It has to be said that we live in a noisy world. Even sitting quietly in a room on our own we can still be surrounded by background noise of daily life. Even our churches can be noisy places. It is very rare, now a days that people enter our churches in hushed tones and silently prepare for worship. Even our services can be filled with too many words and have little space for silence in them. We seemed to have grown accustomed to noise and it is very difficult to find the sound of silence in the hustle and bustle of daily life, even in Church!
That is why together with a group from the parish I recently appreciated the opportunity to retreat to Ampleforth Abbey in North Yorkshire in search of some time and space to be silent. Over the course of four days we were able to share in the life of the Benedictine monastery in search of that elusive silence in order to be still and to encounter God. But of course, monasteries, like anywhere else are busy places and even in the prayerful atmosphere of the monastery silence, true silence has still to be sought after.
Father Kieran, who led our retreat, spoke to us about the need to create the right environment in which to be still and silent. A quiet place in which to be still is important but we also have to create the right environment within ourselves. He described it as cultivating a garden of silence, yet like any garden it takes time and effort and needs to be worked on, only then might we find the silence within and in that silence encounter God who dwells within each one of us. Silence, Fr. Kieran said, is not about absence, rather the presence of God within our hearts. It is an inward journey which takes us deeper into ourselves in order to meet the living God.
Each day the monks set aside time for silent prayer, though Fr. Kieran admitted that it was not easy and the pursuit of silence needed patience and perseverance. He rightly said that one of the most deafening noises in pursuit of inner silence is the internal noise of our chattering minds which can be the most deafening noise of all. Whenever we are still we have to cope with our own fears, anxieties, worries and concerns, that internal chatter that assaults our minds. Fr. Kieran encouraged us to learn to let go of such noisy distractions and to focus on the name of Jesus until there was no longer any need for words, rather only to rest in silence in the presence of God.
The pursuit of silence in which to encounter God has long been an important part of our Christian tradition but one that has been sadly neglected and even forgotten, yet it is in the sound of silence that we can encounter God and hear Him speaking to us. The daily pursuit of silence in which we can encounter God can be life changing and life transforming. I certainly benefited from the opportunity to seek that silence in the environment of the monastery and came away feeling I should make more time for silence amidst the noise of the busyness of my daily life.