I returned home from my retreat on Saturday: back from over a week of silence and stillness and deep countryside to the hustle and bustle and familiar noises of home. There is a stillness at Llannerchwen which makes sound so much more noticeable: the wind through trees like gushing water; birdsong, bees and animals; the gurgling of a tiny stream. At night I would go out to gaze at stars jewelling a velvet sky, a distant bleating the only sound in a world hushed and held in utter silence; by day I might hear the occasional car or machine, but otherwise all sound was provided by nature.
It is a place which encourages prayer and inner stillness, encourages me to slow down and simply "be", whether I'm walking, cooking, reading, picking blackberries or otherwise "doing" - as much as when I'm deliberately praying, or simply sipping my tea and watching the world. This week from my armchair I watched rain showers, then sudden bursts of sun turning wet leaves and grass to jewels; I beheld with delight rainbows suddenly appearing, and watched them fade back into the air; I took my tea outside and basked in the late summer sun, idly watching butterflies and listening to swallows chattering excitedly above me. Some evenings, from my vantage point I photographed some glorious sunsets, then watched the golden-pink afterglow fade and gradually turn to dusk.
And all this was prayer, as were the walks in rain and sunshine, encounters with dragonflies and the lessons learnt from nature. Streams - one all but dried up, the other gently flowing - coupled with streams of living water and John 7:37-8, brought me back - via a re-membering of my journey with God - to my call to contemplation, deeply felt more than twenty years ago. That call emerged and re-emerged throughout the week, and remains quietly but insistently within me as I return to the busyness of normal life. It is gift and grace, just like the whole retreat.
So I returned home refreshed and thirsting for more time in prayer. And then this morning, the first day of the month, I turned to a new page in my Janet Stuart calendar and saw this quote, which sums up the experience of the week and how I wish to live this gift. I'll be looking at that calendar every day, so I pray that it will permeate...
Give a long level look at God across the fens and the wolds. God is all and everything else is nothing.