“Quiet is peace. Tranquility. Quiet is turning down the volume knob on life. Silence is pushing the off button. Shutting it down. All of it. – Amir”The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
At a time when events around the world weigh heavily on all of us every day, it is more important than ever to take time to find peace and quiet, to push the off button, whenever we can. We all know that this can be difficult, it always has been for me, but in recent years I have strived more and more to allow myself the time and peace.
Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians reminds us that God will provide an escape when we need it, it’s just a question of whether we will take that opportunity or let it pass us by,
No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.1 Corinthians 10:13
But the question for me is always the same, I need to take time to sit in the quiet, to take that “way out”, to sit with God and with my thoughts, but where can I do this? Can I do it in the balcony of my apartment? Yes, sure I can but it’s noisy with traffic and daily life. Can I do it in a cafe nearby, again yes, but they’re normally busy places and I almost always meet someone I know and we end up chatting. Can I sit in my apartment and do it, again yes, but then I might be tempted by work, TV, books, chores, any number of things. So what can I do and where can I go?
I go out on my bike as often as I can, I walk, and explore the country around me. A few weeks ago I attended an event to introduce some of the monastic communities in Israel and Palestine, some of which I didn’t know existed. During the event some of the communities held short liturgies and some chanted and sang. Sitting in the wonderful St Anne’s Church with its amazing acoustics allowed a time to draw close to God, even though it was bustling with people, the sound washed over you and you could get lost in it. I chatted to some of the communities and found out about their lives and where they were. A couple of weeks after this event, I felt that I needed time to take the “way out,” I needed to spend time with God and with my own thoughts, but didn’t know what to do. As I did some tidying of my apartment since I wasn’t sure what else to do I turned over a piece of paper and found the information about two nearby monasteries which I had picked up at the event. At that moment I knew what to do, I hadn’t been there before and I was sure to find peace there…..wasn’t I?
My first stop was the Trappist Monastery at Latrun, also known as the Silent Monastery. The monks there have taken a vow of silence so surely peace can be found there. As I pulled into the car park I noticed that there was a craft market in the grounds…maybe not so peaceful after all! I headed past the market and into the monastery, lots of people in the shop buying the wine made at the monastery, and into the gardens and chapel, nodding at brothers as they passed, busy working in the gardens or bringing more wine to the shop. I arrived in the chapel only to find a tour group with a guide loudly explaining features of the architecture and explaining, when asked, that as a Jew he didn’t know anything about the monks who live here. Once they left, two monks arrived in the chapel and the three of us sat in the silence of the chapel. One of the monks had been reading from a large bible and beckoned me over to see what he was reading from. It was a beautiful illuminated bible in Latin and he was reading the passage from 1 Corinthians I mentioned above. We stood together and a short time later the second monk joined us. We stood there, together in silence, in community, no words needed, just peace, unspoken understanding, and prayer.
When I left Latrun, I headed a short distance up the road to the Benedictine monastery of St Mary of the Resurrection. Built in the 12th century, this abbey is now home to monks and nuns from the French Benedictine community, part of the community of St Vincent de Paul. When I arrived at the car park in Abu Ghosh, it was busy as was the monastery when I entered, with everyone exploring the building and admiring the ancient artworks on the walls.
Again, I sat in the quiet and spent time wandering the gardens in the sunshine. On my walks I met a postulate, a young man considering becoming a monk, we chatted about his background and why he felt called to the monastic life – his testimony was moving and his commitment to this challenging way of life was clear. He was going back to France the following week to complete his discernment and to test his call by requesting to become a novice – monk in training.
So in all this time, did I find a place of quiet, well….no. But did I find peace, yes! Time with the people I stood with, people I spoke to, time I sat in silence, all gave me a sense of peace. When I think about it, peace comes in the strangest of places. When I’m in the Old City of Jerusalem, I often wander into the Holy Sepulchre, through the crowds of tourists and pilgrims, school groups (the cover photo of this blog is from a school group I saw lighting candles as I visited one day), and others may make the place seem busy, however, I am always able to find peace in one part of the building or other. Not quiet, but a place that I can tune out the background noise and sit or stand in my own bubble of peace and quiet.
So, yes, it’s important to be able to take this time to be in the quiet, to take the ways out we are provided, but at the same time, we have to realise that these times are not always where we expect them to be. We might be somewhere bustling but find that little piece of quiet, we might be with others where peace is found in community, we might be chatting to someone and find peace and quiet in the words of others, we might be listening to music. Whatever it is for you at that time and place, if you need to take time to turn down the volume control, to take that way out when it’s offered, just try, you might find it in the most unexpected of places.