From the crowded city streets to the busy town hall square, from the local village community to the crofter’s moorland cottage we find human beings going about their business. Some have travelled the short distance from home to shop to collect the family groceries, others are making a full day of it visiting big stores rarely seen. All in some way are on the move.
It is no wonder then that we often hear the phrase “I would just like some time to myself”. Let’s explore some of the words that we might use. We talk of “being alone,” of “enjoying our own company”, of “experiencing solitude”. We speak of “peace and quiet”, of “time with a good book”, of having “ an early night to catch up with sleep”, of “time to doze in a comfortable fireside chair” and many other such phrases, all of describing a state we find relaxing and enjoyable. But not all of them are equivalent.
Time ‘to myself’ can lead to loneliness unless it is directed, has some purpose, leads us somewhere. We seek to disconnect in a positive way. Being alone can offer real opportunity to make ourselves available to others, it can create a space that others can occupy without feeling obtrusive, a time to listen, a time to be. In such times, God is with us.
Too often in our noisy and cluttered world we do not listen because we cannot hear. Lost in a cacophony of sound we drift from one task to another, unablec to focus with any purpose and end up achieving very little. For some are disturbed by silence, without a background buzz, they feel uncomfortable, ill at ease. There is the evident need for rest and relaxation, taking time to care for oneself. Who cares for the carers? Nobody can give all the time without being replenished. Times of prayer are such times, when we seek renewal in the gift of God, be it in uttering of familiar phrases, the repetition of a few words or the silent attention of our stillness.
Mark, at the beginning of his gospel, tells us that early in the morning Jesus went out alone to seek a time for prayer. There is a stillness in the hours of sunrise, a stillness that encourages our body to be at rest, to be focused, a time of recollection before the work of the day. Value the gift of time to listen and to be. It’s the way of our lives now – the work we do, the transport we enjoy, the myriad facilities we take for granted. We never had so many time-saving devices and yet we never had so little time. The conundrum of our days. And how do we cope with the stress that comes from never having enough time to do the things we want to need? Open practically any paper or magazine now and you’ll find something about stress or pressure or tension. And invariably the antidote to our modern ills is some version of the same bit of advice Jesus gave his followers 2,000 years: ‘Go away to some lonely place all by yourselves and rest for a while’.
In the midst of our busy world, full of noise, movement and deadlines, we’re given some straight forward advice about making a little space, creating a still centre so that we find our bearings in the hustle and bustle of life.
But where is this ‘lonely place’ where we can get sufficient perspective to enable us to distinguish what’s important from what, relatively speaking, hardly matters at all? Where is this still centre that helps us to create a workable balance in our often crazy world? Everyone needs this ‘lonely place’. Everyone needs a periodic visit to a place of stillness, silence, solitude. We need to let life sit with us so that we can place the cares and concerns of life in a healthy context. Some people sit in a church. It’s quiet and usually empty. Some pray, others just sit in silence. Maybe just sitting there allowing the stillness to envelope us. Listening to the beat of our own hearts. Or our own breathing. Letting the thoughts come. Giving it time. Others like to go for a long walk along a beach and use the rhythm of their walking to calm the demons of distraction so that they can get outside themselves in order to view reality with more clarity and perspective.
O Lord, support us all the day long of this troublesome life, until the shades lengthen and the evening comes, the busy world is hushed, the fever of life is over and our work is done; then Lord, in thy mercy, grant us safe lodging, a holy rest, and peace at the last, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.