There are two ‘forests’ within a metro journey of Paris centre: The Bois de Vincennes and the Bois de Boulogne (Bois means ‘wood’). They are in fact large wooded parks with little clusters of trees, cycle-paths, and artificial lakes, of a kind I took for granted in Surrey. There is sunlight through the trees, there is shade, there are stretches of grass at the centre where you can, if you want, close your eyes and pretend you’re in the wild, somewhere.
And there is quiet – that is, quiet not intruded upon by traffic, by car alarms, by sirens. A silence in which you’re not, at some unconscious level, always aware of the people walking around you or of the car that might swerve onto the pavement. A quiet that lets other things; a dog barking, a parrot (there are a lot of those, escapees, in the Bois de Vincennes), or your own breathing rise gently to your attention.
‘Where can I go from your presence, where can I flee from your presence?’ asks the writer of Psalm 139. Neither in Heaven nor in the grave nor on the wings of the dawn or in the distant sea… But what about here, in the heart of a busy, noisy city? I’d always thought that God lives in silence, and here silence is fleeting, something to be treasured. Where is God at a crowded intersection, on the metro, in a room where you can hear the traffic from dawn until evening?
Or to ask a different question: is quiet; that is, space away from the perpetual hubbub of civilisation; a lake or a forest for example; is this essential to a healthy life, a healthy spirituality? Do we need to go and find quiet, and space, in order to be alone with ourselves and with God?
I’ll think about this some more. Watch this space for further posts.
(and comments are always appreciated :))