Be quiet before the Lord
by an anonymous Friend of St Beuno's
In May 2008 I was directed towards a place of pure beauty and tranquillity. Here I was to enter and experience a world of silence and spiritual enrichment. Set in a beautiful terraced garden with a panoramic view facing the north coast of Wales, this was the place where I was to spend the next three days and nights.
I remember that I experienced a sense of bewilderment, wonder and amazement that first day as I began to explore my surroundings – listening to the birds and inhaling the fresh air. In my wanderings, I found a beautiful grotto dedicated to Mary, the Mother of God. Venturing further across the fields, I also discovered a tiny chapel, perched high on a rock. I approached it from a small wood, scented with wild garlic. Once inside I found paintings of the seasons on its four walls, each telling an appropriate legend for that particular time of year. A place conducive to prayer, I knelt in front of its equally tiny altar where an open bible was displayed. I experienced utter peace. The sunset that evening was breath-taking.
This very special spiritual centre claimed as its own, and most famous, son, the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. Here more than a century before, he trained as a priest and wrote some of his most well-known poems. He, like many others in the long years since, was completely captivated by creation in this place of outstanding beauty.
What did I ‘do’ during these three special days of peace and solitude? Firstly, I needed to adjust both my mind and my body. I had to relax and ‘do’ nothing, in order to experience everything, through complete self-awareness. This meant becoming aware of my breathing, my heartbeat, my energy (or lack of it), my thoughts and feelings: how I was in the immediate present. Paradoxically, finding myself ‘doing nothing’, after being used to a hectic lifestyle, induced extreme fatigue! I found myself nodding off or easily losing concentration, especially in a praying situation though also at other times!
As the days progressed I did adjust, however, both physically and mentally. I learnt how to switch off to worldly cares and troubles and to simply bathe in the presence of God’s Spirit. Once found, I wanted this euphoria to last forever!
‘Lord, teach me how to pray,’ many of us ask. Difficulties in communicating with God are experienced by everyone, even the apparent ‘experts’ in prayer. As was explained to me during my retreat, imagery can sometimes be a powerful way of connecting with God. Take, for example, the contemplation of significant events in Christ’s life and teaching: I can imagine myself listening to Jesus delivering the Beatitudes. I am actually there, in the crowd, listening intently to this amazing, charismatic preacher.
At another time and at another, perhaps deeper, level, I can visualise myself at the foot of the cross, watching Jesus die. I watch, perhaps as a curious bystander. I look into his eyes and see his suffering – and at the same time, see his compassion and humanity. I ask myself, How do I feel? How do I react? In this way I enter into prayer.
Eventually the day came for me to leave this idyllic, spiritual place of learning. I left after breakfast having attended early morning Eucharist. When I was, unexpectedly, addressed by name by the priest offering me the Sacrament, I felt uncontrollable warm tears trickling down my face. He had been my spiritual guide over those days. He cared.
I drove away slowly that morning as if in a trance. Yet at the same time I felt on a ‘high’. Life’s colours appeared brighter! I stopped on the way home at Eglwys Crist near Lake Bala. As I looked up, I read, above the archway, ‘O Worship the Lord in the Beauty of Holiness.’ How apt, I thought. Something very special was happening to me.