Martin Laird – Saturday June 3rd 2012
A report on the event by Geoff Saunders
This was Martin Laird’s return visit. He first visited St Luke’s in Norwich several years ago, shortly after the publication of ‘Into the Silent land’; a book on the practice of contemplation. This time he came with his second book, ‘A Sunlit Absence’ and used the day to draw out some of its main themes.
He began by reminding us of some of the main aspects of contemplative prayer, how it is rooted firmly in Christian tradition, and how we might go about developing and deepening our own practice of it. He then explored how the contemplative path and the awareness that it develops can transform our experience of panic and depression and other hardships that life throws at us.
After lunch Martin explained how even disruptive noise can be embraced within the depths of a still mind. He finished the day by addressing several of the stumbling blocks faced by those who practice contemplation; including the challenge of finding time for silence, the relationship between contemplation and intercessory prayer and the risk of falling asleep whilst praying!
Martin did all of this in a warm, gentle and, often, humorous way. He spoke quietly and slowly. He had an, at first disturbing, habit of pausing mid sentence for what seemed like ages, whilst he searched for the right word – no mean feat in view of the inherent challenge of using words to describe the silence of contemplation. His style was one that both drew you in to what he was saying and gave you space to understand it and to reflect on it.
He illustrated what he said with numerous examples and case studies and supported it with words from both scripture and from a long list of Christian spiritual ‘Greats’ – including Evagrius, Meister Eckhart, St John of the Cross, St Teresa of Avila and (my favourite!) Theophan the Recluse.
Martin allowed a lot of time for questions. And from the questions it became clear that the audience included both those who had progressed quite a way along the contemplative path and also those, who, like me, were just beginning.
I must admit that until recently I was one of those Christians who didn’t really get contemplation; who couldn’t really see the value of the silence on which it depends. But this began to change a few months ago whilst I was waiting for a major and relatively risky operation. As a result my Christian journey set off in a new direction.
I now find that many of the things that Martin spoke of ring true; they resonate with my experience. I understand what it means to be Still before God; that silence is not just an absence of sound but a way of drawing closer to God. I have come to realise that ‘I’ am not my thoughts and feelings and am only too aware of how the running commentary in my head clogs up virtually every waking moment.
Martin presented the Contemplative path as one that led to a luminous awareness in which God’s presence can be felt most profoundly. It is not a path that is always easy or comfortable, but it is one that Martin emboldened us all to set out on.