well.  It does look a bit like we’re keeping a shetland pony in the kitchen but hey, he’s a big dog 😆 .  He just goes in there when we’re ALL out, at night and during meal times if he’s a bit persistent, which he can be on occasion.  I had my reservations that he’d not take to it but I was wrong and he’s fine with it and in fact seems alot calmer as a result.

I’ve just finished watching ‘ The Big Silence’ on BBC2 which I really enjoyed.  Parts of it frustrated me [or should that read ‘some of the people who took part frustrated me’??] but that aside it gave me alot of food for thought and it’s well worth a watch if you’ve got a spare hour here or there.  It was only three episodes and it’s based on the value of silence, not necessarily from a Christian perspective, [for prayer, meditation, time with God or ‘other’ ] and how to eventually work periods of silence into your [busy??] day.  The assumption is that God is to be found in the silence. Silence is the gateway to the soul, and the soul is the gateway to God”. … Fr  Christopher  Jamison, Abbot of Worth Abbey was the inspiration behind this series and as always he presented and delivered something very real and very relevant to contemporary life.  I am successfully working thirty minutes of silence into each afternoon at the moment.  It’s not as easy as you’d think but it’s really enjoyable and quite refreshing.

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“Into Great Silence”…

into-great-silence…following on from yesterday’s post on silence and solitude I thought I’d add that Si bought me the DVD ‘Into Great Silence’ for Christmas [well, quite obviously it was Santa but you get my drift ;o)].  This DVD is filmed by Philip Groning on location at the Grande Chartreuse Carthusian monastry in the French Alps.  It took about six months in total, four of those in one ‘sitting’ when Groning had his own cell and worked without a crew or additional lighting as stipulated by the Order.  He also adhered to their strict discipline of silence, prayer and work routine.  For anyone who doesn’t know alot about the Carthusian way of life then see here [Parkminster Charterhouse is the only Carthusian Monastry in the UK].  I was going to try and put an explanation here in my own words but the Carthusians themselves do it far better than I can. 

The film itself is primarily without any dialogue, there are occasional episodes of speech when the monks take their weekly recreational walk out together on Sundays, also during the formal service to welcome new postulants into the Order and obviously during prayer but other than that all you can hear is the ‘noise’ of life.  The burning of the wood stove in the cell[s], the birds singing, the sounds of manual work.  Even their one shared meal per week is eaten in silence in the refectory, the rest of their meals are eaten alone in their cells.  And just in case you’re wondering, no, there isn’t any background music either. 

You would think that watching a film 162 minutes long of mostly silent footage you would lose the will to live and reach for the TV remote but you’d be wrong.  So very wrong.  I watched it on Boxing Day whilst tucked up in bed recovering from a tummy bug.  It sucks you in, it’s like you’re actually there and once you realise and appreciate the rhythm of their day, the rules of the Carthusian life and the strict limits under which Groning filmed, the whole film takes on a tangible atmosphere and creates a sense of intrigue that prevents you reaching for that remote.

I was about to write that my present state of mind and deep faith has made this film something that touched me deeply but to be quite honest I think I’d still have felt moved by it even before I became a Christian.  It’s deeply spiritual no matter what your religious leanings.  I have to confess though that the one thing I feel now that I probably wouldn’t have experienced in my pre faith days is envy.  Envy of their silence, their solitude, their freedom to seek God and be at one with Him for hours on end.  Free to worship and pray without interruption.  I’m sure the reality is quite different from the ideal in my head and there is not doubt that I’d not swap my family for anything but just for a week……………what I wouldn’t give just for one week of that life!!! 

So, if you’re in need of a spiritual boost, or searching for a base line indicator on how little you need to live a quality existence [and no, ‘need’ is not the same as ‘want’ lol] or if you’re just after a religious meditative experience then this is the film for you.  It is at the very least thought provoking and at best life changing.  Enjoy!!

Pax et bonum

Sharon xx

ps just to update that my poor GP was ill today so she cancelled my appointment.  I will let you know if and when it’s rearranged.  Also here is a link to an article relating a discussion by Philip Groning on his experience of filming at the Grande Chartreuse.

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