Out of the Silence

Vicky Allen brings us this beautiful poem for our final post in the Advent series ‘Into the Silence.’
On this Christmas Day may your heart swell with the same hope of those shepherds long ago whose silence was broken by “tidings of great joy.” And in your own places where silence seems now to pervade, may you know the reality of Emmanuel, God with us – the presence in the silence.

Merry Christmas from all of us at 24-7 Prayer Scotland!

Night did not quite hide
the wonder
as constellations scattered pin-prick lights
and human hearts gathered stories, songs
from their gleaming trails

far-off wise ones
gazing at far-off stars
plucked the strings
of history and hope

Night did not quite hide
the ordinary
cold damp air of a quiet hillside
sheep huddled ghost-like
in starlit gloom

Shepherd-guardians trading tales
low-voiced around sputtering fire
then rubbing tired, disbelieving eyes
as light, song displaced dark, stillness

Night could not quite hide
the transformation
a child, a family
an old, old story made new
for a fracturing world

the quiet of the night
cracking with cries
the stomach-drop of love
breaking fear into fragments

Night could not quite hide
the wonder, the ordinary, the transformation
the mundane birth-miracle
wrapped up in story
and promise

an unwrapping of hope before our eyes
and eternity turns upon
a child, a hillside, a star, a song

night is where silent surprises wait
and laughter comes like stars
singing Glory

Vicky Allen is a communications consultant for a small Scottish children’s charity, with a parallel passion for creativity in general and writing poetry in particular. She’s part of Discovery Church Dunbar, a young church plant which loves to meet in the wide open spaces of East Lothian’s coast and countryside as much as possible.

With Us

In part four of our Advent series ‘Into the Silence’, Rachel shares with us her own personal journey with knowing the Presence in the silence.

“I’m so sorry. I didn’t’ mean to cry. This is so embarrassing.”

Tears stream down my face as I lay in the dentist’s chair.
I am mortified. I am a grown woman crying at the dentist for no apparent reason.

That’s okay, Rachel.” My dentist gives me an understanding smile.

“Thanks.” I grab a tissue from the tray next to me. “I’ve just been feeling very anxious lately. All of a sudden, I just felt very claustrophobic. Like a wave of anxiety hit me.

Fifteen minutes and one scale and polish later, I exit the dentist and immediately step into the world frantically unfolding around me: commuters busily making their way home, taxis honking their horns at the cars in front and the crisp December air blowing through my puffy down jacket.

I feel overwhelmed, overly-stimulated and anxious beyond belief.

When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.” (Psalm 94:19)

I remember the verse I read in Psalms one morning when I was felt the pressure of life’s present demands and future what-ifs. In fact, over the last several months I have felt weighed down by the heaviness of anxiety. But it’s greater than that; I have struggled to hear my Father’s voice, and I’ve been desperately trying to fill the silence.

Ironically, I have just finished co-teaching a prophecy course at my local church. For the first 4 weeks, I felt like a complete and utter fraud. How in the world was I supposed to teach others to ‘hear from God for themselves’ when I could barely make out what He was saying to me?

But that’s the good news of the Christmas story – Jesus did not come to be with us on earth because of anything we do, have done or will do in the future; He left heaven’s glory and took on the flesh of humankind because He simply couldn’t help Himself. He loved us too much.

He loves us too much to leave us in a state of fear. To be shackled by the chains of anxiety. To be living in the soul-crushing state of poverty. To be homeless on the streets with nowhere to go. To be denied equal opportunity because of the colour of our skin.

‘God with us’ means that we are never fully alone even when we feel isolated in our anxious thoughts; Emmanuel is here in our poor mental health.

‘God with us’ means that our prayers do not fall on deaf ears even when all we hear is a distant echo; Emmanuel is here in the silence.

I do not know what challenges you are presently facing this Christmas season, but I can assure you of one thing and it hit me square in the face upon heading home that afternoon.

Like so many times before whenever I’ve felt paralysed by anxiety, I turned to worship music. Worship is my ‘sweet spot’. It’s where I hear God speak most clearly to me and therein I long for those few sweet moments of revelation. I turned on my Spotify worship playlist and “Nothing to Fear” by the The Porter’s Gate filled my living room. In the silence of my unanswered questions, God spoke to me through that melody.

“There is nothing to fear, nothing to fear, for I am with you always.”

Dear friends, if there’s anything I have learned over these last few months, it’s this: fear often gives a small thing a big shadow. Although we may feel afraid, we have nothing to fear because we are not alone.

God is with us always.

God is Emmanuel always.

He never changes and He won’t start now. No matter how uncertain the road ahead of you looks right now; we can trust in His faithfulness that God is who He says He is. He is Emmanuel.

I can’t think of more hopeful news than this as we celebrate this Christmas season.

Happy Advent, friends!

Rachel Moreland is a US expat, content creator and writer living in Edinburgh. She is the Media and Marketing Lead at homeless charity Bethany Christian Trust. When she is not working, she is on the hunt for the best cup of coffee and planning her next travel adventure. Read more from her blog With love from Rachel.

Silence Is Not Absence

In this third post in our Advent blog series ‘Into the Silence’ Hannah shares her own personal encounter with the Presence that awaits us in the silence.

This time last year it was a cold, grey day and I sat across from my spiritual director, grappling with my understanding of God. Winter was hard for me last year, and I wanted answers. Wise, insightful, and extremely patient, (did I mention extremely patient? Seriously, the woman has ninja skills…) she looked me in the face and gently admonished me.

“Do not confuse silence with absence. He is still here.”

That sentence has reverberated around my brain for the last year. Silence and absence, two very different things. Not inevitable bedfellows after all, but two distinct entities, in which God occupies the former and not the latter.

It came home to me one night when I found myself in a face off with my three year old. As with most parents I find I cannot quite recall what the particular issue had been that night, but no doubt it had been a long day, and there had been some form of tantrum. In an effort to calm her down, I found myself simply swooping up her protesting angry body and holding her against my chest. Rocking. There were no words; she and I were past that point. I was just there – silent but undoubtedly present. The simple rhythm of her hot body pressed into mine, the sway of our limbs as I soothed her with my presence.

And there – all of a sudden – there He was too. Silence and presence filling every cavity of the room, rocking me, rocking her.

“He is not absent, He is present”, I gasped.

Silence is unnerving. Believe me, I’ve been there. How do we wait? What do we say? When will this vortex of deafening quiet END?! Perplexed and frustrated, angry and irritated, we could easily shake our fists at this silent Father. We itch to be doing something, to be making progress, to in some way be climbing our way out of this darkness. And we, sadly, miss the point.

In the silence we come to terms with our own inability to fix anything. In the silence we discover a God who is far more interested in being with us than in giving us our next assignment. In the silence, we encounter a God who would swoop us up and rock us, gently; our thumping heads pressed into his chest, our beating hearts slowing as we receive his presence. He doesn’t need words for this kind of communion. Silence is not absence. And there, my friends, therein lies the hope. He is still here.

Immanuel, God with us. Happy Advent, one and all.

Hannah Montgomery is wife to Tom, mother to Charlie and Grace, mentor, friend, leader… But most importantly, she is a woman who seeks to know personally the deep heart of God. Her pilgrimage into that deep heart of God has not always been easy, but along the way she has discovered some beautiful truths that provide nourishment to others on their journeys.

The Sounds of Silence

Physical and spiritual breathless escape. The infamous Queen was out to get him, to make mincemeat of him. Where could he go to escape the prophet-hunter?

South. South. I must go south – as far as I can from her dragon-like, prophetic-consuming appetite.” He ran and ran, collapsing in despair, depression and self-destruction. God came to him in a deep sleep, tip-toeing round his foetal-like body, with a loaf of fresh bread just baked in heaven’s oven and a jug of fresh cool water from heaven’s springs, placing them by his head. He came again shaking his prophet awake. Speaking solitary words to the broken man “rise up and eat, and drink!”. The prophet sat up and guzzled and slugged the provisions of heaven until he lay back with a satisfied burp and fell asleep again. Heaven’s kitchens repeated the menu of fresh bread and water. Another shake and the prophet was awake and given instructions to eat, get up and embark on a long long journey of 40 days and nights into the deserted wilderness, into the solitude and the silence.

He stepped away from the bush, headed south, south, south. Finally the Mountain of God sat dominating the skyline. He clambered up the side following in the steps of Moses his prophetic hero.

There was no-one around. He took in the sights and sounds of the mountain top, the cleft in the rock, the cave, imagining the wonder of the revealing glory of God to Moses all these hundreds of years before.

The cave became his refuge. A place to shelter and sleep. God came again, this time with a question: “do you know why you are here?” The Prophet’s response was full of self – self-justification, self-pity and self-defensiveness. God then promised that he would pass by, if he abandoned the security of the cave and stood in the open, vulnerable and exposed.

Empty hurricane – no God. Empty earthquake – no God. Empty fire – surely he would come in the fire! – no God. God had not come. Only silence, deep, mountain silence. But the sound of silence was filled with presence, as silence between longtime lovers is pregnant with conversation beyond the confines of words and sentences. The intimate, close up and personal whisper of heaven caressed his prophetic ears again. Baulking and then receiving these sounds of silence – new purpose, new vision, new commission. A life-giving, expanded prophetic calling. The silence echoing with history, reverberating with sounds of God’s silent presence. With a quickened step he took up his call and set out down the mountain.

God came. He came in many phenomena and forms. He came in words and he came in silence. At the dawn of Advent 2019 feel the stir of the Spirit drawing you into solitude, silence and fresh intimate revelation of God and his purpose for your life as he comes to you in silence.

Graham Black is married to the lovely Hazel, is a friend to God and many who need a listening ear, and he has spent many years of his life faithfully praying for his city of Aberdeen. He is a man well acquainted with the silence and solitude he writes about here and is a wonderful story-teller.