Tag Archives: space

Stillness

Stillness in the Garden

As part of our offerings during the Coronavirus Pandemic the Ministry Team at St James’ Church, West End are each offering a Thought for the Week. Here is mine taking the theme of stillness and the need for a ‘me’ space

You can either watch the video or a transcript is below:

I wonder if you’ve managed to find your ‘me’ space yet?

At this time when we are all practising social distancing; being separated from our wider families and having to stay at home, it can be difficult to find a space in our homes in which we can just simply be still. A space in which you need do nothing but sit, not to feel the need to pray or to read or to do anything that involves taxing your brain. Perhaps you’ve found your ‘me’ space in a spare room, or a comfy corner or in a shed at the bottom of the garden. For me, it is a bench in front of my fishpond. It is a sunny spot, but also a peaceful one, with the sound of running water as background music and the graceful goldfish to watch gliding through the water. For me it is a perfect spot in which to be still.

For many of us that very element of stillness is one which has been conspicuously lacking in our lives up until now. We have been taught that we should be busy and productive, and we have all but lost the art of being still. Now it’s about listening; about compassion, and about faith; but mainly about stillness, because, so many of us have been forced to be still because of the Coronavirus Pandemic. The places where we worship are closed, the places where we work are shut and we are being asked to socially distance ourselves, to stay away from people and places other than our homes.

As we face this epidemic, the most important thing required of us is stillness. We have needed to stop going places–to church, to school, to work, to anywhere. We have needed to stop congregating. And that means that we have all had to slow down; because if we don’t, people will die. The logic of compassion and human connections demands that we do this one thing, and that one thing is nothing. And it is really hard.

What we can find though is that in this stillness comes faith and in faith comes stillness. Psalm 46 (v10) has that well-known verse calling us to do just that, ‘Be still, and know that I am God!‘ These lines connect stillness to faith, and this is what gives stillness its power. The Psalmist does not simply mean belief in God, or even a sure knowledge of God’s existence…faith in this context means trust – the knowledge that God is competent. Of course, it is very easy to be glib when giving advice like this – ‘Just let go and trust God’.

Nobody is telling us not to worry about Coronavirus. We should all worry about it because it threatens some of the most vulnerable people in our society. We should worry about it, and that worry should lead us to… stillness. Because being still is the best way to protect our loved ones–and to protect millions of people we do not know. So, we do the only thing we are required to do and that is to be still and listen.

The author Annie Dillard, has a wonderful quote from her book, ‘Teaching A Stone To Talk’ – ‘Whenever there is stillness there is the still small voice, God’s speaking from the whirlwind, nature’s old song, and dance…’ and it is these voices that we never hear except when everything is silent, they only reach us as a moment of revelation in the stillness. They are the voice of the Holy Spirit, who is never far away from any one of us, their voice as Psalm 19 tells us about the heavens, is that ‘they have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.’ These ‘words’ that will come and go unnoticed unless we learn the grace of being still.

Whenever there is stillness there is the still small voice,
God’s speaking from the whirlwind, nature’s old song, and dance…’

And we shouldn’t feel uncomfortable about taking this time out. It’s so easy to be made to feel guilty that everyone else seems to be constantly involved in ‘good’ works. There is undoubtedly a great need for us all to look for ways of helping our friends and neighbours at every opportunity, but we can’t let that altruism overwhelm us. We only have to look to Jesus as an example of someone who gave all that he could to others, and yet frequently took time out to recharge his batteries – from Luke (5:16), ‘the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their illnesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed’

Of course your ‘me’ space will get interrupted from time to time, the telephone rings, someone suddenly needs you to do something or the children start arguing, but those few precious moments of stillness should be enough to set you up with the strength to face whatever comes.

So, I hope you manage to find your ‘me’ space, whether indoors or outdoors. And if it rains… well there’s still the opportunity to stand looking out of the window and watch the rain fall, refreshing the earth.

So let us pray a prayer of St Benedict:

O Gracious and Holy Father,
Give us wisdom to perceive you,
Diligence to seek you,
Patience to wait for you,
Eyes to behold you,
A heart to mediate upon you,
And a life to proclaim you;
Through the power of the Holy Spirit Of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

So go well and God bless

Pooh’s Thotful Spot is interrupted

 

 

Mere Mortals

Mere Mortals

© ‘Mere Mortals’ Linda Galvin

A piece of artwork based on Psalm 8:3-4, and completed on my pre-ordination retreat. The idea came out of a talk by Abbot Stuart Burns OSB on the unimaginable greatness of God…somewhere in there are the mere mortals!

When I look at your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that
you have established;
what are human beings that
you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?

Psalm 8:3-4

Savouring Solitude

Savouring the solitude of Alton Abbey

Savouring the solitude of Alton Abbey

Prior to my ordination, after which life will change and inevitably get a lot busier, I decided to spend a day on a personal retreat at Alton Abbey. This community of Benedictine monks offers generous hospitality, prayerful worship and a space to simply be, all the while surrounded by a  natural and inviting arbors from which you can gaze at the world in contemplation.

Alton Abbey 011 blog

Be still, and know that I am God. Psalm 46:10

I went there principally to gain a sense of stillness; a few hours to calm the mind and refresh the soul, but as the day wore on I realised that there is never complete stillness in solitude. For God’s presence is fully alive in creation and she demonstrates her vivacity in a vibrant showy display of life in sight, sound and smell.

On other occasions It might have been a day for expressing myself in poetry or art, but I discovered that this day was purely a time for sitting and waiting, observing and listening. Let me share some of these moments with you now.

Alton Abbey 4 blog

The Abbey houses bathed in sunlight

Firstly, I have to acknowledge that I visited on a glorious, sunny day – something that the Brothers told me was unusual, as the Abbey often has its own micro-climate of fog and rain, and summertime has its own pleasures when the freshness of spring has given way to abundant blooms and lushness of grass and burgeoning leaves on trees. So after a period of settling into the room I have been allocated for the day I ventured out into the gardens and grounds

A walk along the first path I saw from the doorway took me past the overflowing honeysuckle (see title picture) with its sweet scent and colourful trumpets, before I came to a pause, suddenly aware of the movement and sounds that were coming to me. A row of trees whispered loudly that they were very much alive as their leaves danced in rhythm with the breath of the Spirit; their rippling tones a background pulse to the melody of the birds whose notes rose and fell as if urgently repeating a song of sheer joy.

Woodland shades

Woodland shades

Choices… whether to take the woodland path or enter the formal garden with its gated entrance and a notice that stated, ‘You are welcome, the rabbits are not! Please shut the gate behind you’. I plumped for the shady woods.

Fallen fruits, yet like sparrows 'not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father' Matthew 10:29It was cooler and quieter here, and yet underneath my feet crunched the husks of autumnal beech nuts, reminding me of harvest abundance. Whilst the cascade of lace-capped hydrangea and towering rhododendrons gave promises of future profusion and growth. Even the flowers that had fallen to the floor, still radiated beauty; and in the dappled shifting shade, glints of light flashed like beacons signalling a presence.

Fallen blooms, yet like sparrows ‘not one of them will fall to the ground
unperceived by your Father’ Matthew 10:29

On days like this, time ticks imperceptibly onward and I found it was necessary to hurry back into the Abbey Church to join the Brothers in Midday Prayer, then lunch, which even though it was taken in silence, was much appreciated and gave one time to digest one’s thoughts.

The drowsy courtyard steeped in peace

The drowsy courtyard steeped in peace

The sun by now was high above in a cloudless sky and although I am not normally a sun-worshiper of any kind, I was drawn to the tranquility of the courtyard where I settled on a stone bench and closed my eyes, Warmth has its own life, as it seeps into your bones and lingers on the surface of your skin. My sense of drowsiness was dispelled by the sound of water erupting in shimmering jets of cascading jewels that fell to tumble over a moss-covered fountain, splashing the lily pads, under which fish found shade, their diaphanous tails swirling in lazy circles. All the while the tall purple and yellow irises quivered in anticipation  as gentle bees brushed their petals and a kaleidoscope of pansies turned their faces to the sun, exuding a honeyed fragrance so familiar from childhood.

Alton Abbey Daisies 012 blogThere is nowhere that creation is out of place and as I left the courtyard, my feet grazed the small stubborn weeds that had pushed their way up through the cracks in the paving and brushed against delicate ferns that sprouted in vertiginous splendour high up on the walls. These humbler plants, despite attempts to eradicate their existence, are no less beautiful, and as I walked around the side of the church to seek a shadier nook I encountered tiny white daisies nestling with bright blue speedwell and baby pink cranesbill, which had escaped the mower’s blades.

As always when you visit somewhere for the first time, you’re never one hundred percent sure whether you might stray into areas that are private; secret places full of hidden treasures. Yet the well-worn wall seat was placed invitingly at the end of the two pools of water and seemed a perfect place to linger before Evening Prayer and Supper. Here I was rewarded with a deep feeling of peace, as if God had saved the best till last. Here was life in abundance from the immeasurable variety of insects, including carmine and turquoise bodied dragonflies hovering on lacy wings, and the unseen life within the silty mud, that sent bubbles up to break the tension of the water’s surface, to the chattering house martins that swooped overhead.

I will give you hidden treasures, riches stored in secret places. Psalm 45:3

I will give you hidden treasures, riches stored in secret places. Psalm 45:3

As the day drew to a close, and I packed my bag and said farewell to the Brothers, I reflected how lucky I was to have been granted that time and that space to simply be another small part of God’s incredible creation. Those images and thoughts that filled my time there will no doubt sustain me for quite a while to come; a point in time both sacred and divine, a moment of sheer grace.

Alton Abbey blooms blog

Exuberant life in seed and bloom

For more information about Alton Abbey, its people and the work it does, click here