“Dear Child of God, all of us are meant to be contemplatives. Frequently we assume that this is reserved for some rare monastic life, lived by special people who alone have been called by God. But the truth of the matter is that each one of us is meant to have that space inside where we can hear God’s voice. God is available to all of us. God says, “Be still and know that I am God.” Each one of us wants and needs to give ourselves space for quiet. We can hear God’s voice most clearly when we are quiet, uncluttered, undistracted — when we are still. Be still, be quiet, and then you begin to see with the eyes of the heart.
One image that I have of the spiritual life is of sitting in front of a fire on a cold day. We don’t have to do anything. We just have to sit in front of the fire and then gradually the qualities of the fire are transferred to us. We begin to feel the warmth. We become the attributes of the fire. It’s like that with us and God. As we take time to be still and to be in God’s presence, the qualities of God are transferred to us.”
— from God Has a Dream by Desmond Tutu
While some manner of meditation and prayer has been part of my life since early childhood, it was not until 2004 that I incorporated contemplation into my life deeply. That was actually a very tough year, in many ways, but a bright spot was the preparation of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ magnificent cantata Dona Nobis Pacem, which Coventry Choir prepared for several months and then offered at our Lenten Evensong.
I am almost always conscious of God’s presence while making music, but that Dona Nobis Pacem was one of those few-in-a-lifetime transcendent mountaintop experiences. I can still bring myself back to that 2004 evensong, conducting choir and orchestra — a feeling of incomparable unity and timelessness. It was as if I were not conducting, but that a spirit larger than all imagining was working through me.
That spring, there were many small groups formed to study Desmond Tutu’s book, God Has a Dream. I led a study of that book with about 15 members of Coventry Choir, who also had mystical experiences at that evensong and wanted to explore that together. Through that book study, my meditation and prayer life deepened immensely, and the above quote from the archbishop took on great meaning and profound inspiration.
I found the image of “sitting in front of a fire on a cold day” to be attractive, and for a period of time I tried that every morning — in a relaxed position on the sofa in front of the gas fireplace. The tangible nature of the qualities of the fire being transferred to me led me to a stillness of being in God’s presence, and as I began to practice this meditation on a daily basis, I found myself in an increased consciousness and communion with God. Over time, I could “feel” the fire without lighting the fireplace.
I offer to our community a challenge posed to me by my spiritual director on an eight-day silent retreat several years ago that continues to inspire and focus my meditation and prayer: Imagine how it is for God to have this kind of time with you.
— James Walker, Director of Music