by Julia Warrell
Imagine a place of peace and contemplation. A beautiful garden, with a view that stretches for ever and ever out towards the mountains and the sea.
Imagine the colours – green predominates – the blueness of the sky is heavenly, and at sunset, the most exquisite ball of fire slowly vanishes beyond the horizon. Another day dawns to the smell of fresh grass and the wake-up call of the birds.
There is yet another dimension to this place of pure delight and calm, apart from the green pastures. Imagine a wood bursting with bluebells in spring, and wild garlic – the combination of scent and smell is intoxicating! What comes to mind is heaven, or perhaps, the Elysian Fields, the home of the blessed after death: a place of ideal happiness as perceived by the ancient Greeks.
Gerard Manley Hopkins, the Jesuit priest and poet, loved this place. Here he was inspired to write some of his greatest works. He imagined the steep steps, which ascend from the bottom of the garden to the very top, to be the staircase to heaven. Turn around and the ‘kingdoms of the world’ are there before you!
There is something very special in the experience of silence, solitude and aloneness – the latter being very different from loneliness. We can choose to be silent, solitary and alone but sometimes, loneliness can be foisted on us not by choice.
Imagine a group of like-minded people who choose to retreat silently from the world for a time, for whatever reason; they can experience a unique closeness and bonding. This can manifest itself in a cursory glance, a smile or a simple gesture. Individually they can discover the ‘I am’ part of their being and, through silence, prayer and meditation, come to know themselves better, and God, at a deeper level.
In the words of Henry Nouwen: ‘Solitude, indeed, is the place of the great encounter, from which all other encounters derive their meaning. In solitude we meet God – we take some distance from the many opinions and ideas of our fellow human beings and become vulnerable to God. We enter into His presence, naked, vulnerable, open and receptive.’
This is a place of peace and contemplation, real or imaginary.