I live in the centre of London. By many standards my neighbourhood could be considered to be a quiet area, though not by reputation. You might be surprised to discover that it’s possible to find peace in King’s Cross.
As I open my window, I can hear the sounds of children calling across an adventure playground, a faint construction rumble and the occasional goods train in the distance. Visitors often remark on how quiet it is, possibly expecting bass booming, arguments and constant traffic. I can’t compete with the countryside, but for urban living, this is the quiet life. I’ve also noticed that as the years advance, access to silence seems to becoming an essential in my day-to-day life.
However extrovert one might be, everybody can benefit from times of silence. If your experience is anything like mine you will have found that unless time is protected, it is always edged out, as a “nice-to have”. Our culture’s over-reliance on external stimulation is well documented and impacts us all.
Many of us are exhausted from information overload and the pressure to constantly form and articulate an opinion on all matters that come across our screens. As a smartphone user, I know this only too well. We are desperate for some space to reconnect away from the clamour. It would seem others are realising this and are on their own journeys of discovery, finding practices that help lead to stillness, as the growth of the practice of mindfulness demonstrates.
[x_blockquote cite=”” type=”left”]Jesus’ invitation: “Come away with me to a quiet place” in Mark 6, appeals to many of us in our desire for peace and a more centred way of living. Yet, it can be difficult to find a way to access this. [/x_blockquote]
In the last few years, there has been a growth in interest in a particular approach to prayer that participants report offers that promised sense of peace.
Contemplative prayer, or centring prayer, as it is often known, offers both the opportunity for stillness and a deep spiritual connection. As a practice that has been buried on the fringes of church for many years, groups that meet together to pray like this are growing. This process of silent prayer focuses on being present before God, rather than offering thoughts and requests to God.
Instead, this approach reminds us that we are in the presence of God at all times. Using a simple anchor word, and focusing on the rhythm of our breath, this practice offers a period of silence, whether alone or in a group to find a centre and still the mind.
As somebody who has been practicing this method of prayer for a few years now, I can attest that it is “caught and not taught”. It seems that many who find it have reached a stage in their life where they are hungry for greater silence and connection.
I sought out a group of Christians that practise this way of praying, meeting weekly to keep up with the discipline. When I started, a friend came up with the winning quip: ‘It sounds a lot better than sitting around doing nothing.’
Those leading the group recognised the benefit to the community sharing the practice. Over time, the positive impact, both emotionally and physiologically, became apparent. The weekly sessions extended their welcome to all, regardless of belief. The heart of prayer of the community became a place to welcome others in, as the group became an oasis for city workers and those beyond.
Whilst some were grateful for quiet space in a stressful working week, others have embarked on a faith journey through this unforced encounter with God, welcomed into the space by others in community.
Either way, contemplative prayer offers strong example of practice rooted in the Christian tradition that offers a rich gift both to the community of faith and beyond. If you’ve never tried this approach, and want to know more, you can find a starter guide on the Contemplative Outreach website here.
[x_blockquote cite=”” type=”left”]Whether you’re living in a field, or on a housing estate, the chance to be present in the quiet before God is open to all. [/x_blockquote]
Corin Pilling is Assistant Director of Community Engagement. Prior to supporting churches connect with their communities at Livability, he worked on projects to help homeless people progress into employment. He lives in King’s Cross where he attends a small church on a large estate.