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Holy Space, Heart Space

Feeling a little frazzled, I recently took myself off for a walk to the beautiful modern chapel at Ripon college, the Anglican theological centre at Cuddesdon, close to our home in Oxford. A year ago, on a similar visit, I had found a copy of ‘Etched by Silence’ – a selection of poems by the priest and poet R. S. Thomas - lying on one of the pews. Sitting now with a copy of my own, I flipped it open at random and settled on the poem ‘In Church’.

In it, Thomas describes sitting in the empty church, after the service has ended and everyone has left, as the silence and shadows return to take up their interrupted vigil. In the silence before the empty cross, his questions beg answers under the still ribs of the wooden roof – a building no longer animated by the practice of our liturgies. Always more questions than answers, but all while patiently waiting and listening into the silence for the hoped-for word.  

Later that afternoon, I was in the kitchen preparing the evening meal while our teenage son, Joshua, sat at the table eating – something of a present continuous process for Josh! I asked him a question as I worked but received no answer. I turned my head a little and asked again over my shoulder. Still no response, so I turned to face him just as he looked up and, taking a small Bluetooth headphone out of one ear, he asked me, ‘Were you saying something?’ I, with (I suspect) a roll of my eyes, asked my question again and we chatted about whatever it was.

That night, as I was dropping off to sleep, my mind brought the two incidents together and I instantly saw myself in Josh’s place – sitting with the earphones of my daily life clamped firmly over the ears of my heart: emails, work, shopping, the family, the parish, travel planning, how to work the allotment this year… my own present continuous process rolling noisily around my head and heart.  

In that moment I committed to making space to practice lifting the headphones of my daily life from the ears of my heart and, turning to God, asking the question, ‘Were you saying something?’ And to wait and listen into the silence for the words that have been washing over me like signals without a receiver all this time.

  Geoff O'Donoghue




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