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The Garden of Silence

In the final hours of his life, it seems Jesus is drawn more deeply into the inner silence of his soul. In the Garden of Gethsemane, we read in Mark 14.35 – “Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed” – drawing apart for solitude in prayer; time alone with God.

As we consider what his solitude might have entailed, we might imagine his heart in anguished prayer, or wrestling with anticipation of the impending trial or maybe the weight of human failure so present before him in the sleeping disciples who companioned him in the garden. We might imagine Jesus’s time alone was to ‘work through’ the impending horror.

Yet Jesus shows us his preference for regularly taking time apart– Mat 14.23 “After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray”;  Luke 4.42 “At daybreak, Jesus went out to a solitary place”. For Jesus, this was not extraordinary time, it was normal time. It seems that going apart to be silent took Jesus into his own heart, the heart of God. In the silence, Jesus pauses where the ‘temporal and eternal intersect in the present moment’.

In his book ‘The Darkness of God’, Denys Turner writes “The most profound mysticism is not that which is manifested in extraordinary experiences, but, rather, that which radically accepts God’s “unknown” activity as the core of one’s being and then organizes the practice of the ordinary life on that basis”.

In the silence of the garden, the mystical experience of Jesus transcends the anticipation of the future trial or the anguish of the past struggles. There is no record at any time in the passion story of ecstatic experiences that somehow sustained Jesus or reassured him that God was with him.

In the chaos of the circumstances, in the soul violence he had endured, the Spirit of Jesus found deep consolation in the intimate solitude of being with God. He is simply present to what is, held in the profound stillness of his soul. In this totally surrendered state of God’s embrace, God is most powerfully at work.

Was this the creative moment in which endurance was born?

The American mystic Cynthia Bourgeault writes:

As our relationship with Silence develops it becomes a place of aliveness and intimacy not merely a backdrop, void and empty. When we respond from the depths of Silence, we become acutely present and discover we are lovingly held in that Silence. We discover our deep connection with the infinite and learn to live from that place. This embodied practice springs from our yearning rather than our effort as we discover the mystical marriage between soul and spirit which is our life. Gradually through a more “soft focused” approach to life, we become connected to the living stream that flows from the inside out. From this place, we learn to see our way in the dark and move out into the world with more presence.”

Jesus prayer in the solitude of the Garden of Gethsemane models this path with an openhearted acceptance of all that was to come.

Silent Meditation:     Let us consider in silence the approaching passiontide of Jesus – the silent solitude in God that creates a way forward in the midst of darkness.

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