Contemplative Life

Begin the Song Exactly Where You Are

“Singing Bowl” by Malcolm Guite

Begin the song exactly where you are,
Remain within the world of which you’re made.
Call nothing common in the earth or air,

Accept it all and let it be for good.
Start with the very breath you breathe in now,
This moment’s pulse, this rhythm in your blood

And listen to it, ringing soft and low.
Stay with the music, words will come in time.
Slow down your breathing. Keep it deep and slow.

Become an open singing-bowl, whose chime
Is richness rising out of emptiness,
And timelessness resounding into time.

And when the heart is full of quietness
Begin the song exactly where you are.

I’ve liked this poem ever since I discovered it a little over two years ago, and I return to it every so often when I need to be reminded of its truth. So it’s no surprise that when Bill asked me to reflect on my first week here at Corhaven, the opening line came to mind: “Begin the song exactly where you are.”

When I arrived at Corhaven last Saturday to begin my 10-week internship, I knew that something within me was amiss. I had wanted to arrive full of life and joy and freedom – to arrive as the risk-taking and courageous Abigail that I know I can be and have been, the Abigail whose heart is open and firmly rooted in God’s love. But instead I arrived restless, with an unease I couldn’t seem to place or name and an anxiety that wouldn’t subside.

Thankfully, in his wisdom, Bill assigned reading as part of this summer internship and the first book he handed me was Ruth Haley Barton’s Invitation to Solitude and Silence. As I spent time in silence over the next few days, I discovered how closed I had become and how deeply I desired to be open – open to the Holy Spirit’s work within me, open to this new place and season, open to all that was beautiful and good, unexpected and unknown. I realized that in order to be open I had to confront the emptiness within me that had been growing over the past two months, the emptiness I had detected but hadn’t wanted to face for fear of what I’d find and what I’d feel. The emptiness that had left me emotionally detached and unable to be fully present.

In short, I had to begin “exactly where I was.” I had to own the fact that I was “dangerously tired,” as Ruth terms it, and had to be willing to come before God with only a bare self and broken heart. I can’t say that it was easy, but the beautiful thing is that when I was finally willing to confront my emptiness – to “accept it all and let it be for good” – God replaced the restless “rhythm in my blood” with His peace. When I met Him in the silence, He ministered to my soul and filled me with us His love.

That is the rhythm and nature of God’s way with us when we submit ourselves to silence and that’s what I’ve been discovering here at Corhaven. We must begin where we are – whether that be “dangerously tired” or deeply at rest – but where we begin is not where we remain. By God’s grace, we are transformed. For in the space that silence and solitude creates, God graciously fills us with the love and hope and peace we need to face our own brokenness and to walk out into the world in courage and faith. In His presence, we are filled – filled to sound out His song in our particular key and context – and that is grace: the gift of being able to begin as we are and to have the very hollowness of our souls become the space in which He sings.

(Abigail is an M.Div. student at Duke Divinity School, and is interning with Coracle at Corhaven for the summer)

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