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By The Ven. David Gunn-Johnson

As I may have mentioned before, I try to spend some time each year in Salamanca, catching up with friends, and finding spiritual refreshment.

As time passes the circle of friends widens and therefore the time has to be carefully guarded so that it is not entirely swamped with “catching up” fiestas.

One group of friends is located within the Carmelite Order, both male and female religious and lay people. The laity form the third order (as it is called) and live out the life of a Carmelite as far as possible in their daily lives. One friend is the president of the Carmelite Council. Note that, she is also not a nun and lives a busy daily life. I relate all this to give context to what, for me, was a very special experience.

My friend, Inmaculada, asked if I would like to go to a vigil in Alba de Tormes, the resting place of Sta Teresa de Jesus, or Teresa of Avila as she is better known. It was her special anniversary.

I have always delighted in a vigil. From my boyhood I loved the idea of a knight keeping vigil with his armour on the altar before he was knighted. Keeping the watch of the Passion (Maundy Thursday to Good Friday) became a great favourite in the parishes I served. I thought I knew what a vigil was like. Deep silence, carefully maintained. Focusing on the object of the vigil. Staying awake (mostly). I hadn’t reckoned on how the whole of a Spanish community – religious and irreligious – “own” their saint.

We arrived to a bring and share supper. The prior and two of the monks joined us and stayed for a chat. They were very welcoming to this retired Church of England archdeacon and much time was spent with explanations and explorations of our respective differences; so much so that the vigil was late starting. No one seemed to care at all. In the church we settled down and I realised that this was not going to be a silent vigil at all; the sounds of a vibrant community filled the church. The children were out in the streets running and shouting until three in the morning. There was a rock concert just down the road in honour of the saint. There were fireworks at intervals during the night. It all finally quietened down for the end of the vigil at 8am, when we had prayers before the sacrament and a Mass was celebrated.

Strangely enough, I left there with a sense that a vigil had been truly kept. Not in the way to which I had become accustomed, certainly, but it really was authentically a vigil. It brought home to me the opening lines of the Disiderata. “Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence”. Not a lack of sound outside ourselves but a stillness within.

No lack of extraneous sounds will ever help us to be still, to find an inner silence, if we don’t give it space or if we are too afraid of what we might find there.

Archbishop Ramsey used to give ordinands a fourfold piece of advice based on a quotation of scripture.

“Be still and know that I am God”…“Be still and know”…“Be still”…“Be”

When we have learned how to “Be” we can then begin to learn how to “Do”.