Earlier this morning I was sitting in a labyrinth with a spiritual director who was rolling on his back, waving his paws in the air and asking me to rub his ears.
Err… perhaps I should explain.
Paws is a cat. He is a cat who owns a retreat called El Palmeral at Elche in Spain. There are also a couple of humans here called Julie and Mike, but – in truth – they are his fetchers and carriers while he gets on with the more important aspects of life here, like finding secret places to sleep and contemplate life.
I’m here because after a long summer working at summer festivals and conferences, I need some time out. And that’s exactly what El Palmeral has given me. Time to sleep, time to be silent, time to swim in the pool, time to have conversations with Paw’s general manager here, who is now also my pal Julie, time to explore life with my fellow retreaters.
But it’s also turned into a time to stop and think too. It’s no secret that my current contract at the charity I’ve been with for the past two years, is coming to an end and it’s time to move on and find something else. A new chapter is about to begin and I am closing the page on the previous one. It isn’t easy to do either of those things.
It’s harder to do it when you are – inevitably – surrounded by the noise and busyness of every day life. So, it’s providential that I’m here, listening to the gentle bubbling of the jet flows in the pool and the incessant chirping of cicadas as the day grows hotter.
Otherwise it is silent. Sometimes with prayer, sometimes with just listening. Silence is so important. As a person of faith, I genuinely believe that it is when we are silent that God can step in and do incredible things and say words we need to hear. I suspect that it is when we are silent that he can get a word in edgeways.
For those who don’t share the same faith as me, being silent is still important. Silence restores equilibrium, it quietens troubled thoughts and hearts and reduces the cacophony of noise that surrounds everyday life.
Lately I’ve taken to deliberately locking myself out of social media for a few hours a day. I still love it and the benefits of keeping in touch with those friends far and near who I value so much. But somehow even taking time out from that warm and friendly noise has also become more important too as I come to the end of another chapter.
I remain quietly confident that another chapter is coming, but I’m sure everyone reading this will understand that there are moments when I do have a thrill of fear about the old one ending. Mortgages still need to be paid, bills met and debts honoured.
This morning I wandered off by myself to the labyrinth at the bottom of the garden here. There’s a wooden bench there – much used – that I was intending to sit on and enjoy the early sunshine, while contemplating and listening in the silence. However, someone had got there ahead of me. On the ground in front of the seat, there was a warm wriggly cat, opening one eye to look at me, gently waving his tail with the joy of life and generally looking content.
And why wouldn’t he? Paws is loved and secure. He is fed and looked after. He is as much part of the family here as any human. Somehow this little cat knows that wherever he goes during the day, whatever he does, he is always going to receive the same loving warm welcome when he pokes his nose around the door politely inquiring about his supper later tonight.
As I knelt down to rub his ears as he was inviting me to do and played with him, I became aware of something. The silence was being broken by his purring, the involuntary sound of pleasure that cats give off in their happy place. He is happy and he shows it. Warm, fed, loved and looked after. Content in the place where he is.
Jesus once pointed out to his disciples that God sees and knows every sparrow. If that’s the case for sparrows, said Jesus, then how much more will he care for you? The same thought occurred to me as I looked at this little cat. Wherever I am, wherever I go, the same loving warm welcome always awaits me when I poke my nose around the door where God sits awaiting my arrival with a big smile on his face, ready to give me whatever it is that I need.
As I sat in silence, rubbing the ears of a cat waving its legs in the air in pure contented happiness, it became obvious this wasn’t a distraction from my spiritual contemplation but a gentle answer to the question I’ve been asking on and off for weeks.
My next chapter is coming and its pages won’t be empty…