Speaking at our District Network Celebration last week, Mrs. Christine Stuckey told of her attendance at the Cenotaph in London with her husband Tom during his Presidential Year and what an experience it was to be part of the emotion and pain of that 2 minutes silence! She then added a phrase that has stuck in my mind - "The silence of God touches our lives!"
This was the experience of all those who attended a four-Circuit Quiet Day recently at the Benedictine monastery of Douai Abbey. This beautiful Abbey is so steeped in Prayer and Worship that even those who find it difficult to be silent before God are involuntarily caught up in the all-pervading atmosphere of peace and serenity - whether in the magnificent Church, the conference room or outside in the well-kept,inspirational and peaceful grounds. Silence is also requested even in the Book Room (accessed through the Church), with its extremely helpful display of books and leaflets. One leaflet I found particularly helpful was called 'How to Deal with Difficult People'. One of the monks smiled as he gently said, 'Ah, yes! The monastic life, community life, marriage........'
Our leader for this Quiet Day was the Revd Veronica Faulks who has returned to our Circuit as a Supernumerary Minister and whose theme was 'In the wilderness', based on I Kings 19. The Day was divided into three sessions - 'Into the wilderness', 'Sustained in the Wilderness' and 'An Unexpected Meeting'.
First we were told that this day was to be spent in the presence of God - just ourselves and God, as we communed with Him. We were reminded that our faith journey includes the wilderness. Elijah went there on purpose. He went there to hide, to match his mood. There were no roads, no paths, no signposts - but there were wild beasts, loneliness and thirst. We must realise that the wilderness experience is central to God's people. [Then we dispersed throughout the Abbey and its grounds for our first period of meditation.]
Veronica continued, 'Why the wilderness? Because, despite the terror, aridity and depression, the wilderness is always where God is found. We don't escape the wilderness in order to find God. He is waiting there. Abraham and Hagar had a son, but Abraham and his wife Sarah threw Hagar and her son out into the wilderness. Yet it was not to Abraham the Patriarch nor Sarah who was to carry the child of God's promise, but to Hagar and her son that God gave his promise.
"After his conversion, Paul went to Arabia for three years - to get to know Christ. Jesus followed the high of his baptism with the low of the desert. However barren the wilderness we're in, God is waiting and we are sustained. An angel ministered to Elijah. The angels we meet are one another, even when not recognised! After the angel had fed him, Elijah's fear and depression turned into a pilgrimage. people have discovered this for ages. What people always discover is that the journey is as important as the destination. [Here we were asked to make a list of the angels who had ministered to us, before dispersing again for private contemplation.]
"Pilgrims are always in search of holy places. You can do this at home in your armchair - an outer journey that turns inward - a journey in search of God. As if drawn by a magnet, Elijah found himself going to the holy mountain. Mountains are holy places where God is found, but the high point of this story wasn't the holy mountain, it was the drought! When God said, 'What are you doing here, Elijah?', Elijah was hurt and cried, 'Look what I have done for you and they're trying to kill me.' He was angry, he needed to say how angry he was and he wasn't afraid to say it. So we shouldn't be afraid to be angry with God. Why don't you say angry things to God? Pauline Webb once said, 'Until you can be angry with God you cannot claim your salvation is complete.' God is always passing by. He never sticks around. Jesus does the same after the resurrection! You have to keep your eyes and ears open to catch the moment. [We broke here for lunch.]
On our return, there was a challenge! "Be ready! Ready to hear the still small voice, the soft whisper of a voice in the sheer volume of silence. We expect God to speak in spectacular ways and we lose sight of God in the silence. For Elijah, It was in the wind, storm, rain and cloud that God came to Elijah's people, but Elijah himself had the wisdom to wait for the unexpected. What would the unexpected be for you? The negative things could sometimes be how God speaks. A Sri Lankan Methodist Minister wrote about the time when he was a boy and his Hindu friend took him to a Temple, where he was overwhelmed by the sensory effect it had on him. Later, his Hindu friend said, 'Can I come with you to a church?' His heart sank. What would his friend find in a church after what he regularly experienced in the Temple? Yet it turned out to be an amazing experience! His friend exclaimed in amazement, 'You did everything together!'
"It was not just the food, drink and rest that revitalised Elijah. It was being noticed! It was the unexpected meeting with God. First the cake, water and rest, and then 'Take care of yourself, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.' That message should be written on the fly-leaf of every Bible and given to every Methodist member, Local Preacher, Minister, etc. In the story of the Exodus, in those 40 days in the wilderness, there was only enough manna for one day at a time. If they gathered more, it went rotten. We have to trust that we have enough for each day, one day at a time. So many haven't enough for today. You are to trust that the spiritual food you are given is for today. You can't store up spirituality or faith for the future. It's for NOW - the next step of the journey. Elijah had just enough to get to the mountain of God."
Our Quiet Day ended in an intimate sharing of what we had learned and experienced in our day in the silence of God.