‘At such moments we don't choose silence...but fall silent.’ (Philip Simmons)
As 2024 opened, I found myself yearning for silence, a sacred space to sit quietly and alone with my face turned unequivocally towards God. I found such a place in Alnmouth, a Franciscan retreat centre in the North East of England. Its spirituality focuses on Jesus and the poor and that matters deeply to me too. I had first found Jesus through a close friend who went on to become a Franciscan so this felt like a familiar place, like returning home after a long journey away. I packed a case and went.
The days started early and ended late with a time of silence or spoken liturgy in a simple candle-lit chapel. As I sat or stood listening to the devout Franciscans chanting words slowly and meditatively from the Bible, my attention was drawn to a stark representation of Jesus on a cross at the front, straining to look upwards to his Father. I felt hurt, angry and confused by his suffering and, at the same time, intensely frustrated by my own weak faith and what the Bible calls sinfulness. He deserves better.
As I sat in the deep silence that followed, I recalled some words from Iain Matthew (The Impact of God): ‘Someone is there – you notice out of the corner of your eye – Someone is there looking at you...and has been for some time. You realise your whole Christian life is an effect, the effect of a God who is constantly gazing at you – whose eyes anticipate, penetrate and elicit beauty.’ It isn’t about me. It's about God's expression of amazing divine love that holds the power to transform everything.
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