Recently I went and spent a weekend on personal retreat at the Franciscan Centre in Dorset, England – Hilfield Friary. My purpose for going was to take a couple of days out of my work schedule as a writer, speaker and retreat leader to just go and ‘be’ in the Divine presence in a space created for stillness. I was, for all intents and purposes, practicing what I preach.
The centre itself is a place where the Friars and other residential folk, some long term and some short term, live and work and have their being. It is not a silent place, but the stillness which rests upon it is evident to all. Slipping into the daily rhythm of prayers and meals/tea breaks was a wonderful way to punctuate the days which I spent there and the times of quiet stillness. The welcome and love I felt from all those who are resident there was palpable, and it simply added to the whole experience of just being.
St Francis himself was a man who understood the busy-ness of life. He and his brothers, back in the 13th century, were always hard at work either building churches or working to help the poor and needy. But he was also a man who understood the concept of peace and stillness and the importance of taking time out. He spent time-out with God in caves and deserted places in contemplative quiet. The idea of taking time out of the busy schedule was a part of who Francis was. He learned from Jesus, who ‘often withdrew to quiet places to pray” (Luke 5v16), the importance of taking time out to just ‘be’. This is something which is important to all of us, not just those who may be called to some form of monastic life.
The rhythm of prayer at Hilfield Friary allowed my day to be punctuated with deliberate times when I would take time out of solitary quietness and to go and gather with others to focus my prayers and my mind, which may often wander when sitting alone and just being. Morning, midday, evening, and night prayer were a joyous collective time of silence and chanting and listening and liturgy. The Daily Office book of the Society of St Francis (SSF) has a wonderful feel to the words and flow of prayer. This, along with the beautiful smell of the incense filling the chapel meant that one could easily slip into the Divine presence in the collective company of all as we all sat in the chapel to focus on the Divine.
Whilst I was there for the weekend, in the quiet, I was able not just to recuperate and enjoy the stillness without and within, but also to ‘hear’ the Divine voice of silence in the depths of my being. Some things were revealed to me (deep and personal things), as is often the case when you create the space for the Divine to move, and the beginnings of what might become another book (perhaps – when I finish the current project of a revision of my first book ‘The Mystic Path of Meditation’) are starting to formulate within me. This was all due to the fact that I created space in my diary to have just a couple of days where I went away with no agenda other than to just ‘be’ with God. I withdrew to a quiet place to pray.
I would encourage you to create space in your diary to do this very thing. I do it once a year, both as a personal practice which I have long done, and also now in accordance to the Way of Life I live by as part of being a vowed member of a New Monastic Community.
I know that when I write these words and you read them phrases such as ‘I don’t have the time’ or ‘can I afford it?’ may immediately spring to your mind. But my challenge to you, as it always is when I teach my workshop days or residential retreats, is just how important to you think spending time in stillness and quiet with God is? Is following the example of Jesus himself something which we should put ourselves out to do? We must create the time to do this to benefit our inner being, in the same way that we create the time regularly to sleep for hours for the benefit of our physical being. And really the question should be not ‘can I afford to do this financially?’ but ‘can I afford not to do this emotionally and spiritually?’. (If finances are a problem then there are options out there, for example, although there is a suggested cost at Hilfield Friary, it is, in fact, a donation based centre).
In the stillness and the quiet of places designed and sacredly kept for this purpose, such as Hilfield Friary, we can encounter the Divine in ways that we would never be able to do in our own homes or local places, even in our times of solitary or collective contemplation and meditation, taking time out in a different place has a different, deeper, and more transcendent affect on us.
It is time.
Time for you to go.
Time for you to go and ‘be’.