Solitude – you either crave it or fear it! This is the subject of the penultimate chapter of Jo Swinney’s book God Hunting. I have been looking forward to this so I guess you can tell that I’m a believer in solitude.
Jo was not looking forward to this one but at the end even she felt there was something in it. She mentions personality and that everyone is different on their spiritual journey. She talks about the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator which I know a fair bit about. I’ve blogged about it here before and have attended two courses. Jo is an ENFJ (extrovert, intuitive, feeling, judging) – I’m INTJ (introvert, intuitive, thinking, judging). What difference does this make? Well, Jo is the first to admit that she can’t keep quiet for very long – likes to chat rather than be silent. I’m the other way round! This bodes better for me in this activity! However, she feels and I think – that is to my detriment because I analyse everything, it takes me longer to switch off.
Anyway, the first thing I did when I saw this chapter coming up was plan (ah…another of my excellent attributes which comes under ‘judging’). As I’m going on holiday soon I decided I’d have to fit in a visit to somewhere before that where I can switch off for a day (no time for a longer retreat yet). I looked in my diary and found I did indeed have a free day coming up. Immediately (before I had time to waver….I do that) I filled in the booking form and sent a cheque off to The House of Prayer which is located reasonably close by. I have known about this place for several years and have wanted to visit and now at last I would.
I went on Thursday last week. Things didn’t start well – I had my son’s girlfriend staying, I overslept and had an hour to get ready and leave. Left my good map at home and had to ring hubby from the station because his missed off a bit of the route! The road seemed to be double backing on itself and I was worried I was going the wrong way so I asked a lady walking her child and dog and she was most helpful. I was going the right way after all. I finally arrived and had to ring three times before someone heard me but I was there. Once inside the lady gave me a quick guided tour of the upstairs – prayer room, toilets, kitchen and she showed me into a bedroom which was to mine for the whole day! I was astounded. It had a nice desk and chair and an easy chair by the window which overlooked the garden (misty and wet but you can’t have it all!). That was it. Alone for the day. I made a cup of tea and sat down in the chair by the window and suddenly the relief of it all brought tears to my eyes. I wasn’t expecting that!
I’d taken with me that day a Bible, notepaper and pen, a prayer diary I regularly use and the book On Holiday with God by Sue Pickering which I had used before on a quiet day in London and Prayer Rhythms for Busy People (Pocket Companion) by Ray Simpson (from the Community of Hilda and Aiden). I began with morning prayer from that book and smiled when I came to the reading from Isaiah 56: 1-8 which speaks of God’s house as a house of prayer – the name of the place I was in that day! There was a booklet in the room entitled Growing Into Silence which is produced by the Jesuit Society and it spoke about The Big Silence which had been on TV a few years ago (ordinary men and women tried out living in silence for 8 days! Very interesting programme, great viewing. You can still catch it on YouTube split into about 10 parts. Anyway I read through the book at intervals and made a list of websites and books mentioned to look up later.
Throughout the day I spent in prayer, visiting the prayer room, meditating and resting. I chose my themed for the retreat from the book On Holiday with God. The resources in this book are really good and always make me think. The book contains prayers and I used these and those from Ray Simpson’s book throughout the day.
At lunch time I sat in the dining room next to the kitchen on my own and ate my packed lunch. The building itself is beautiful. Rather full of corridors as all old buildings but some beautiful windows on the stair case, very light and airy. Do look at the ‘gallery’ on their website and you will see what I mean.
There were some books in the bedroom and I cannot pass books by without taking a look. One was by Henri Nouwen entitled With Open Hands which was all about praying and another by Thomas Merton entitled The Waters of Silence which talked about the early days of monasticism. When reading part of Henri Nouwen’s book he was talking about the busyness of life and how we are never silent. This was written in the 1970’s and now we have added mobile phones and ipods to the equation. These days we probably get up with music or TV, plug ourselves into ipods to travel to work. At work there are colleagues to chat to, emails to reply to, phones to answer etc. Lunch time it’s the canteen, pub or café and the same on the return home when we fall onto the settee to watch TV or use the computer. Where do you find that silence? It isn’t easy but it can be done. If you want it badly enough you can find it. I have found ways of getting it, though sometimes even those plans are interrupted and don’t work out. Yesterday I was lucky. I had a silent trip back to the station (without getting lost!) and when I got home no one was in. Bliss! How often does that happen to me – not much, I can tell you. I was so hungry that I cooked a quick meal for myself and almost managed to eat it without being disturbed. I didn’t use the internet or my computer at all and I managed to round off the day by night prayers in bed with Ray Simpson!
The day was peaceful and relaxed and I cherished it. For me it’s the mind I have difficulty switching off. I can go without chat, music, etc. but my mind is constantly trying to anyalise (even what I’m feeling!) but I did get there in the end even for several minutes at a time. Actually, I did much better than usual. Also I knew more or less what to expect and I had planned in advance so that I had books and paper to turn to. I thought I might write but I didn’t. I didn’t actually want to. In the afternoon the sun finally came out and the bedroom was flooded with warmth and I stretched out in my chair and enjoyed the feeling of sun on me.