Waiting is something our society discourages. The old ‘I want it now’ syndrome has morphed to ‘I want it five minutes ago, and now I want this and this and that instantly’. Noise is relentless. It was Thomas Merton (I think) who said that the modern world was a conspiracy against having an interior life. This I realised only when I got ill – or to be accurate, when I got to recuperation – hospital being one of the noisiest places I’ve ever been; someone should tell hospitals that silence aids recovery. I got, and still get, plenty of that where i am. There is a computer, I know, I use it once a week, but it uses some strange word-processing system which effectively cuts you off even when on it. The medics advised complete rest, and that was what I got. From being incredibly busy at work (as any teacher will tell you, it does not stop when you leave work) and then plunging into the whirlywind of social media and blogging there was – silence, nothing, nada, silence. Even reading – always my joy – tired me, and my eyes ached (it turned out I needed new reading glasses, but no one thought of that at the time). There was lots and lots of quietness.
I waited: waited for my health to return; waited to see what the doctors would say; waited to see what would happen to my life; waited even to see whether I would have a life. My nurses were kind, but they were not only nurses, they had other things to do and had been told I needed time, space and silence; they gave it me. So what to do with it? For some reason, probably the truama, my mind could not dwell on my illness – it still can’t. I had come to terms with the idea of dying, and that had ceased to worry me. I was not willing to have the treatment recommended, and if death was to come now, then so be it. That cleared my mind. I slept a lot – a huge amount, more than I thought anyone could sleep; whole clumps of days vanished – because they were non-events. I was told later that my nurses would pop in, make sure I was still breathing, and then leave me to it.
The silence allowed space, space allowed time, and time seemed, as it is, endless. The one constant was prayer, and prayer became deeper and longer and stronger. I love praying the Holy Rosary, have since I was a little girl, and it was my mainstay in terms of prayer. Instead, though, of having to pack it into a crowded schedule (never could quite do it at the start of the day and it often ended up being fitted in in the late evening), it became the day – my mind could wander through the scenes against which the various Mysteries were set.
My favourite has always been the Joyful Mysteries, and in praying the Annunciation, my mind conjured up how it might have been for that young girl – how it might have felt. That fearlessness which allowed her to speak to the Angel, that obedience which allowed her to speak when her cousin’s husband had been struck dumb – so much we can’t know with our reason, so much we can intuit in prayer. So it opened me out to the wonders of obedience, to surrender, to quiet, prayerful acceptance of whatever God’s will might be. Things fell away, and the vision remained of the Lady, the one via whom my prayers to God were channelled. Not because I couldn’t pray to God – I could, did and I do – but because she was my ‘Lady’, she was my friend. ‘Imaginary friend’ some might say. In that quiet solitude she was there – faith believes, nor questions how, but long prayerful experience knows things in a way that science cannot – it is like knowing what beauty is when you are in its presence, except this is a person, not an abstraction. In the long hours of silence there was time to hear that still small voice. As my beloved T.S. Eliot put it in Burt Norton:
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present
I waited, and it was not in vain. So may it be for us all this Advent my dear friends.