I have been thinking about quiet and stillness recently – at present some of us have a great deal of quiet, but, because of the strangeness of the times, there is no real stillness or peace in our hearts and minds – or in our souls. It reminded me of one of my favourite pieces of writing – one which I used at a ‘Mix at Six’ service just before the first Lockdown; I make no apology for using it again but I will need to precis!

It is from a book called ‘School for Prayer’, written by a former Greek Orthodox Archbishop, Anthony Bloom. As a young priest, he was asked by an elderly lady how she could pray better. She said she had sought advice from many more experienced priests, but they had not helped; she hoped that his youth and inexperience might lead him to blurt out some new truth, not encouraging! She said ‘These fourteen years I have been praying the Jesus Prayer almost continually, and never have I perceived God’s presence at all’

The Archbishop told her to go to her room after breakfast, to put it right, then to place her chair in a place where she would see no distractions. She should light her lamp before her icon (this was a Greek Orthodox lady), look carefully at her room, then pick up her knitting

‘and for fifteen minutes knit before the face of God, but I forbid you to say one word of prayer. You just knit and try to enjoy the peace of your room.’

Later, he records what the old lady said.

‘…after a while, I remembered that I must knit before the face of God, and so I began to knit. And I became more and more aware of the silence. The needles hit the arm rest of my chair, the clock was ticking peacefully, there was nothing to bother about, I had no need of straining myself, and then I perceived that this silence was not simply an absence of noise, but that the silence had substance. It was not the absence of something but presence of something. The silence had a density, a richness, and it began to pervade me. The silence around began to come and meet the silence in me … All of a sudden I perceived that the silence was a presence. At the heart of the silence there was Him who is all stillness, all peace, all poise.’

God promises that he will never leave us nor forsake us, but sometimes, when the going gets hard, we make it very difficult for ourselves to find Him. I hope this may help – and if, like me, knitting is not for you, just try sitting and listening to the clock!

[Jo Spray]