As part of our gradual reopening of the Chapel, on Thursday fiive of us met for the Prayer Circle – the first gathering in the Chapel for 4 months. It felt good to be back in this peaceful space with others – but also strange, not be able to greet each other with a hug and having to sit 2m apart! During the prayer practice we expressed gratitude for family, friends, neighbours, shop staff, clean air, singing birds and Zoom – counting our blessings amidst lockdown. And we lit candles – for Chapel folk, family and friends, and those we know who are unwell or in need. Praying together felt a good way to begin the slow reopening of the Chapel. I was reminded of the power of sitting in silence with like-minded others in this peaceful space, with the intention of tapping into the stillness that resides within each of us, below the surface distractions and the changing ‘weather’ of our minds. And I was reminded of the hundreds of others before us, who since the Chapel’s opening in 1789, have sat in this same space – gaining solace and comfort – through 2 world wars and other times of national, social and personal upheaval. Many people on entering the Chapel speak of how peaceful it is, and when I sit there in silence, I sometimes feel as though the very walls are imbibed with the goodwill of all who have met and prayed there over 2 centuries. 4 months is (as far as I know) the longest this Chapel has remained closed since its beginnings, and whilst Zoom has served us well (and will continue to serve us for some time to come), it was good to be able to open the Chapel doors to folk once more.
This past week I took time out to walk around Broadwater Lake in Godalming and drank in the tranquillity of the gently rippling water. At times the lake was almost still – mirror like – as it reflected clearly the trees, sky and clouds. Other times, as the wind blew over the water, or as ducks and geese swam across, these reflections were broken up.
The mirror-like quality of a still lake was noted by Henry David Thoreau – the 19th c. American writer who went to live in a hut in a wood, near Walden pond for 2 years. This is part of his description:
“On such a day, in September or October, Walden is a perfect forest mirror, set round with stones…precious to my eye… Nothing so fair, so pure, and at the same time so large, as a lake…lies on the surface of the earth. Sky water. It needs no fence. Nations come and go without defiling it. It is a mirror which no stone can crack, whose quicksilver will never wear off, whose gilding Nature continually repairs; no storms, no dust, can dim its surface ever fresh;- a mirror in which all impurity presented to it sinks, swept and dusted by the sun’s hazy brush…which retains no breath that is breathed on it…”
The lake is a good analogy for the human mind; sometimes calm and still – and able to reflect clearly the reality of things; other times, stirred up and fragmented. And one thing I’ve found helpful in dealing with anxious thoughts (especially during covid times!) is a meditation practice based on the image of a lake. When the winds of desire or fear blow, our mind – like a wind-swept lake – becomes disturbed. Thoughts like pebbles thrown into a lake create ripples which spread outwards. In meditation people sometimes try to stop fractious thoughts by force. But it can’t be done – just as you can’t stop the surface ripples or flatten the waves on a lake. Rather, we sit in stillness even as the weather stirs up the ‘water’ – knowing this too will pass. And as our body become still – so in time the mind will settle, and we get a glimpse into the calmer depths of our being. And with our minds still, we gain a clearer picture of reality – just as a still lake shows a true reflection of things.
As the Taoist saying puts it, “We cannot see our reflection in running water. It is only in still water that we can see.”
So may we in the coming days, whatever the surface weather of our lives, find still waters.
In faith and hope, Sheena