I was on community visitation with the Jesuits at Sevenhill this past weekend. I try to avoid such visits on weekends – apart from Sunday commitments, Jesuits are trying to rest between busy weeks, as am I. A conflict of timetables suggested this option.
To my surprise I found the weekend, while engaging and busy, refreshing. Perhaps it was the sunnier-than-usual winter weather and the pleasant company (joining the Jesuit community and a small group for Eucharist on their 30-day Ignatian retreat). There was, of course, the offer of fine meals and local wine. But I think there was also something else here on offer.
I found I became more aware of the sounds of birds, the sight of cows with their young and the occasional kangaroo. I noticed peace and quiet. No trams or trains. No traffic, sirens or peak hour traffic. Not much noise at all. The sound of silence.
I had left Melbourne a few days before with the verbal assaults between North Korea and America ringing heavy in the air. The same-sex marriage debate/plebiscite/vote was hot and polarising. Then I had an email from a Jesuit friend in Kenya mentioning the recent post-election violence. I came to Sevenhill aware of a lot of background noise.
One of Ignatius’ gifts was to encourage people to be active in the world but also to be contemplative – people who could enjoy the depths of silence as much as the heights of social engagement. A tricky balance. Without this balance of contemplation and action we can easily become either inwardly self-focussed, even narcissistic, or outwardly other-focussed and superficial. We can either withdraw from the world or we get caught up in it. I suspect that, in our ever-busy and demanding world, the latter becomes the more real possibility. We risk making quick and impulsive decisions, responses arising out of heat and emotion. We don’t take enough time to consider with care and to listen to our deeper spirit selves before responding.
I recommend the quiet and prayerful space of Sevenhill. I know that not everyone can easily access such a resource. However, it is here to remind us to treasure space, quiet and silence, to listen to and respect the deeper movements of our hearts and souls, to respond to the issues of the day with conviction but calmly and respectfully. The gift of contemplation enriches those important decisions we need to make.
Recently, the members of our Province School Councils spent a weekend at Sevenhill – a chance to withdraw and revive the contemplative aspects of their busy lives. The true test of this gift is how it feeds back into and enriches their work and family lives and indeed the schools themselves. We, living in an ever-noisy world, might wish for nothing less.
Fr Brian McCoy SJ, Provincial