Yesterday, the Cathedral held a quiet day in the beautiful countryside surrounding Brigham, in the Eastern Townships. The setting could not have been more perfect. Beautiful land, covered in pristine snow, a big sky at its best blue, a blazing sun shining the love of God throughout the day, and a beautifully converted barn, loaned to us by a friend of the Diocese, with its upper room dedicated as a chapel of silence and prayer. Our group was set to relax in the embrace of the God who speaks to us in the silence of nature, the beauty of creation, and the words of our leader, former Benedictine monk Paul Geraghty.
But we learned quickly that God may be speaking to us in many other different ways.
On arrival at this oasis of tranquility, we found that the water pipes had frozen and so no running water was available. To us who had travelled over an hour and who automatically expected to find both a welcome bathroom and fresh coffee, this was not particularly welcome news. But the group soon hatched up a plan and supplies of water and coffee were bought nearby, allowing to start – slightly late – but already thinking about our first lesson. God does provide, but best laid human plans are at the mercy of the unexpected. When we think we control everything, we soon realise that nothing is further from the truth.
This was fitting to our theme of the Contemplative heart – which was the focus of our meditation for the day.
The key questions for us were those of the meaning of prayer in the building of our personal relationship with God while growing in love and compassion for the world and all of God’s creation.
How can we even appreciate the love of God for each and everyone of us if we don’t spend time, in silence, in awe at what God does for us, often unnoticed, and yet often life enhancing.
Our presenter was speaking to us from the point of view of someone who studied some forty years ago with John Main, who started the renewed movement for Christian Meditation, reminding Christians of the deep well of spirituality and mindfulness within the Christian tradition, and teaching Christian praying and focus with the use of a short form of word or mantra.
This was a revelation to those who had felt that the Christian faith was devoid of deep prayer then, and is still news today to a world for whom meditation and contemplation are words associated more to eastern traditions such as Buddhism than the local church round the corner.
Of course, contemplation and meditation, an emptying of the self before the divine presence, are one way of growth in our relationship with God.
Just like a couple, we may initially feel that we want to speak and babble away with God, as we start our journey in faith. After all, is this not how relationships are made, by exchanging words. But of course, it is often hard to hear God’s response to us, and even our most earnest bible verse picking to suit what we think God is telling us does not constitute an ongoing dialogue of the soul.
Instead, like an old couple, we must learn to be confident and content in the silence, an active silence which – as we settle into it – reminds us both of the presence of God surrounding us, warming us, willing us well, and upholding us. A silence which reminds us that, at this moment, in this place, God is, and I am, and all is well.
And like an old couple, it is in exploring new words, new ways of relating that we continue to grow the relationship of love which sustains us and will nurture us until the end.
New words such as those of poets, which take us into different directions and allow us to delve deeply into the heart of our faith, the heart of our connection, the heart of our love.
We were given the beautiful poem by Malcolm Guite, a British priest and poet, called the ‘singing bowl’ as an example of words that can transform our understanding, our moment, our being and allow us to empty completely of everything that we may make space entirely for God.
Poems from the Quiet Day, February 23
Brothers and sisters, today we are of course acutely aware that life in God does not always go the way we anticipate – not because of God’s making, and not always of our making, but simply because we are frail and fragile and our bodies decay. As human beings we are finite, and we never know what may happen next, and how our life as we know it might be changed in an instant – accident, diagnosis, separation, grief, job loss, there are many life changing events we cannot predict but which can test our relationship with the God we know to love us deeply, personally and unconditionally.
Today, as a community, we are particularly sad and anxious for our brother Donald, lying in intensive care, someone who has been a lively, lovely and loving member and leader of this community. Our heart goes to Gaston, his spouse, for Joanne and Louise his sisters, now bewildered at what has happened so fast. And we pray at a time of unknown, trusting that God is there for both of them, present to them at their respective crossroads, pointing the way to the warming path of light and love and embrace without end.
As we sit, in quiet, emptying our minds of words and simply being with God, we know that, in our joy and in our deepest griefs, God is and I am.