The retreat was long overdue. The pandemic had put paid not once but twice to Alton Abbey, my spiritual home, and Boris had wrecked two weeks’ annual leave in June. The best part of a year had passed since I last had ‘a period of solitary refinement’ as someone once put it.
I’d been to Sheldon many times for Quiet Days and meetings. But this was different. Four days, three nights. No conversation, no e-mail, no internet. No church or family demands. Tangible ‘things to do’ complemented the intangible expectation that God may have ‘things to do’ also.
The ‘Welcome Pack’ speaks: ‘May this be a place where you… draw rest, silence, healing and vision.’
Umm… Rest. It had been a busy, far too busy, few months. As punishing as it was rewarding.
There had been little silence – in part, because I hadn’t made enough of it.
Healing? Yes, the hurts of ‘church chunterings’ required soothing balm.
Vision? Something to be seen when not looking for it, maybe?
So God showed his hand straight away.
I am to do nothing.
It is strange (and at times uncomfortable) to be in a place of not doing anything but simply to be. I don’t want to ‘waste the time’ here but don’t want the pressure of thinking ‘What shall I do now?’
Yet, ‘What shall I be now?’ is somewhat more tricky.
AA Milne wrote: “Sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits…”
I sit on a bench.
The ground is rough and stony. Dead plants being strangled by living weeds is a good metaphor.
But so is the view from the bench. The vibrant trees and the rolling hills. The silence.
Silence is not the absence of noise but the feeling of it. Being still within it. Surrounded and embraced by it.
‘Speak through the earthquake, wind and fire,
O still small voice of calm’
From being comes doing – not the other way around.
On God alone, my soul in stillness waits;
from him comes my salvation.
He alone is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold
so that I shall never shaken.