Sometimes God just breaks in. That phrase, “You can’t pour from an empty cup” makes sense to me and so for Lent this year one of my commitments was to take time out. On a sunny Thursday morning I took myself to Ards Friary – for quiet time.
A few days previously a friend of mine had told me she was beginning an eight-day silent retreat in the Ignatian Centre at St Bueno’s in Wales. Part of me envied her. Another part of me wondered how she would cope with eight days of silence. I even found myself daunted at the prospect of a morning alone in Ards. There was a time when I did eight-day retreats and even a 30-day retreat but that was before being a mammy.
There is something about being a parent which leads us to think that we are responsible at all times for everything to do with our children – even when they are adults. For me, the challenge of even a morning on my own in Ards was about putting aside that sense of responsibility, putting the phone on silent and just giving some time to God and to myself.
I spent a little while in the chapel there and then took myself off for a walk. It took me about two hours to walk a distance of about a mile! I stopped, sat on a rock by the sea, wandered off the path and down to secret little coves. I noticed flowers and rocks and the sound of the waves. I thought and I prayed and eventually found myself a spot down beside a rock pool where I spent some time writing. Throughout, the lines of Psalm 131 echoed within me.
I returned to the chapel hoping that a priest would be there for Reconciliation. I was delighted to see the wonderful friar, Fr Kieran heading into the confessional. Within moments he quoted a Psalm to me – “Enough for me to keep my soul tranquil and quiet like a child in its mother’s arms, as content as a child that has been weaned.” Tears came unbidden – surprised, he asked me why, “Because that is the psalm I have been praying with all morning as I walked.” I replied. “Ah,” says he with a smile, “that is what you call serendipity or grace!”
I felt an overwhelming sense of God’s presence and felt that my decision to give myself some quiet time had been affirmed. There are times for any of us when we wonder about faith, wonder about prayer. Then there are times when God breaks in and those doubts are scattered. Those are the moments when we just know in the core of our being.
God breaks in. God surprises us and that is what Easter is all about. God breaks into the darkness of the tomb and liberates Jesus from death. God breaks in to the desolation of grief which surrounds Mary of Magdala, Peter and John in our Easter Sunday Gospel. As we will see over the Gospels in the coming weeks God continues to break in, to surprise, to overthrow doubt and fear, to liberate.
Easter reminds us that God is always greater – greater than the tomb, than our fear, than our busyness or stress, than our frustrations or fragility.
Few of us can go on eight-day silent retreats – unfortunately. We can however all give ourselves permission to take some time out. Yes, there may be a myriad of things which could or should be done but sometimes we just need to step away – even for just a little while. God is always breaking into our lives. My prayer this Easter is that we give ourselves time to notice.