…and for one who ‘lived by the bell’ for years as a teacher, losing track of time was quite something.
I had no idea of the extent to which I’d lost track of time until ‘after the event’, of course, when I signed out in the visitors’ book at the St.Julian Church and saw that well over an hour had passed since I’d signed in.I felt as if I’d been there for about twenty minutes.Throughout that time I was the only person in the church.
I’d spent most of that time looking at the stained-glass window, at that depiction of Jesus on the cross.
I knew that, on my return home after my four-day retreat in Norwich, some people might ask me what I thought about the St.Julian Church and Shrine, so I tried to collect my thoughts, but I didn’t seem to have any thoughts to collect. This was the strangest, weirdest experience I’d had for a long while. I normally had lots of thoughts whizzing around in my head, sometimes at war with each other – I had what I thought of as ‘mental arguments.’ For the remainder of that day, I had no ‘mental arguments’.
In the evening, over our evening meal (we were not expected to remain silent during mealtimes), I spoke briefly with a fellow-guest about my visit to the Julian Shrine, and about my lack of any particular thoughts on it.
Later, as I sat in my room, busy doing nothing, I heard a knock on the door. My visitor was the lady I had spoken with at our evening meal. She’d brought some leaflets and she told me she thought I’d been called to contemplative prayer. I had never heard of it, and was thankful for the explanatory leaflets she gave me.
I read several of the books she recommended to me. It was a long time before I spoke about contemplative prayer with anyone, a long time before I asked anyone else about it.
Sometime after my visit to Norwich, I attended a course at our local retreat centre.In one small-group session, the leader suggested that we might spend some time in silent prayer. He led us into the silence with ‘The Jesus Prayer’: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ We were silent for quite a short time – about ten minutes. When we came out of the silence, I looked at the circle of people in our group and felt that I was with friends – yet just hours before our time of silent prayer, we were all strangers.
The Holy Spirit unites. The Holy Spirit also shines a light on divisions that already exist.
My love for Jesus grows daily.
My love for truth, justice and mercy grows daily.
My anger and sorrow about duplicity, injustice and cruelty have become keener and sharper.
I would like to have a balance in my life between solitude and community, between prayer and action. It’s not easy, but I keep praying.
And prayer is powerful.
‘…Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.’
‘Therefore, humble yourselves under the great hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your cares upon Him, for He cares for you.
Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.
Resist him, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brothers in the world.
But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered awhile, perfect, establish, strengthen and settle you.
To Him be the glory and the dominion for ever and ever.
1 Peter 5:8-11