Today on Facebook a friend posted this beautiful quotation:
"Flee for a while from your tasks, hide yourself for a little space from the turmoil of your thoughts. Come, cast aside your burdensome cares, and put aside your laborious pursuits. For a little while give your time to God, and rest in him for a little while. Enter into the inner chamber of your mind, shut out all things save God and whatever may aid you in seeking God; and having barred the door of your chamber, seek him."
~ Anselm of Canterbury
Monks (and, perhaps to a lesser extent, nuns) often write thus about silence and seclusion, encouraging people to, as William Penn put it, ‘live retiredly’. More and more it speaks to me.
It’s not meant to be a way of leisure and idleness, of course. For one thing there are many chores to be done – washing, sweeping, cooking, gardening; generally setting the house in order. And there is the community to attend to, whatever that may mean in any one individual’s circumstances. Being present when people are gathered. Being free and willing to help with whatever supports and encourages them. In the case of our household, that can mean taking time around a meal table to talk through issues that interest, perplex or challenge one or some of us. Or bringing someone else’s laundry in if it comes on to rain, or volunteering to cook the supper or wash the dishes, or be part of the expedition to the store to get the Friday groceries. Or clean the bathroom. Taking care of the fabric of life in such ways is also how we care for each other.
And beyond the household, the wider family, then whatever responsibilities sit right with my own gifts/graces/obligations to the household of God in the church, and to the community. This week, for me, that means Sunday worship, preparing a seminar talk and a Quiet Day, attending the Local Preachers’ meeting; also selecting things I think I could easily do without to give away on Freegle, or donate to the hospice charity shop.
And then there is the tending to the wellbeing of creation, in my case no more than sending permaculture messages along the jungle drums, being part of maintaining the wildlife garden we have made here, feeding the foxes, the badgers and the crows, and living in ways of simplicity that tread a fraction more lightly on the Earth.
But in all this, which is the outworking of my faith, I am conscious that words come into it relatively little. I get the impression that most writers thrive on books and reading, but not me. I do read, and I research, but it is increasingly the case that words don’t really do it for me. I prefer silence, and thinking. I know I am in the presence of God, but it becomes artificial when I import words out of a sense of duty.
Thinking about it today, I realized how weighty is the portion given to words in the common practice of the Christian faith. So much emphasis is placed on sermons, prayers, Bible reading, meetings held together by a tissue of liturgy, creeds, doctrinal formulae … Beyond that – chatting, phone calls, social calls …
As though the substance of faith were the application of an unremitting diligence of words.
For me, this has become dry and weary. My life feels the lifeblood of God pulsing along its veins – but in firelight, in early dew, in bird flight, in cloud banks, in the eyes of a child. Not in words.
I didn’t expect it would become so. My faith lives and thrives, but would prefer to be expressed in silence.