Quietness, not Quietism: The Prayer Book on Finding Rest in God

The Book of Common Prayer on at least three occasions makes reference to quietness in its collective prayers, or collects:

“…that we may pass our time in rest and quietness…” (Second Collect, Evening Prayer)

“grant…that thy Church may joyfully serve thee in all godly quietness…” (Trinity 5)

“grant…to thy faithful people…that…they may serve thee with a quiet mind” (Trinity 21)

Quietness is not the same as quietism, however. Quietism broadly speaking refers to a variety of religious and political philosophies characterised by permanent withdrawal from the world. Worldly events mean less, and perhaps are even meaningless, as one seeks truth in spiritual events and internal experiences. 

When we pursue quietness and rest in God, it is true that we retreat from the world for a time. “When you pray…shut the door” (Mt 6:6). To rest in God is to withdraw temporarily from the busyness and business of life so as to be with God. The challenge here is to bring our restlessness to God and find rest in him. Quietness entails not only a retreat from the business going on around us, but perhaps more significantly, a temporary retreat from what is going within us. Or at least, a turning from self-centredness. We are called to turn from the self and to begin our prayer with God who is prior to and has priority over all other things. The mystics of Christian history constantly speak of adoration and how at least half of our prayer should be focussed on attending to and adoring the Triune God. This is very difficult and doubly so when we are focussed on ourselves. And yet experience would tell us that adoration is the lifeblood of existence and prayer. “Our father, who art in heaven, may your name be set apart”. From that starting point—from God and adoration of him—flows everything else: confession and supplication and thanksgiving. 

But to be quiet is not to keep that door shut forever. After contemplation comes action—labora follows on from ora. But quietness and rest in God through prayer make all the difference. Quietness brings a different quality to our engagement with the world. Much like the period in which the Book of Common Prayer were written, we will always live in times not of quietness and rest, but of war and tumult. And, more immediately, the same can be said of our souls and minds. 

The quietists are wrong, though. Those events happening around us—and within us—are not meaningless. They instead somehow come to mean differently. They lose their bite, their ability to cause intense disquiet, dis-ease and unrest. The pursuit of rest in God regulates the effects of those events on us, by focussing us on God and not ourselves. The words of the Psalmist help us focus outwards and on the character of God, by describing him as a Rock, a refuge, a shelter, one who is secure and in whom we are secure. In him, we find true quietness and rest. 

This true quietness—the kind which we find when secured to One outside of ourselves—provides a deep sense of comfort and stability amidst the shifting shadows of our lives. From that place of security, we act. And that action and engagement with the world is all the richer, and all the more fruitful for our having found true rest. 

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