Years ago, we visited a caravanserai in Northern Cyprus and I was struck by its history and significance. Although no more than a roadside inn, it resembled a majestic fortress with heavy defensive walls encircling an inner courtyard and enormous gates, restricting entry. Once a hub of activity and commerce, caravanserais offered a refuge for merchants along the Silk Road. Safe from the dangers of bandits and harsh weather, travellers could rest and recuperate, before continuing their journey.
The caravanserai serves as a powerful metaphor. We may not fear bandits or harsh weather, but we all need shelter when the grim realities of life threaten to unravel us. I was reminded of this recently when I heard a story about an elderly vicar struggling to cope with the death of his wife, after fifty years of marriage. He awoke each morning, not knowing how he would fill the empty hours ahead and make it to the end of the day. A breakthrough arrived in the shape of a Benedictine monk, who encouraged the vicar to read scripture, to calm his mind and enable gracious thoughts to flow. It was this quiet time with God which gave the vicar’s life renewed meaning and purpose.
We all need quiet time with God, irrespective of the circumstances of our lives. A temporary withdrawal from daily life is good for the soul. It doesn’t have to be a retreat in a convent or a monastery. God has been equally delighted to meet me in a luxury hotel. The venue isn’t important. What matters most is to go to a place where you will not be disturbed. No work demands, no domestic chores and certainly no telephone or internet. A place to disengage, unfurl and enjoy the silence.
Spending time in silence is a common theme in religious practice. The Buddha took three months off (every year) and withdrew into silence, re-emerging, rested, restored and refreshed. The Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) spent time alone in the mountains praying and meditated for long periods in caves. Jesus also went to the mountains to pray and commune with God. All were embracing the silence, because as Rumi said, “Silence is the language of God, all else is poor translation”. Although these men were great spiritual leaders, they reflected a basic need in us all. A yearning for God. Just as a child reaches out to its mother for comfort and protection, we gravitate towards God, to make sense of our world.
When was the last time you took a break by yourself? When you left behind the mounting deadlines at work and demands at home? We convince ourselves that we’re indispensable and that if we disappear (even for a short while), the natural order will collapse. But it won’t. If your life ended tomorrow, the world would learn to get by without you. That’s a fact. So pay heed to the inner caravanserai, and retreat into silence. Make time for the most important relationship in your life – with God. Let Him give you rest, so you can continue your journey refreshed and renewed.