I am writing this column in mid-October, when the red and golden leaves on the hillsides are so colourful. it is as if they give a glorious visual shout of joy. You will be reading this in early December, when the leaves have fallen, and the early snows have started. There is a hush about the first snowfall, as if the land is being tucked in a blanket to sleep until spring. It is a time for silence in nature, a time to silence the busyness of the previous seasons.
Yet early December is such a busy time in our human world! It is a time of preparation for Christmas, as the stores have been reminding us since before Halloween. Usually it is a very social time of concerts and parties, of seeing friends and family, of decorating houses and baking treats. Churches are busy with Advent events and preparing the Christmas pageant. It is all so different, this second year of pandemic. Less bleak than last year, but still different, and we are all so tired of the restrictions and having to adjust to the “new normal.”
Now more than ever is when we need quiet time; time to step aside from the anxiety and the uncertainties of this pandemic. We need to recharge our batteries, to go inward, to remind ourselves of God’s presence and love for us. We need to take time to listen for that “still small voice of calm” within our souls. But that kind of mindful listening takes more than just not talking. It takes a deliberate effort to seek solitude, whether out in nature or in your own room. Sometimes it can be helpful to be with others who are also seeking that inner holy silence—perhaps you could join a meditation or contemplative prayer group. Several parishes hold Quiet Days during Advent—if there isn’t one in your community, try a neighbouring parish, or find one on-line; such as the Sisterhood of St John the Divine https://ssjd.ca/
Many of us unfortunately have suffered the loss of loved ones this year, whether through COVID, cancer, drug addiction or for other reasons. You may be feeling very much alone, and can’t or don’t want to be with others. In this busy season, we need people who will hold up others in prayer, while those others are busy rushing around; too busy to stop and listen for God’s voice. So one of the gifts of those who are alone is the gift of time to pray for others.
We can learn about holy silence from the Quakers, who use silence to ground and energize themselves, then go out and serve their neighbour. The Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier, who wrote the beloved hymn “Dear God, Compassionate and Kind,” asks God to:
“Drop thy still dews of quietness Till all our strivings cease; Take from our lives the strain and stress, and let our ordered lives confessThe beauty of thy peace. “
May that peace, and God’s blessing, be with you this Advent season