Welcoming the Divine - How the garden became a place of peace and encounter

Overwhelmed by failed attempts to turn a large patch of grass, clay and flint into a garden for the family who, 35 years ago, would not appreciate it anyway, I prayed a simple prayer in my heart. ‘God – I’ll create something beautiful for you’. It seemed a pathetic and hopeless prayer, but at least my enjoyment of the task did not seem so selfish any more. I could not have imagined how God could accept that small offering and inspire, guide and provide for the blossom that is now bringing peace to the countless people who come to The Quiet View, now a centre for contemplative spirituality in rural Kent.

We acquired a 2 acre derelict field next to the house that was full of lorry loads of rubbish and mowed a path round it. One day, my husband John, cleared a track to the fence over looking a stunning view of rolling countryside with no houses in sight. The first ‘Thinking Place’ was born! We soon discovered friends or neighbours would gravitate to this quiet and secluded place to talk over a problem or to be alone either to think or simply, be. When our son was 9 years old, we were sitting together in an Open Garden, when he said ‘I feel closer to God in a garden than anywhere else.’ His wisdom became for me continuing motivation to work with God to offer a natural space where people would discover that He was, already, close to them even if they did not know it.

We created a logo that we hope sums up the meaning of the Quiet View – all people are already one with the Divine. Often, we are unaware of it but God always welcomes us home, like a tender Mother or Father, whenever we are open to Love or experience a sense of the Presence. More and more people visited (including a group of adults with severely challenging behaviour problems) and they all told us that they felt a sense of peace when they were in the garden. So we decided we should do all we could to make quiet spaces in the garden where people could sit to reflect, pray, connect with nature or rest. We had been given a beautiful place to live in and we felt called to share it with others. This prayer from Aelred of Rievaulx became ours for ourselves as well as all who would come - O Jesus, your voice never strains nor shouts. You do not force us to hear you. You ask only that we open our hearts to you, and in tranquillity your love enters our souls.

In 1999 The Quiet View became an official Quiet Garden when we became affiliated to the Quiet Garden Trust, which exists to promote quiet places around the world where people can go to find rest and peace. There are Quiet Gardens in schools, retreat centres, prisons, churches, hospitals and in inner cities. Hospitality is at the heart of the Quiet Garden Movement and we have been discovering over the years that the hospitality of God is inclusive and undemanding. So the facilities that we are able to offer groups and individuals today come with no prescription or rules. We ask only that there is a spiritual or healing intention. There is a large yurt with a beautiful wooden floor and log burning-stove, making it cosy in the winter and an adjoining kitchen hut. The yurt is a safe haven for many who say that they feel as though they are in the womb or the heart of God. There’s also a prayer tent, The Tabernacle, - an open sided field shelter for meetings and various secluded ‘rooms’ that have been carved out of the natural environment where people can sit peacefully looking at the view. An important part of the garden is the 7 circuit classical labyrinth which guests may walk in search of enlightenment or peace. Whilst we are rooted in Christianity, we welcome people of all faiths or no faith and believe that our vocation is to serve the church, to be a bridge between the church and those who live their lives outside it and to make the Cosmic Christ present to all who seek peace, comfort or inspiration.

An eclectic variety of groups come from a wide range of spiritualties. We host for example, Mindfulness Groups, Scared Pregnancy Workshops, Writing Retreats, Soul Voice week-ends, Silent Retreats, Flower Essence and Vibrational Training workshops together with many Diocesan and local church retreats and educational days. We encourage times of silence so that guests may more easily hear both the cries and aspirations of their own hearts and the whisper of God’s compassionate calling. In addition, we run our own programme of Quiet Days, Labyrinth Workshops, Yoga, Spiritual and Creative Workshops and talks given by speakers who we hope will challenge us to discover God that is present in ways we might not have imagined or believed.

 The Quiet View has grown in the inspiration of the Spirit rather than according to our own master plan! Her promptings have been delightful and imaginative and She has sustained us through all the struggles of mind, body and soul that have been a part of the unfolding. The journey from inception to the present day has been both miraculous and mysterious. A special feature of our development has been the generous donations of supporters, friends and family who have given of their time, skills, gifts and funds.

We often ask ourelves, How is it that so many find peace, healing, comfort or inspiration here? We have no answer except to notice that when we experience nature with eyes of the heart we sense the Divine Presence. When a space is offered to God and prayed in and over, sacred energy becomes dynamically palpable and we have a sense of ‘holy ground’ and take off our shoes. Our longing is that the veil between heaven and earth will become so thin that visitors seeking healing or hope will experience the hospitality of God breaking through.

Revd Lizzie Hopthrow is an Anglican priest and retired hospice chaplain. She is Director of The Quiet View, a centre for contemplative spirituality in Kent where people seeking peace and inspiration are welcomed and she is passionate about encouraging the use of labyrinths as a spiritual tool. She is available to retreatants for pastoral counselling and bereavement support.