St Denys' and St Mark's Joint Benefice

  • The Rectory
  • Mayfield Road
  • Rotherfield
  • East Sussex
  • TN6 3LU

01892 852536
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September 2017

As I write the Rectory is a busy place, workmen are installing double-glazing throughout the house and needless to say there is a lot of drilling and hammering.  However, once it is complete, I am assured that in addition to lower energy bills, there will be a noticeable reduction in noise; all will be “serene in the parochial house!”  We will be delighted and it will look great.

A few weeks ago, I went on retreat to Mucknell Abbey. One of the ‘selling’ points for a stay with a monastic community is the opportunity to share in the silence created by their lifestyle.  Silence, they say, is golden; whilst I’m not sure of that, I did appreciate the opportunity to pull away from our busy and noisy lives – and enjoy the opportunity to be still.  Such times do help to get life in perspective, and for me, it was an opportunity to spend time in quietness before God and was very rewarding.  It made me realise how little time we spend in silence and how awkward silences can be.  As someone suggested: 

“We live in a world that seems to be in perpetual motion. All of us have more to do than we ever get done. It is not in vogue to "be still." Successful people aren’t viewed as people who are "still." Rather, they are people who are active. We have this idea that if we’re not doing something, we’re not being productive.”

We like to fill silence with activity and sound, and yet being still and silent can be very life-enhancing.  I was interested to read in a book containing various Prayer for the Day broadcast from BBC Radio 4 and in particular one by Nicholas Buxton who said: 

“The truth is, we need periods of quietness in order to put a little distance between ourselves and all that, quite literally consumes our lives.  To be silent is to let go of our unnecessary preoccupations with the past and the future, and to become aware of the still centre behind our internal commentary, allowing in turn for the possibility of an encounter with the reality that simply is ‘what is’.  In many religious traditions, the mind is likened to a pool of water, in which we are only able to see our reflection when its surface is completely still.  This is not to say we must try and force the mind to be quiet, but rather that it is simply a state we reach when, like a fire deprived of fuel, distractions naturally fade away.  In other words, we don’t have to try to be quiet: we just have to be.”

Whenever I go on retreat, I always take a book or two, and on this occasion, I read a book titled: The Contemplative Minister – Learning to lead from a still centre.  The author, Ian Cowley, in explaining contemplative prayer suggested:  it “is the still centre, the place of being in God’s presence, in wordless waiting, and experiencing the peace that passes understanding.  This the daily practice that changes our hearts, that holds us and guards us through all the events and challenges of life.  Through contemplative prayer we become more and more attuned to the place of inner silence, where God can be God, and we are his beloved.” 

It is in stillness and attentiveness that we are able to hear and sense the presence of God.  If only we might take the time and make the effort; as the Psalmist suggested, “Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him;” (Psalm 37 v7) 

Many people believe and hope that that they can meet God in a powerful and dramatic way; yet God is often found in the places we can least expect.  The story of Elijah is such an example.   We read from the Old Testament:

“The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.  When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.”

God came to Elijah in a gentle whisper and maybe we should take more time to still ourselves and place ourselves in a position where life is quiet enough to hear that ‘gentle whisper’?  If we are willing and disciplined enough to find time and create space in our day, then there is a potential to meet with God.  We are assured: “Come near to God and he will come near to you. (James ch4 v8)