Metropolitan Anthony Bloom in his book “School for Prayer” tells a story about a lady who visited him shortly after he became a priest in the Orthodox Church. She wanted his advice about prayer. For fourteen years she had been saying the Jesus prayer almost continually, she said, and had never experienced God’s presence at all. “If you speak all the time”, said Anthony, “You don’t give God a chance to get a word in”.
“What shall I do?”, she asked. Anthony advised her to go into her sitting room after breakfast, “Make sure everything is tidy and sit in a chair, light the little lamp before the icon that you have, and first of all take stock of your room. Just sit, look around, and try to see where you are. Be aware of what’s around you. Admire the objects. Be totally present. Take out your knitting and knit for about 15 minutes before the face of God, but I forbid you to say one word of prayer. You just knit, or sit still, and enjoy the peace of your room.”
Well of course she didn’t think this was very spiritual advice at the time, but some weeks later the lady returned. She was a different person. “It works!”, she told him. “I got up, washed, tidied my room, had breakfast, came back, made sure there was nothing that would worry me and settled into my armchair and thought ’ Oh how nice, I have 15 minutes in which I can do nothing without feeling guilty’ And I looked around, and for the first time in years, I thought ‘Goodness! What a lovely room I live in’. Then, she said, “I felt so quiet because the room was so peaceful. There was a clock ticking, but it didn’t disturb the silence. Its ticking just underlined the fact that everything was so still, and after a while I remembered that I must knit before the face of God. I began to knit and became more and more aware of the silence. Then I perceived that this silence was not simply the absence of noise, but that the silence had substance. It was not an absence of something, but a presence of something. The silence had a density, a richness and it began to pervade me. The silence around began to come and meet the silence within me. All of a sudden, I perceived that the silence was a presence. At the heart of the silence there was Him, who is all stillness, all peace, all poise.