Moments of great calm, Kneeling before an altar Of wood in a stone church In summer, waiting for the God To speak; the air a staircase For silence; the sun’s light Ringing me, as though I acted A great rôle. And the audiences Still; all that close throng Of spirits waiting, as I, For the message. Prompt me, God; But not yet. When I speak, Though it be you who speak Through me, something is lost. The meaning is in the waiting.
“Waiting, silence, revelation” Mthr Carys writes – these sum up this powerful meditative poem. It speaks to me of personal experience – because I have been there, in my own case in a small thatched country church in north Suffolk. I shall never forget those silent moments when the shafts of sunlight caught the flecks of dust and pollen in the air. I have never been able tell anyone more than I have just written, and know why – whatever I said would lose the numinous, that inner knowing that I was seen: the meaning was in the moment and in the silence.
When I tested my vocation as a nun, we used to have sessions of silent meditation, and afterwards the tutor would talk to us of the quality of the silence of a group. There was much nodding and agreement. I saw what they meant – but for me it was not the same as that moment in Suffolk, or the equivalent I have had in Walsingham and a few other places. That moment, that time of knowing that I am known even as I know. That sense of tuning into the eternal, being part of that “great cloud of witnesses”, which Thomas encapsulates here, is not to be put into words without loss.
The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us – and this poem is filled with references to the physicality of the church – and this plucks us away from the dangers of dividing the flesh from the spirit – one of the most ancient of heresies. We are grounded in the wood and the stone, we are flesh – and within that flesh we can rise to heaven as we sit in silence and wait. Turning thence back into the world where the Word made Flesh pitched his tent can be like staggering back into darkness after light. I recall feeling cold, disorientated, even lonely. It felt like exile. I had, have still, a longing to be back in that space. At Advent we wait – “Come Lord Jesus come.”