There is a small hilltop village called Monagri, near Limassol in Cyprus.
Inside Monagri’s plain little church, I experienced a special silence in this sacred space.
Gazing at an ancient painting of Madonna and child, their patrician faces expressing calm serenity, as I breathed in a hint of incense from years and days past, I felt that here I was in a truly spiritual place.
Though the painting was ornate with gold leaf, the overall simplicity of its message shone through.
There is no greater unconditional exchange of love than that which exists between mother and child. The continuum of daughters becoming mothers and their daughters in turn carrying on the blended family groups that are created line upon line is our history; it is our past, present and future.
I lit a slender tallow candle and set it amongst a few others in the simple container of sand. The flame flickered in the still air and the smoky scent drifted up my silent prayers to the ceiling and beyond.
The silence was absolute.
Silent is an anagram of listen.
In the silence, I listened.
In the stillness I heard … only peace.
Though it was a sunny summer’s day outside, my thoughts turned to Mary and Joseph’s December journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem and I considered how challenging it must have been for them to travel blindly across unfamiliar land.
Their Satnav was the sun, moon and stars, their signposts were words of knowledge shared by others who had travelled the road before them. They did not learn through the artificiality of electronic media, they learned through word of mouth and story-telling. All they would have heard at night was the sound of the wind and the darkness would not have been polluted by artificial light, but broken by the starry sparkle of the planets and constellations.
They completed their arduous journey just in time to bring new life into the world, calmly, without fuss and with none of the science-based trappings of medicalised birth that have become the norm, at least in the west.
It was just Mary and Joseph and the grace of God.
The arrival of Jesus is the true miracle of Christmas, the annual reminder through the nativity story representing the basis of it all; it is all too easy to lose sight of this simplicity in the materialism that we have come to accept as being intrinsic to our Christmas.
Sometimes we need to pare down to the nub to get to the profound truth, and the message of Christmas is no exception.
It is virtually impossible for us to find silence today, with the clamour of everyday life ruling our every move. From the electronic tones of our mobile phones to the cacophony of different tunes in every store in the shopping mall, we are constantly surrounded by man-made noise. Our devices talk to us, our computers bleep at us, even our household appliances beep and flash lights at us. At night, even when all the lights are out, there is a subtle hum of background noise that never seems to stop. It often feels as though it is beyond our control.
My moment of silence in Cyprus was precious for its rarity and its ability to stop me in my tracks and connect ahead of time with the Christian message of the festive season. Discovering the purity of that moment’s silence in that sacred space, feels to me like a Divine connection. In birth there is joy, in life there is challenge, in loss there is the hardest trial, but love transcends everything, and the true meaning of Christmas is there for us to access if we want, and to share in the greatest love of all.
I am reminded of the start of Desiderata: Go placidly amid the noise and haste and remember what peace there may be in silence.
With love to all this festive season; may you seek and find your silence and your peace.