We have started a new “service” at St Peter and St John’s Church. I use the word “service” loosely because it’s more of “space” really, or in fact several ‘Still Spaces’.
Still Spaces at seven o’clock on Sunday evening was chosen to be a deliberately alliterative title to help anyone remember when it happens. But the double meaning of Still Spaces was accidental and only dawned on me later. Yes, there are ‘Still Spaces’ in the Kingdom of God for all comers: the complicated, the confused or the confident.
We wanted to create the opportunity for people to simply come in and be in a beautiful worship space, in the context of prayer but with as few words as possible and as much peace and space as possible.
‘The contemplative tradition of the Christian faith comes to us as a precious gift in an age when no one has the time to sit still. It comes as a medicine to a church culture obsessed with trends, efficiency, techniques and bullet-point results. It is about trusting unashamedly that God desires our presence more than our activity’. (Mark Yaconelli Contemplative Youth Ministry – brilliant book)
The current jargon word you will hear much more frequently is ‘mindfulness’ which may be described as cultivating the art of being in the moment, living with an enhanced awareness of and gratitude for everyday gifts: food, beauty, well-being etc. There is much to recommend mindfulness and much that links it with the much more ancient art of Christian meditation. I suppose mindfulness might described as me reviewing and savouring my life on my own whereas meditation is the contemplation of who I am and how I am in connection with the one who created me, calls me and loves me.
John Ortberg’s book Soul-Keeping which I have reviewed elsewhere ( http://wp.me/pOEoK-us) gives a helpful contrast between mindfulness and meditation, although he doesn’t use those words. Our modern world centres around the ‘self’ not the soul, he says. The self is a ‘stand alone, do it yourself unit’ but the soul ‘reminds us that we were not made for ourselves’. All of us also have an outer life ‘our accomplishments, work, reputation, possessions, responsibilities and an inner life – our thoughts, hopes, fears, dreams. This inner life wins no applause and although unseen, is much more deeply in control of us than most of us care to admit. Silence, contemplation, meditation or mindfulness, whatever you want to call it is a key part of having a flourishing inner life regardless of how busy or turbulent your public life’
You are not merely a ‘self’, you are a ‘soul’ and the difference is that a ‘soul’ is not alone, we attend to our souls when we examine our inner life in the light of the fact that we were created to know God, not to be self-sufficient.
Our souls become fatigued and weary when we are attacked daily by information over-load, constant communication and interaction with others, when we carry around mental lists of tasks and errands and obligations all of which can leave us pushing unpleasant emotions down below the surface of our lives which will eventually lead to the unpleasant feeling that we are trying to stay afloat whilst simultaneously holding a beach ball under water.
Blaise Pascal (18th Century French Mathematician/philosopher) said ‘I have discovered that all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they are unable to stay quietly in their own room’.
CS Lewis in his book The Screwtape Letters, a fictional series of letters between a senior demon, Screwtape, to a junior demon, Wormwood, has Screwtape advise his junior as to what will most hinder a flourishing life of faith ‘make sure you keep people as far from the present moment as possible. Get them to dwell on their past or focus on their future, but whatever you do, do not let them be in the present. The present moment is one our worst enemies, for it is the closest thing to eternity people will ever experience and it where God has the most opportunity to influence them’.
So our Still Spaces ”service” is designed to create that space. We gather in silence and begin with a very brief introduction to the theme – there is a loose theme that links the three elements. Then we listen to a piece of music. We aim to listen intently and ‘get lost’ in listening as a way of stilling our minds. The reflection in the first ten minute stillness that follow can be an inward movement, a bringing of ourselves to God just as we are: an embracing acceptance of all that is both good and bad about how we are at that moment.
Then we listen to a reading. In the second stillness our reflection might have an upward focussed as we think about how being in the presence of God informs or changes how and who we are.
Finally we have a prayer focus. This might be a visual image, a symbolic action such as lighting a candle, or it might involve writing or drawing. Here we turn our thoughts outward, beyond our own needs to the needs of our world and of those we love and carry in our hearts. Sometimes we draw this together with a prayer said together, the words of which are provided.
The whole thing is about 40 minutes long and closes with a prayer of blessing. The opportunity for brief private prayer is offered but most people leave quietly carrying the stillness with them as if it were a precious gift into the week ahead.
So if you’d like to experience some peace and quiet in a beautiful (and warm) worship space where no one will hassle you and no one will know if you don’t know what you are doing or why you are even there…. you are very welcome.
(My original inspiration for this style of service came from Rev Mary Lodge who has been runningsomething very similar for some time once a month at St Michael Budbrooke, down in the South of the county. For links to how find our service – go to http://www.peterjohnchurch.weebly.com and look up Still Spaces and how to find us)