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A gentle way in to my first quiet day

Mike Playdon
5 August 2018

It was, I think, my first ever Quiet Day, some 20 years ago it must have been. The topic has long since been forgotten; but some things have stayed with me. The format was one I’ve come to see as being fairly typical: some input from a speaker followed by times of silence, and worship to top and tail. I certainly don’t remember the topic on that occasion. I recall, however, that we were invited to ponder on a Scripture passage during the ensuing silence. This was not something I was very used to, but along with others I walked the lanes and paths in the vicinity of the priory where we were meeting, and tried to do just that. And found my thoughts jumping around all over the place. I kept telling myself that I needed to get back to the Scripture passage, and succeeded only in feeling that I just couldn’t hack it. I just couldn’t do what I thought I was supposed to be doing. And then I walked round a corner in the grounds and saw one of the group sitting on a swing, just swinging back and forth. (He later told me that he made a point of doing that every time he visited the priory). The penny dropped. I didn’t have to worry about getting the meditation right: I simply needed to relax, let go, just to be…

Some years later, spending a sabbatical on the life and writings and spirituality of Francis of Assisi, I came across a book by Brother Bernard, entitled Open to God: The Franciscan Life (Fount, 1986). In his chapter on Obeying, he writes:

A friend of mine, who is a sculptress, had a phase of making beautiful sensuous figures and suspending them in metal frames so that they swung. She had discovered a framework for her own life — the re-discovery of her Christian faith and the value of form and rule in worship and personal discipline. The acceptance of limits can be a freeing thing: within them we can swing.

That seemed to fit in with my discovery at that first Quiet Day: the importance of letting go, of finding freedom to be, and of locating it within some kind of framework.

If silence is to be part of our Christian life, we are to use it creatively. And that means we are to put aside any idea that somehow silence has be “useful”. We are to hand it over to God, wait for him to lead, to speak, to put ideas, thoughts and prayers into our minds. It is here that the psalmist’s urging, “be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10), is so important. The words, “Be still” have been translated in a variety of ways: “Pause a while” (JB), “Stand silent” (LB), “Stop fighting” (GNB), “Stop” (WQ). I particularly like, “Let be…” (NEB/REB), and I commend the comments of Kenneth Slack (New Light on Old Songs, SCM, 1975):

It does not mean “Meditate on God”, but it does mean among other things, “Let go, let go of your scurrying around and frantic activity, and your panic and your vulnerability that makes you so easily dominated by all that is noisy and outwardly impressive, and just see me at work…” (my emphasis) Rest, shelter if you like, in the thought of the quiet operation of God, whose river produces no noisy crash of billows but steadily flows to cleanse, irrigate and quicken human life.”

We are to stop, let go, let be, and swing.

What about a framework, then? In a sense it doesn’t matter what it is. It may be our daily Bible reading notes, some kind of office, the Church’s liturgical year, the lectionary, or something of one’s own devising. Whatever works… I have recently been finding “Sacred Space” web site (sacredspace.ie) particularly helpful, with its framework of the presence of God, freedom, consciousness, the Word, conversation with God/Christ, and conclusion. What I believe many will find helpful is finding the limits, a form, a discipline, a framework which enable them to be free to swing. In our own personal lives, and in the life of the Church, do we ever need to swing!