Thank you for your warm welcome – after 7 years living in Istanbul it was time to ‘come home’. By the time you read this letter I will have been home for about two months. I am living in a home that I have owned for 14 years but only lived in for 4 years. One chapter has closed and now it’s time for a new chapter living nearer to family and friends.
There is a sense that I can echo T S Eliot’s words (from Little Gidding Part V):
“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”
Moving back to Istanbul was a time of exploration, of getting to spend time with Turkish friends, making new ones and being part of both a Turkish and English language Anglican Church. I am conscious that although I have returned to my home that a lot has changed in Burley and in UK which I am learning about as I unpack my shipment from Istanbul and settle back into life here again.
Over the last four years I have written a history of Christian women who have lived in what is now modern-day Turkey. Women who span the last 21 Centuries. I am in the process of publishing the English version on Amazon and will let you know when that is published. I embarked on this project knowing of a few well-known Christian women from the area. My book tells the story of about fifty-three women who have lived in what is now Turkey. In the first century, Turkey was known as Asia Minor and with other provinces was part of the Roman Empire. Constantine the Great was proclaimed Emperor of the Roman Empire in York – his statute which is outside York Minster marks that fact. He eventually became sole Emperor and moved the capital of the Roman Empire to Constantinople, a city we now know as Istanbul. He established his city in the fourth century and oversaw the Council of Nicaea that met at Constantine’s insistence, to clarify Christian belief. On most Sundays we say the Nicene Creed which was a product of that church council.
During the last few months I have enjoyed joining St Mary’s for Sunday services and after church coffee time by zoom. It has helped me get to know the church again and learn about your lives here. Thank you for welcoming me warmly to those zoom sessions.
I have enjoyed the teaching about prayer and intimacy with God. We all struggle with being intimate with God and the sermons based on John Eldridge’s ‘The Sacred Romance’ were a challenge to my way of knowing God. The Spanish mystics, in their desire for intimacy with God, were taken up with the Song of Songs, an Old Testament book, that describes the yearning of two lovers for each other. It is also a picture of our yearning for God and his desire to be known by us. One way of becoming more intimate with God is to learn to be silent in God’s presence. To set aside a couple of times a day when you sit in silence in the Lord’s presence. Learning to listen for his voice and to feel his presence with us. Start with just five minutes or less and gradually increase the time you spend in silence. I use a timer to tell me when my time is up – it saves paying more attention to the clock than to the Lord!
Someone shared with me the following parable about listening:
A young ruler is sent to the master to learn the basics of being a good ruler. The master sent the young man into the forest and tells him to return only when he can describe the sounds of the forest. When the young man returns, he describes the sounds of the birds, the crickets, the leaves rustling, the grass blowing, the bees buzzing and the sound of the wind in the forest. The master tells him to go to the forest again and listen to what else he can hear. For days, the young man sits silently in the forest listening to the sounds he heard before; then suddenly he begins to hear faint sounds unlike those he had heard before. The more carefully he listened, the clearer the sounds became. The feeling of enlightenment enveloped the youth. “These must be the sounds the master wished me to discern,” he reflected.
Quickly he returned to the master and reports what he heard, “when I listened most closely, I could hear the unheard – the sound of flowers opening, the sound of the sun warming the earth, and the sound of the grass drinking the morning dew.” To which the master replies, “To hear the unheard is a necessary discipline to be a good ruler.”
This story can be applied to our desire to learn to listen to God. It takes time and intentionality to learn to listen and hear God. It is easy to give up and think we are getting nowhere but just by giving over a few minutes a day we can gradually learn to listen to and hear God speaking to us, meeting with us and reassuring us of his presence with us and with our world. The prophet Elijah met with God on Mount Horeb. He heard what the bible describes as ‘a sound of sheer silence’ (1 Kings 19:12). A dramatic encounter.
We are now in the long season of Trinity, with only the Feast of the Transfiguration, as a notable festival during this season. Trinity finishes with us celebrating ‘Christ the King’ on the last Sunday before advent. The liturgical colour is green – the leaves, the grass, the plants are green and the green shoots in spring indicate growth. I believe that it is good to see Trinity as a time of growth, perhaps in a way that we don’t during the other seasons of the year. A time of steady growth through the spring, summer and into the autumn. A time perhaps for some of us to grow in our experience and knowledge of God through learning to listen to God in silence.
May we have a growthful and exciting Trinity season as we listen and respond to ‘the sheer silence’.