Breathing space: silence

Submitted by Victoria on Tuesday, April 15, 2014 - 12:55

The last in our Lenten blog series. What is silence and why does it matter?

We’re now in the last and most intense week of Lent. As part of my own Lent, I have been re-watching the BBC series, The Passion, which was aired in 2009. (The fact that I was going to write ‘aired a couple of years ago’, and then discovered that it was 5 years is surely a sign of ageing.) In my naivety – and despite my history degree – I had imagined that life (and faith) was much simpler and less chaotic in 1st-century Palestine than in our own modern culture which we think is so much more sophisticated. But one of the things that struck me most when watching this series again was the sheer busy-ness of Jerusalem in the lead-up to Passover. Jesus and his disciples could hardly move for the swarms of pilgrims. Noise reverberated off the city walls all day and night. I became aware again both of Jesus’s need to retreat to the wilderness, and of the stark contrast between this place and his daily life. Silence – then as now – is something sought and created. It does not happen by accident.

As I meditated on the role of silence as a place where we encounter God, I was reminded of the words of Sister Wendy, a nun and art historian, about whom I had watched a documentary at Christmas. (It’s starting to look like I mark feasts in the liturgical calendar by watching TV.) “One of the things prayer will do is show you yourself…that’s something most of us will go to a lot of trouble to avoid…now nearly everybody can live their whole lives being entertained…it means that you’re never in contact with what you are.”

Something about spending our ‘whole lives being entertained’ challenged me. As far as I’m concerned, I have no problem with silence. I would always, always, always choose a good book over a nightclub and can’t bear people calling to each other across the house. But true silence which allows God to speak isn’t just about a lack of auditory stimulation.  It is about complete stillness. I might be able to deal with quietness, but I have a habit of distracting myself at every turn: by reading, by putting on the radio, by looking at Facebook. When I’m not working, I feel I must relax by being entertained. I never really stopped to ask myself: why?

My challenge, then, to myself and to anyone who cares to join me, is to carve out a time of still silence each week. A time when I do not find distractions to divert my attention. A time when I am not being entertained. A time when I can come face to face with who I am, with my reality and with the greater reality of God.

Tags: lent resources