Magnificent clouds of jacaranda are breaking in to the rush of pavement walkers as they pause, looking up in silent wonder at the breathtaking blue-purple haze above. Then, momentarily refreshed by these wondrous pools of quiet in their busy day, they hurry on.
Already shopping malls are abuzz with their commercialised pre-Christmas season frenzy. Bargains and must-have gift items cascade from department store tables as shoppers weave their way through to the sound of piped Christmas songs heightening the mood of excitement and anticipation.
All this seems a far cry from the ‘reason for the season’: our celebration of that calm, silent, holy night on which Christ the Saviour was born. In the Christmas liturgy, we read:
For while gentle silence enveloped all things,
and night in its swift course was now half gone,
thy all-powerful word leapt from heaven, from thy royal throne. (Wisdom 18:14-15).
While God is always present in the midst of our daily lives, it is in silence that we become aware of that presence and draw needed nourishment. Following the mighty wind and fire and earthquake, it was in a sound of sheer silence that Elijah knew the presence of the Lord and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave where he heard the voice of God. (1 Kings 19:12-13)
Australian Aboriginal people speak of dadirri – that ‘inner deep listening and quiet, still awareness’ which ‘recognises the deep spring that is inside us’. Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann, an elder from Daly River Northern Territory writes:
My people are not threatened by silence. They are completely at home in it. They have lived for thousands of years with Nature’s stillness. My people today, recognise and experience in this quietness, the great Life-Giving Spirit, the Father of us all.
Be still and know that I am God. The psalmist’s words have been echoed by spiritual guides throughout the ages. Mediaeval mystic Meister Eckhart wrote that ‘nothing in all creation is so like God as stillness’.
It is not beyond any of us to find moments of stillness, where we can recognise the presence of God. It could be in those moments of wonder and awe, when we are struck by the sheer beauty and magnificence of creation. Or in the intentional exercise of five minutes of quiet mindfulness allowing ourselves to receive each breath as the gift of the life-giving Spirit.
Over the past forty years movements of Christian Meditation and Centring Prayer have brought contemplative prayer into lay people’s lives. This prayer invites us to open our hearts to the silent presence of the Spirit of Jesus who prays within us (Romans 8:26). There are several Meditation Groups within the Diocese advertised in local parish bulletins.
For those looking for extended time there are opportunities for days of prayer and silence at the Schoenstatt Shrine at Mulgoa. The Good Samaritan Sisters offer a simple cabin, The Barn, in Wentworth Falls for rest and retreat. Next year, the Poor Clare Sisters will relocate from Waverley to 25 acres at North Richmond. The property has sweeping views of the Blue Mountains and plans include two self-catering hermitages for visitors who wish to be still awhile in the midst of creation.
As we prepare to make room in our lives for the coming of the Word Incarnate this Christmas, the words of the Australian poet, Noel Davis, make a beautiful Advent prayer: Let tiny drops of stillness fall gently through my day.
This article first appeared in the December 2017 print edition of Catholic Outlook.
At the request of Most Rev Vincent Long OFM Conv, Bishop of Parramatta, Catholic Outlook was printed in December 2017 to connect the Diocese and showcase the good works across the Diocese’s many agencies and ministries.