The two silences .. and Henri Nouwen

henri nouwen photo

Its a beautiful sunny day today , and after two busy Sunday services yesterday , I needed some ‘silence’ to attempt to still my inner voice. I had a lovely lunch with a friend, then attempted to file the ever increasing paperwork in my study. However i just kept on hearing a voice saying ‘be still’

My thoughts went to Henri Nouwen, a Catholic priest who tragically died in 1996 and is seen as great spiritual thinker of our time. He was involved with the L’Arche community, where his prayers were rooted in the ordinary things of life. He wrote many books about living in a modern secular culture and his books reflect an honesty about his experience of God. He talks about God using us ‘as channels for God’s love and grace’. He too found it a struggle to be’ silent'(  like me, as I like to chat and listen to people’s stories)

In his book ‘With Open Hands’, Nouwen reflects on prayer and silence and confirms that  there is some connection between Prayer and Silence, but if we think about silence in our lives , it seems that it isn’t always peaceful, silence can be frightening . He also highlights that  there are two silences; one frightening, where we have the busyness of the day’s activities roaring in our head; the other peaceful…the silence which is full of sounds, the wind , the leaves rustling , our own quiet breathing , the swallowing in our throat,  hearing or feeling our heart beat.”

We are invited by God to move from our noisy world into a ‘sound – filled silence’ .” “But moving further is  to achievement of inner silence, a silence of the heart.”

 “Achieving inner silence is where feelings of love and hate.tenderness and pain ,forgiveness and greed……are separated, strengthened  or reformed by Gods grace.”


Dear God

Speak gently in my silence

When the loud outer noises of my surroundings

and the loud inner noises of my fears

keep pulling me away from you .

Help me to trust that you are still there

even when I am unable to hear you.

Give me ears to listen to your small soft voice

saying  ‘Come to me all who are overburdened and I will give you rest … for I am gentle and humble of heart’’

Let that loving voice be my guide


Excepts from ‘With Open Hands Henri Nouwen

Ava Maria Press


Food and Faith


I have had the privilege to experience the hospitality from a few different cultures.

In Zambia , I sat cross-legged on the dusty ground and ate with my fingers a meal of ground cabbage and mielie meal ( a thick porridge made from ground maize) ; in Taiwan I ate a selection of fish and noodles with chop sticks , plus a delicious turtle jelly( a delicacy I understand );  in Palestine it was falafel wrap standing outside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem ; and in Jamaica it was a goat curry with mannish water( a so called’ soup’ which accompanies goat curry , made up from the carcass, tongue and eyes of the goat); and finally experienced the wonderful hospitality of a Sikh temple in Manchester , where tens of people sat and ate the food made by the women of the Sikh community .

With all these encounters and many more, food always provides a space for ‘conversation’, whether it is spoken or silent. Let me explain …

Spoken conversation can be discussing Theology; the meaning of Life; cajoling children to eat the food you have provided;  catching up with friends, or even a meeting with new colleagues to explore new ways of working (I have had a few working lunches in recent weeks with my new move). Jesus experienced many meals like this, excited chatter, intense questions and food was central to the openness and inclusive nature of this meal.

Silent conversation can be different; silence can mean you are undertaking silent retreat discovering the stillness of God and savouring the food as you eat it; silence can mean you are alone; Silence can mean you are struggling with an eating disorder; silence can mean you are eating the scraps left over from someone else’s meal; silence can mean there is no food. Jesus experienced many difficult mealtimes none more so than one night in an upper room.

There are times in our life, when eating a meal can be a wonderful experience. or it can be  challenging and painful.

Let us never expect food to be provided for us,…. yet when it is,… let us give thanks to God,… and welcome the conversation as it enfolds ….whether spoken or silent…. Let us make the experience Quality time with God

God who provides our food,

Help us to appreciate the many experiences to lay before us .

A coffee and buttered tea cake with the lonely,

A picnic in the park with family and friends

A biscuit and water with the hurting

A piece of bread with those who feel marginalized

The spoken conversation of creativity

The silent conversation of anguish

Bless us as we eat the bread and drink the wine

that sustains our faith