And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed.  {Mark 1:35}

IMG_2172The bright March sunlight looked inviting as it reflected off patches of crusted snow, but a glance at the temperature gauge bore evidence that looks were deceiving – eighteen degrees. I hesitated as I started to pull on my insulated overalls. I looked down at my kitchen floor which desperately needed mopping and thought about all the tasks I thought needed to be done before the end of the day. Lingering there, I almost talked myself into staying inside and tackling housework, but the bright sunshine and the quiet stillness of the morning also tugged on my heart and for a few moments I was torn between duty and desire.

At last I quickly pulled on my overalls, grabbed my heavy jacket and headed out the door into the bright sunshine and cold stillness of early spring. I had no plan of action except to seek out the silence and solitude of a country morning and allow myself some time to walk and pour out my overloaded heart to my Lord. As I walked and prayed, the quiet beauty of the morning reminded me of the abundant blessings that are mine and all that I have to be thankful for. And while my petitions turned to praise, the burdens that have weighted heavy on my heart lightened.  IMG_2173

I may have longed for stillness and solitude, but like the hymn writer who penned the words, “I come to the garden alone,” I was not really seeking complete solitude but I was seeking to quiet my empty heart so that it could once more be filled with the calm assurance of His presence.

The tranquility of that cold morning was heavy with the ‘weight of glory’- to borrow a phrase from C.S. Lewis – and I returned from my morning walk refreshed and renewed for the tasks that lay before me. Although there was much to do and the demands on my time seemed overwhelming, I felt I had chosen what was better that morning – a difficult decision for my Martha personality. I reminded myself that sometimes the most important task may not seem important at all in a society driven by accomplishment, but a prayerless life is a powerless life.

IMG_2180It has been two weeks since I stepped out for a walk on that cold spring morning and today as I again step out the door and into the spring sunshine, I marvel at how much the landscape has changed in just two short weeks. I am also amazed that two weeks have passed since I last took a moment to enjoy the silence and solitude of a quiet walk, especially since there have been seasons in my life in which morning walks were almost a daily occurrence. And while I try not to question whether ‘former days were better than these’ or wish for days gone by, I am thankful for those seasons when silence and solitude were more abundant for it is the sweetness of those times that compel me to put desire before duty.

As I desperately struggle to make time for those quiet moments, I am reminded of Brother Lawrence who so practiced keeping his mind and thoughts set on his savior that he was able to say, “The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.” (The Practice of the Presence of God)

Oh that I would practice keeping my thoughts focused on my Savior to the extent that my prayers spoken over dishes and laundry would be filled with the same adoration and praise and would leave me with the same great tranquility as those whispered in my garden.

But I remind myself that Brother Lawrence trained his thoughts to stay fixed on his savior in silence and solitude as he practiced what he called ‘staying in the presence of God’ and he did not abandon his times of quiet prayer but like our Savior continued to spend time in quiet solitude.  And while some people are by nature more comfortable with their own thoughts and seek out solitude more often than others, I think learning to quiet our thoughts and be content in silence is a skill that is developed with practice. And it is a skill many of us desperately need, for it is often only during those quiet moments that we are able to really reflect on God’s blessings in our lives and His abundant grace towards us, and it is in the silence that we most often hear Him speak to our hearts as we reflect on His word and pour forth our prayers.

Although I am thankful for modern technology that allows us to stay connected to family and friends in ways unavailable to previous generations and provides us with all types of information, music, and entertainment almost anytime and anywhere, I am thankful I was born before the age of instant technology. When I think back to the many hours I have spent in the company of my own thoughts and delighting in the fascinating wonders of nature, I mourn for those who may have never really heard the sound of silence.

For although we were created for fellowship with one another, our hearts were also created for fellowship with our creator and I think it is most often in solitude that we recognize our heart’s longing for that fellowship. As the psalmist proclaims in Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God…” It is when we are still and quiet that we usually seek to commune with the One who knows us better than we know ourselves, and prayer seems to naturally fill those quiet moments. And while God may speak to us in any number of ways, He is often heard loudest in those quiet moments we spend alone. When the Lord spoke to Elijah 1 Kings 19, He was not heard in the wind, or the earthquake, or the fire, but rather it was a still, small, voice that spoke to Elijah.

Of course, The Lord may speak to us at any time and in many ways, and we can pray anywhere and anytime – and we should – but it is difficult to embrace the companionship of our Savior if there is the constant prattle of noise ever about us unless we have first learned to attune ourselves to His presence. And perhaps if we first learn to hear that gentle whisper of the Holy Spirit in silence when He seems to speak the loudest, then we too might be able to ‘possess God in great tranquility’ amidst the noise and clatter of a busy life.