For those of us who live in Scotland, the month of August heralds the end of the summer with the children going back to school and life returning to some sort of normal. Of course many might still go away in September to avoid the crowds and the soaring heat, and some of us went away earlier in the year for the same reasons. Hopefully through these experiences we have gained some rest, seen new sights and felt the benefit of going away.
During the early part of August twelve of us from Holy Trinity are going on a specific ‘holiday’, that of a retreat to Whitchester Christian Centre in Hawick. Some may not have been on retreat before, but for some it is an annual priority.
And going on a retreat is a good thing. If you have never been, perhaps I could invite you to consider it another year. For a retreat is a time deliberately carved out of our busy lives and given over entirely to God. It is a time which is focussed on our relationship with God … it is a time when God can feel particularly close.
And of course that’s why many people, especially during the summer months come into our own church building. It’s why many of us visit Cathedrals and holy places whilst away. We are responding to our inner desire to seek out God, and we find it easier to do so in places like Lindisfarne, Iona, holy ruins and hills. Somehow God already seems to be there, waiting for us and we can feel God’s presence so much better in these places.
But actually what I find incredible is the realisation that God is not MORE present in those places than He is anywhere else. God isn’t MORE present in an Abbey than in our own living rooms, gardens or the busy High Streets of our towns and villages. God is just present. All the time. Everywhere. But I guess what is missing most of the time is our awareness. When we visit Holy Island we stop, listen, open our hearts, pray. When we’re going about our daily business our heads are full of lists, demands, commitments and worries. It’s difficult to turn to God even for a moment with the clamour that goes on in our heads most of the time. And yet that doesn’t make God any less present. That doesn’t mean that God desires our awareness any less. To make prayer truly part of life it is good to turn to God even for short moments of awareness during the day – perhaps a quick word of thanks, a short request for God’s accompaniment when facing something difficult, an intentional inclusion of God concerning the little things of life. These make such a difference.
When visiting people who have an active prayer life, I think you can sense the closeness of God in the very atmosphere of their room. Through the practice of constant awareness the space has become a ‘thin’ place in just the same way as Lindisfarne or Iona … places where heaven and earth come close.
All of our own spaces have the same potential … but it is only through heightening our awareness of God’s presence that this can happen. All it needs, perhaps, is practice!
with love, Liz