19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
We live in a noisy age, from early morning to late night noise surrounds us. Many of them are the ordinary bits and pieces of our life, water pouring from tap and shower head, TV and other media sharing with us their particular images and voices, news, music, film, documentary and much loved soap drama!
Then there are the background noises of roads and cars, people chattering, talking, communicating. In country places the assorted sounds of machinery and animals and even if we think we are silent the songster birds, patter of rain, the curious evocative sounds of the wind about us! It is very difficult to find absolute silence and I suspect when we do, we don’t at first like it.
I very much like and seek for silence in my daily life, I suppose this comes from the spiritual teaching of my early monastic life about silence and stillness in private prayer, something that is learnt by constant practice. St Benedict refers Chapter 52 of his Rule to this stillness in terms of a place of encounter where we find God in a very personal way.
‘Let the oratory be what it is called, a place of prayer; and let nothing else be done there or kept there.When the Work of God is ended, let all go out in perfect silence….’ Benedict teaches us that the whole of life is lived in God’s presence, everything is part of the Kingdom, but there does come a time when each one of us has to listen to the voice of God inviting us to communicate personally with the Divine Presence. What does that mean?
Here’s help. The Gospel story of Jesus walking on the water (Mt 14:22-33) pictures a storm tossed boat, no doubt frighteningly noisy as sea storms are, the apostles are terrified and then see Jesus walking towards them, instead of being reassured they are terrified, a situation made worse when Peter tries to reach Jesus but then sinks in the raging waters. Above all that noise and churning emotion the voice of Jesus calms both them and the storm; in that moment of silent calm they know him as their Lord and God.
But the story of Elijah in I kings is perhaps my favourite image of that prayer of the heart and stillness, whatever storms and noise throw at us, God is at the centre of our life, a voice of quiet peace beyond all voices will calm our heart and like Elijah, not only will we know the Lord passing by, we shall always hear and respond to that still small voice.
‘After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound.
When he heard this,
Elijah hid his face in his cloak
and went and stood at the entrance of the cave’. (IKgs 19:13)
And so will we meet the living God, at the entrance to the cave of our heart!
A blessing from St Clare's second letter to Blessed Agnes of Prague:
What you hold may you always hold.What you do, may you always do and never abandon.
But with swift pace, light step and unswerving feet,
so that even your steps stir up no dust,
Go forward; the spirit of our God has called you.
Fr Robin is an Eastern Rite Catholic Chaplain for Melkites in the UK. He is also an Ecumenical Canon of Christ Church, Oxford