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Posts Tagged ‘Stillness’

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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weeping willowI feel like I’ve stayed away for ages, and I genuinely feel like I have ‘been away’ somewhere and that I’ve just got back, although in reality I’ve been right here at home all the time.  I’ve spent the last three weeks or so in a state of what I can only call ‘stillness’.   I’ve been very removed from the hustle and bustle of life.  I’ve pared down all contact with the outside world and reduced my internet usage to just checking my emails once a day with no desire to write on here or visit my Facebook page.  In fact I’ve had no desire to do very much at all.  This hasn’t been a conscious decision, it just kind of crept up on me when I wasn’t looking and it wasn’t until today that I realised that I’m resurfacing again.

I recently asked God to show me something about myself as I needed some understanding and guidance on the way I behave in personal relationships, primarily between Simon and I.  I have an issue [left over from a previous abusive relationship] that revolves around self doubt and fear but it is not pretty when it shows itself and can result in some ugly and very self destructive behaviour on my part.  It’s been a regular prayer in the past but more especially of late……then came this stillness….and in that stillness I found a strength that I never realised I’d lost.  I also found clarity and self worth.  I found love and the much longed for understanding and guidance.  Acceptance.  Confidence and finally……peace!!

I’ve been practising my Lectio with a book that Liz lent me called “The Mystery of Love” by Cardinal Basil Hume.  It is broken down into small passages so lends itself beautifully to Lectio.  Today’s passage was about the ways that we can experience the presence of God in certain situations or the actions of others and that those things can often tell us something about God.  Cardinal Hume described it as: ~

“It is as if a cloud hovers between us and God.  From time to time that cloud of unknowing is pierced by a shaft of light which tells us something about God…..it may be a moment of total happiness……it may be in sorrow we experience his presence.  In ecstasies and agonies his voice is unmistakable to those prepared to listen and look……I like to think that the affection another shows to me is a special word of love from God.”

I was thinking about this [well, it was Lectio after all] and it struck me that the one thing you don’t realise when you become a Christian is that you have a direct line to God.  Everybody does, not just me!  I don’t think I ever truly appreciated it before this stillness settled upon me.  It has been like God and I have been on the ‘phone constantly for the last three weeks and just not realised the time.  That ‘shaft of light’ that Cardinal Hume wrote about is my [our] link to God and it has broken through my cloud of unrest and guided me to where God needed me to be in order to answer my prayer.  These shafts of light manifest themselves in many different ways but all of them are unique and custom made for the purpose.  He’s clever this God of ours.

I was down at the lake with Si and my little boy this afternoon and once we’d fed the ducks the boys went off to play football on the grass and Fletch [my trusty old dog] and I went to find some shade under one of the many weeping willows down by the water.  As I stood in the fronds of that delicate tree I looked up through the cascading branches and it was like God’s wings hovering over me and suddenly His presence was all around.  It’s in the most unexpected places that those shafts of light [love?] find you.  You’d expect it in church or during prayer but so often that’s not the case and instead they’re somewhere most unlikely.  I recall Sr Judith saying that often times she’d pray her daily offices not always feeling particularly connected to God but then once out on her bike in the grounds of the Abbey suddenly His presence would become tangible for her.  

So, as Cardinal Hume said, these ‘shafts of light’ do indeed tell us something of God.  They give us little glimpses of how much He loves us and wants us to get ‘it’ right.  How He always hears our prayers, despite the fact that we are rarely still [or patient] for long enough to hear His responses.  He took me into that soft, still place so I could hear Him better [He probably got fed up of being ignored].  So if you pray to God and ask for His help and guidance don’t forget to wait patiently in stillness for His response or to look for Him in the most unexpected of places as that is most likely where He’ll be waiting for you.

 

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