Tag Archives: Silence

I am constantly reflecting and all the joys and sorrows of last year, trying to drag out another lesson to make all the blood, sweat and tears seem worth it. About this time last year I was holed up in an old convent in Cornwall, wondering why on earth I’d thought a silent retreat was a good idea. It was one of the toughest weeks of my life - right up there after the death of Grandparents but slightly before that one week when I was 15 and convinced that all my hair was falling out and I'd be completely bald by 17 (THE TEARS).

But, je ne regrette rien. Especially after I read this and realised why it had been much harder than I'd expected:

In solitude I get rid of my scaffolding; no friends to talk with, no telephone calls to make, no meetings to attend, no music to entertain, no books to distract, just me—naked, vulnerable, weak, sinful, deprived, broken—nothing. It is this nothingness that I have to face in my solitude, a nothingness so dreadful that everything in me wants to run to my friends, my work, and my distractions so that I can forget my nothingness and make myself believe that I am worth something.” Henri Nouwen

In that week of solitude I was stripped of scaffolding - no friends to talk to, no social media to update, no work to attend, no music to sing and dance along to and no books to transport me to far away lands. I didn’t have to check in with my people and see how their week was going, I didn't even have to decide what to cook. All that was left was the truth of who I was without all those things to validate my worthiness of life/time/attention/love or distract me from the lack of it.

Naked, vulnerable, weak, sinful, deprived and broken.

And yet, I've realised that that place of nothingness can be the birthplace of freedom. Because in that place, God holds a banner over us for all the world to see proclaiming that we are loved and we are valued - despite all things we would rather hide and all the things we are too ashamed to even acknowledge.

There is nothing, absolutely nothing, we can do to earn God's love or make God love us more - not pray our way there, not read our Bible more, not attend church more, not go to The Gambia and not even give away our very last Rolo. You are worthy, simply for being you.

Without realising, I'd let a notion of earning worthiness creep in and set conditions around something that has always been extravagantly wild and free. Who I am without my scaffolding is enough. Who you are without your scaffolding is enough. Nothing from your past can change that, nothing in your future can steal that; not our fears for today or our worries about tomorrow. Whether we are high above the sky, in the deepest ocean or on a silent retreat, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus.

Being rooted and grounded in God's unwavering love for us in our place of nothingness can give us the power and confidence to live free from fear - of the judgement of others, of tomorrow, of the valley of the shadow of death, of loneliness, of looking like a fool and yes, free of even the fear of Brexit. Life in all its fullness transforming nothingness into a place of JOY - you know the place - beautiful sunrises over the mountains, a fridge full of lemon tart (made with fairtrade lemons and no palm oil, obvs and dancing for joy along to your favourite 90s pop and 00s indie rock songs.

I pray that Christ will be more and more at home in your heart as you trust in him. May you be rooted and grounded in the soil of God's marvellous love. And I pray that you have the power to understand, as all God's people should, how wide, how long, how high and how deep God's love really is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is so great we will never fully understand it.

IMG_20180212_121439392_HDR

2 Comments

Generally speaking, all my ideas are brilliant. I am not boasting - this is a fact.
Climb a mountain? Quit my job and set fire to my life without a plan of how to actually put the fire out? Dye my hair blonde? Yes, YOLO and what would Beyonce do?
I rarely regret my brilliant ideas because they are, by very definition, brilliant.
But, every now and again I find myself questioning my sanity and wondering what under heaven led me to that particular questionable life choice. A couple of weeks ago I found myself sat in my ‘cell’ in an old convent entertaining such a line of thought daily.
I was on a silent retreat based on the teachings of a long-dead Catholic Priest called St Ignatius of Loyola.  I'd kept coming across books and articles referencing his teaching and he seemed to have an intriguing take on what it means to follow Jesus. So, I figured I had nothing to lose from finding out more. As for the silence, I’m a good listener and committed introvert. I so looked forward to no small talk over meals and time to hear my own thoughts. I thought the silence would be a rather giant and delicious piece of cake I’d delight in eating over the course of the seven days of the retreat.
Hahahahahahahahahahahhahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha*stops to breathe* ahahahahahahahahahhahahahahahaha*cries JT a river of almost hysterical tears*hahahaha hahahahahhahahahhahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha
O how the mighty do fall (off their chairs from laughing at their own naivety) and question their supposedly brilliant ideas.
IMG_20180211_150400537 (1)
Home for the week.
Turns out, it was one of the toughest things I’ve ever done. But it was so worth it. I will spend the next days/weeks/years pondering the many things I learned and the many new questions raised. I am so thankful my sanity took a backseat and let my curiosity drive us outside of my comfort zone.
Disclaimer: It wasn’t complete complete silence. For about 30 minutes every day I met with a spiritual companion who, lucky for them, got to listen to all of my rambling and helped me make sense of it. This 30 minutes was life saving. Also, we had two hours of teaching each day. And Mass. And prayers. And so we heard people talking, we occasionally contributed and we sang. But most of the day we didn’t speak, not even over meals – which could have been incredibly awkward but I ditched awkward a few years ago and life has been exponentially better since.
Silence. No phone, no internet, no TV and no radio. And yet you hear everything else – birdsong, doors closing, doors opening, mud squelching, cutlery scraping plates, wind, waves and rain.
IMG_20180216_145728957-EFFECTS
Let's escape to the beach beach. Let's go get away.
Things I missed:
  • Laughing. Surprisingly, I missed this the most. Sure, there were small things that raised a smile but not much to make you actually LOL. Not laughing was sad and painful and isolating. Apparently, I dearly love to laugh.
  • Being called by name. As the poet once said, what is in a name? Being known.
  • A week of Winter Olympics - whats not to love about an international platform for sports you didn't even know existed?
  • (Things I conveniently avoided: my sister's Birthday; Valentine's Day)
It wasn’t just the silence that was tough. The teaching raised some challenging questions that couldn't just be glossed over. Ignatius was all in:

Take Lord and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and all my will – all that I have and possess. You Lord have given all that to me. I now give it back to you O Lord. All of it is yours. Dispose of it according to your will. Give me love of yourself along with your grace, for that is enough for me.

So, between the silence, the challenge of a life surrendered to God, trying to put out my life-on-fire and figuring out how to get the person sat opposite at lunch to pass the cheesecake without asking them, it was a tough a week.
And yet, I think you should do it too. There were 15 of us on the retreat, we found it hard in difficult ways but not one of us regretted sticking it out.
I learned so much about the goodness of God. I learned so much about the everyday gifts of life that I simply accept as standard and don’t even see. I learned so much about who I am when I’m stripped of many of the things I delight in. My understanding of my OneWord was turned completely. I have many questions about church unity and the lack thereof. I may even have started to put out the fire that is my life.
Don’t tell me you’re scared of what you might find in the silence. You don't face it alone, right by your side cheering you on, giving you strength when you think you've run out, and preparing a feast is the God who loves you more that you can possibly know and who cannot wait to meet you in the silence.
Dare greatly, friends.
IMG_20180212_121439392_HDR