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Finding peace and tranquillity

A Place Apart: Monastic Prayer and Practice for Everyone
Author: M. Basil Pennington

MANY honest seekers are interested in spirituality. We are restless and look for peace and serenity.

Intellectually we know that we need to devote time for solitude and silence. We try to keep our Quiet Time and read the Bible daily. But it is a discipline we find difficult to keep up with.

We rationalise and tend to believe that monks and nuns live in a more conducive environment for the development of spirituality. Yes, the tranquil life separated from the world in which members of religious orders find themselves enhances meditation. They support one another as they walk the path of spirituality. This is true of all religious traditions.

Basil Pennington, a Trappist monk, is convinced that lay people can obtain the same peace and serenity despite the hustle and bustle of today’s busy world. He shares his insights on spirituality from his monastic life to enrich the spirituality of the laity. His book “A Place Apart” offers a practical guide to those who want to have a genuine spiritual life.

He is a spiritual director at St Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts, and is currently serving at Our Lady of Joy Monastery in China. Over the gate of this monastery are the words: “Peace to all who enter here.” Foreigners from all parts of the world and Chinese find their way there in pursuit of inner peace.

The true monk is characterised as a person who has gone apart to be one with God “to find silence to pray and to commune with God”. He is only following the example of our Lord who often went apart to pray. We too need to know the significance of apartness and make a place for God in our daily lives.

The monk watches in the night in imitation of his Lord. Long before dawn Jesus left the house and went to a lonely place and prayed there. (Mark 1:35). Those are illuminating moments in one’s life. To wait and watch “for the dawn is a time of seeking and the soul begins to have the joy of drawing the Lord into its cool darkness, radiating the warmth of unseen light”.

The monk strives to keep silence. In the evening when activity ceases and the busy world is hushed, the faithful enters into the rhythm of quietness and rest. Pennington reveals this insight: “God does indeed speak to us through all the events of life, through all the persons we encounter. He is actually in the mighty wind, the earthquake, the fire, in all. But we will not hear Him in any of these, ‘not even in the voice and embrace of a lover, if in the silence we have not learned the sound of His voice.’ ”

We know God and His voice when we are still and only then are we able to recognise His voice speaking to us through the sounds of the world.

Fasting is regarded as a hunger for freedom. “A physical emptiness and hunger supports a spiritual hunger, a hunger for God.” When we feel the pangs of hunger we can empathise with the hungry brothers and sisters who are the poor in the world. “A fasting attitude multiplies the enrichment while it minimises the consumption. And it gives birth to freedom.” Pennington continues to describe the effects of fasting: “We can learn the freedom of getting along with less clothing, less heat, less sound to fill our silences, fewer objects to fill our spaces, fewer diversions to fill our time.”

He observes that the poor seem to be happiest: “They have the freedom to enjoy fully all they have.” Those who possess more must expend time and energy taking care of their many things, to the extent that they have not the time to enjoy any of them freely and fully. We accumulate and think that we possess many things but in fact the things have possessed us.

The true monk “hears the Word of God, meditates upon it, responds to it in prayer, and rests in it in contemplation”. Through sign and symbol, word and music of the liturgy, he is in union with God. He is to engage in ordinary work. Living with simplicity and frugality he lives a tranquil and undisturbed active life. The faithful glorifies God through his ordinary work and aligns with the creative forces in moving God’s creation to its goal.

Each of us in our different places and our distinctive way can find peace in our hearts and tranquillity in our lives when we make time and place for God.


‘Each of us in our different places and our distinctive way can find peace in our hearts and tranquillity in our lives when we make time and place for God.’

The Rev Dr Yap Kim Hao, a member of the Methodist Message Editorial Board, was the first Asian Bishop of The Methodist Church in Malaysia and Singapore.