Monday, 17 April 2017

Solitude, Stillness and Silence...

How many times have you looked at your phone today? No idea? Me neither. This is most likely because we check and recheck it so often that are no longer aware of how often we do it. It's become a habit maybe even an addiction and we're not alone in this.

Recently I've started thinking a lot about solitude, stillness and silence and how to find these in the midst of all the noise and distraction of modern life. Yes, even Friars are not immune to all of that. Today we are often connected to the point of distraction, disconnection and even isolation. Yet, at our very core we crave something else.

As humans we are on a life-long quest to find meaning and to find ourselves. We search, struggle and succeed in various ways. We form bonds with others, we learn from mistakes and we create so as to make our mark. We do. In all of this doing we can loose sight of our ability to just be; who we are, right now. Being with who we are can be a frightening place at times and a place we don't like to visit too often and so we keep ourselves distracted with work, tv, sports, phones, laptops...the list goes on. None of us are immune. It's a symptom of the modern world and it may also be something that's making us deeply unhappy and even unwell.

I work in a secondary school and a good amount of my time is spent teaching students the benefits of meditation. As we begin, I invite them to begin to allow stillness and silence emerge and often they look at me with a mix of puzzlement and fear. Stillness and silence can be scary and so I assure them that nobody has every been injured or harmed by a meditative stillness or silence! I often go on to explain to them that silence is different from being quiet. When we're told to be quiet we have to stop doing something that we are doing and oftentimes this forcing down of our self-expression sparks an internal noise masked by our external quietness. Of course, removing noise or an obvious distraction is a necessary first step on the road to silence however it's not the entire journey. Silence is different because silence is always present. As we begin to still ourselves and allow the internal and external noise to settle, silence emerges.

Silence and stillness may seem like an unaffordable luxury at times, yet it is quite the opposite. We need it. Our minds need it as do our souls. We need it to allow our mind process all the information we pick up every second of the day. We need it to allow our soul express its inner most longings. We need it because its an essential part of who we are. Silence and stillness are valuable commodities in today's always-switched-on-world. Yes, we need to create space but in order for us to do that, in a sustainable way, we need to recognise our deep longing for them.

Saint Francis of Assisi knew the importance of solitude, stillness and silence. He often took himself off to isolated places high in the hills to find it. Even for St Francis it was often hard to find. Even when he couldn't go to these places, Francis often covered his face with his hands or pulled his hood over his head to create a small place of solitude wherein he could allow silence emerge. He knew what was essential. He knew that silence and stillness in a place of solitude allowed him to refocus and reorientate himself so as to better respond to the needs of the brothers and those he ministered to. And it was in these places of solitude, stillness and silence that he communicate with God on a very deep and personal level. God, like silence is always present. Our job is to create the space necessary to allow His Presence emerge.

Factoring times of solitude, stillness and silence into our daily routine will benefit our well-being, relationships, ability to connect with others at a deeper level, our sleep, blood pressure, stress levels, appetite, world view and so much more. And the amazing thing is, it's already there. All we have to do, is not do...for a while. Try it. You won't be disappointed.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Set the World Alight. An Easter Reflection

The Easter Vigil is without doubt one of the most poignant and symbolic events in the entire liturgical calendar. It has everything really; fire, candles, water, darkness, light. The readings tell us the story of God’s faithfulness throughout the history of salvation. We are invited into this story because it’s our story.  The elements of fire and water contrast each other alongside darkness and light. It is a truly a feast for both our physical and spiritual senses.

The Vigil begins in darkness. The Easter fire, lit and blessed outside, becomes a light that embraces us all as it moves purposefully from candle to candle. It becomes for each of us a personal gift, a torch to light our way in whatever way we need it to. It illuminates, warms and enlightens as one candle lights another, passing on the message of hope that this great night brings.

The incredible thing is that this is happening all over the world! I’d love to see a Google Earth image that showed it, as slowly candle by candle, church by church, town by town, country by country, continent by continent the light of Easter is passed on from person to person. Incredible. That’s the power of the message of the resurrection. It has the power to illumine the entire world but for that to happen it requires us to do three things:

Firstly, it requires us to hold the message of Easter hope as something deeply sacred and valuable.

Secondly, it requires us to receive this message in such a way as to allow it to enflame our hearts, ignite our imaginations and enlighten our minds.

And finally, it requires us to pass the flame on to others; slowly, gently and compassionately so that they may receive it, value it and begin to share it.

This sacred night is a night like no other. By the time we have reached it, we have journeyed together for 40 days; reflecting, praying, trusting and stumbling along the way. We’ve encountered challenges and opportunities, joys and sorrows, compassion and pain and yet we’ve made it to this most sacred of nights.  We’ve made it to the point whereby we’ve been able to gather in safety and peace to receive this torch of hope. The challenge now is to take this torch, this light of hope and peace, and bring it into the darker places we encounter in ourselves and in the world.

Today our world is often a dark and terrifying place. Every news report testifies to this as we hear of more and more violence hatred often manifest through disregard for life, peace and our common home, the Earth. This a dynamic that can get us down. We can feel overwhelmed by it all and powerless in the face of it. This can be a lonely place to be. However, as Christians we are called to be people of hope and children of the resurrection. In truth, we are never really powerless because Christ’s resurrection has shown us that the violence, hatred and death, all too prevalent in the world, will not have the final say. Jesus has passed through all of that and has risen transformed and glorious so that we may have live in the light of hope, peace and joy.

The great spiritual writer and teacher, Ron Rolheiser OMI, remarks that in the Gospel accounts of the resurrection and post resurrection we hear of people either being told to go to Galilee or Jerusalem to meet Jesus. Apart from being geographical locationsGalilee and Jerusalem are also places of deep symbolic value in the Gospels. Galilee was the fertile place and the place of plenty. It was the place of preaching, teaching and miracles, the place where Jesus called his disciples and gathered his followers. Jerusalem on the other hand was the place of ridicule, accusation, condemnation, hatred, violence and death.

In many ways the core message of this night is that wherever we are right now be it a place of plenty or a place of darkness; Christ is there, waiting for us to meet him. Our invitation this Easter is to go, do not be afraid and, if we do, we will meet him there.

Brother Martin
(Easter Vigil Mass, Rochestown Cork, 2017)