The Revd.

Matthew J Hughes

01689 856931

Associate Rector   

The Revd.
Stephen Broadie
 01689 852843

Assistant Priest  

The Revd.

Bill Mullenger

020 8462 9624


March Leader

Last year I picked up a book by Sara Maitland called 'A Book of Silence(1)'. The author was, by her own description, 'a yakker', a lover of conversation, and an author. However, later in life, having converted to Catholicism, she felt increasingly drawn towards silence. The book describes her own '40 days and 40 nights' spent in a quiet cottage on the Isle of Skye, off the coast of Scotland. In one memorable passage the author reflects that the very same things that are the necessary conditions for a silent retreat are also known under different circumstances as 'sensory deprivation'. Moreover, where sensory deprivation has been caused, for example, by solitary confinement, the experience of silence has been described as 'terrifying' or 'confusing'.

This seemed quite different from Maitland's own experience of silence as overwhelmingly positive, leading her into new depths of spirituality and creativity. She reflects on the stark differences between these two experiences: 'I now believe that the strongest determining factor in whether a silence ends up feeling positive or negative is whether or not it was freely chosen.' To have something forcibly taken away from you for 40 days can produce a reaction of high anxiety, stress, or even anger. It seems hard to imagine how such an event could in any way bring you nearer to God. On the other hand, to choose of your own free will to go without something for 40 days is quite different.

Choosing to go without speaking (in Sara Maitland's case), or perhaps coffee, or even Facebook (in our case), can be a very positive experience. As I freely make this choice, I am able to observe how my body, mind, and spirit will react, and to learn from these observations. When I become aware of headaches provoked by lack of caffeine, or of my own fidgeting when I can no longer check Facebook, I am led to question myself. Why am I so fidgety? What is it that has caused me to become so dependent on one substance that my head aches when I go without it? Because these deprivations are of our own choice, we are open to the lessons that they offer us.

If Sara Maitland's observations are correct, a key element of the Lenten fast is that it is freely chosen. 'Lent is not a static season, but a dynamic one as it moves resolutely towards the cross and the resurrection(2)'. I do not put down this bar of chocolate, and then stand next to it for 40 days, stuck in the same spot, waiting to pick it up again. I put down this bar of chocolate, and then let the impulses, the reactions, the disturbances of my own body move me. The prayer is that they will move me into a place of deeper self-knowledge and, ultimately, knowledge of God. For Jesus his own time in the desert caused him to reach deep within himself, and to draw on resources that he had perhaps not used till then, as he battled temptation (Luke 4:1-13). When this time was over, we read that 'Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit' (Luke 4:14).

If we feel able to freely give something up for Lent, may we too find this time moving us towards the cross and resurrection, to return at Easter 'in the power of the Spirit'.

1 S. Maitland, 'A Book of Silence', (Granta, 2008)
2 M. Perham, 'New Handbook of Pastoral Liturgy', (SPCK, 2000), p.228




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February Service Rota
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