Letter from our Parish Priest
The other day I was browsing through a book of reflections for Advent, Christmas & Epiphany. It ended with a quotation from Rosemary Conley, the diet and fitness expert: “When we ask God for help, we expect his undivided attention – shouldn’t we give him ours?”
I wonder what giving or receiving someone’s “undivided attention” means to you? For me it suggests: “I’m all yours”, meaning I am focussing on you alone; attentive and focused listening; or an activity or game as a focus for a shared activity, as when playing with a child. All of which are relevant if we want to give God our “undivided attention”. But this can seem a daunting task when relating to something we cannot see, and is very much more demanding than telling God our thoughts and feelings, or what we want God to do, or why we think God has got it wrong.
Giving undivided attention implies the screening out of other demands whether they be jobs that need doing, other people to do things with, or our own busy thoughts, in order to focus on the one asking for our attention. When we do this with God we call it prayer, and most of us find the screening out of other demands to pay attention to God calls for some kind of silence……and silence can be very hard work if we’re not used to it.
Silence as a way into prayer is found in all faith traditions, for it is in silence that we can begin to let go of the stream of thoughts that fills our everyday minds and begin to hear the still small voice of God. In doing so, however, we must expect surprises, for in giving God the attention we are surrendering the control of what we are thinking about.
For some – such as those in the Quaker tradition – sitting quietly, and emptying the mind to let the Spirit speak within us, comes comparatively easily, but for others this can be very hard. I take great heart from the story of one of the St Theresas, who is said to have decided to give God a certain length of time in this type of emptying thoughts. The time went so slowly she kept getting up to shake her clock to make sure it hadn’t stopped!
But the great misunderstanding of giving God our undivided attention is to think that sitting still, not talking, not doing anything active, is the only way to use silence. Far from it – the “shared activity” way of keeping company with God has endless ways of being worked out – many of which come under the heading of “meditation”. Many people find writing or drawing or even a walk in the countryside a way of responding to God in prayer.
It’s amazing how a time of shared “silent” prayer can draw us closer both to each other and to God, when each of us is essentially wrapped up in what is going on between God our ourself.
Lent is traditionally a time when we think about giving God some undivided attention, and so with that in mind we will be trying to keep silence in church before all services throughout Lent rather than chatting to those around us or running round getting jobs done – for 10 minutes before each service I hope we can all try to enter into the spirit of this and really use this time as the precious gift that it is. In addition, there will be no organ music before services in Lent, and once the clergy have processed in we will all sit to share a 5 minute silence together. There is no “right” way to use this time of silence, except what is right for you and God. So just relax, enjoy, even bask in the silence. I pray that you will find it as nourishing as I and countless others down the ages have.
I wish you all a holy Lent, and a joyful Easter.