Silence 2
Meditation and Reflection

Political spin and media din: the importance of silence

 

There’s an awful lot of noise around at the moment. Perhaps there was always a din in the Agora and a racket in the Forum, but they were concerned with important matters of philosophy and polity. Or at least they always seem to be from the accounts handed down to us. But ours is an age where the very air we breathe is filled with muzak and incessant babble and every matter of trivia becomes a Twitter riot or commotion. Certainly, we can turn our computers and tablets off, but then there are newspapers, radio, telly, texting, Facebook – yadda, yadda, yadda. A politician pronounces that to leave the EU would have a “devastating impact” on young people – yadda, yadda, yadda. A bishop preaches that the EU is “the most successful project for.. democracy the world has ever seen” – yadda, yadda, yadda.. and great delusion.

For a moment you might ignore them, but more often there’s a burning urge to reason and refute. And so the crash-bang-bedlam of public discourse descends to noisy gongs and clanging cymbals.

Jesus liked silence: He found it in deserts and gardens. We need silence, but it isn’t easy (or safe) to wander off into the Sinai any more. And most of our gardens and public parks are plagued by buzzing planes and the inescapable hum of traffic.

How do you extricate Twitter and Blogger from your ‘quiet time’? Indeed, do you have a quiet time? Do you need solitude? The accounts of the coming of the Holy Spirit evidence frantic activity – Christians spoke in tongues (Acts 2:6f), preached (2:17ff), healed (3:1ff), prophesied (11:28), and raised the dead (20:7ff). Never was a coming of the Spirit followed by just sitting in silence. Even searching the scriptures daily consisted of raucous debate (17:11).

It is perfectly possible to surround oneself with a meditative silence, but only in proportion to the degree of silence that bathes the inner life. Reading a daily chapter of Scripture and running through a prayer list are easily deflected, if not stifled, by worries, resentments, regrets, continual replays of conversations and rehearsals of future encounters. Many Christians who speak of having an ‘inner peace’ often refer to a stillness and spiritual stability which was unknown to them before they came to know their Lord and Saviour. They may have endured all manner of inner turmoils and resentments that gnawed at their souls, but meeting the Lord stilled them inwardly, and such inner peace grows as they learn to yield to Him more and more.

Having ‘peace’ with God isn’t just an intellectual theological statement, but a deep inner reality. The Holy Spirit dwells within us at a deep level, often below consciousness, and there He works, meeting individuals in different ways. In the busyness of humdrum activity (and much of church), periods of silence are crucial for the interior life of the soul. The more the inner parts are nourished by repose, the more profound the inner life becomes.

Some Christians place emphasis on a regular ‘quiet time’ with God – with the length of it perceived to be somehow proportional to one’s level of spirituality. But being silent is difficult, especially in a society geared to recognise ‘usefulness’ only in hyper-activity. Silence in the Christian life is a secluded garden of relaxation for the cultivation of the soul. It demands such profound scrutinies that the ensuing self-examination and waiting on God will illuminate every dark corner of one’s character. The process can be so invasive that most believers will flee to avoid it with last year’s Spring Harvest CD playing in the background. We use noise as a soul-defence mechanism: why confront our own ugliness when it’s easier to spew up over the sordid state of others? No, noise is hash: we are addicted to it and simply cannot face the cold turkey of silence.

But contemplation and meditation are biblical therapeutic disciplines. Meditation involves thinking around something we have received with a view to a response. Contemplation involves attending on God without any active thought process. This may be a little too ‘mystical’ for many Christians – indeed, the juxtaposition of ‘transcendental’ with ‘meditation’ sets all manner of alarm bells ringing. But what use is meditation if it is not transcendent? Only by opening ourselves up beyond our limits of words and thoughts can we truly begin to apprehend Him whose ways and thoughts are quite beyond ours.

Silence in the Christian life is not non-communication: it can move more than words. It is impossible not to communicate with God: whether it is stony or golden, silence speaks. ‘In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin: but he that refraineth his lips is wise(Prov 10:19). There is manifestly a time for shutting up, not least when we need to listen. Meaningful fellowship will be replete with silence. Sharing, praying and baring one’s soul before another creates deep bonds of love. Silences which follow are rarely awkward or self-conscious because the silence is still speaking.

There was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour(Rev 8:1). In the awesome presence of God is an awesome silence. Heaven is not all about praising Him with hallelujahs. Silence is active liturgy and dynamic worship: you don’t need to sing the latest Matt Redman song for your spiritual life to flourish. We move only slowly into deep silence as we become aware of the numinous presence of God. Prayer then becomes a combination of quiet and talk, stillness and secret prayers, until we reach the stage when meditation and contemplation take over and the spiritual life is hidden with Christ in God.

We speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden. ‘Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit‘ (1Cor 2:9f). If eyes have not seen, ears have not heard, and minds cannot comprehend, then silence before God is a wholly appropriate response: ‘Be silent, O all flesh, before the Lord: for he is raised up out of his holy habitation‘ (Zech 2:13).

Don’t leap to open your mouth, because words are so often inadequate: our logic is puny and reason insignificant. Pause, wait, and listen. Only when we are able to let go of everything within us, all desire to see, to know, to taste and to experience the presence of God, may we truly approach an experience of that presence. All our defences, pretences, guilts and shames are viewed in our nakedness before God; and when confronted honestly, it will place us in a deeper truth and so a deeper reality. With all human senses in abeyance, the ensuing silence enables an expectant listening.

We are only able to hear God truly when we have ceased to listen, because there is a higher kind of listening which demands a lower kind of silence. Invisible reality overwhelms us. Ego is lost. Time stands still. We step into a new dimension of eternity. We become still and know that God is God.

  • len

    There is something magical for me standing on hilltops on summer days high above all the bustle and the noise of traffic breathing clean fresh air. It quite fortunate that flying model gliders takes me to some outstanding beauty spots quite a change from the environment I spent my working life in.

    • Coniston

      I visit a relative in a care home (as I also did 16 years ago). In both the TV, in the lounge, was on all the time – impossible to avoid, though the sound was turned down low. In the present home, if the TV was occasionally not on, a radio was on – Radio 1, I think – though the sound was again turned down low. This would have driven me mad in a very short time. The younger generation may find silence oppressive, but this is not nearly so true of older people. No wonder dementia is increasing among the old.

    • Cressida de Nova

      You should take the opportunity in these lovely places to open your heart to God. Leave your prejudices and hatred behind….poisonous stuff. Pray for the truth.Meditate and remove your blinkers. Investigate Catholicism in an open positive way rather than using anti Catholic websites to bolster specious arguments.

      • len

        I have investigated Catholicism and found it to be a man made religion having little to do with Christ. Catholicism is a poisonous mix of truth and error far more toxic than other religions.
        I am am quite frankly surprised that anyone would be taken in by such a blatantly false religion?But there again there are others…..

        • “I have investigated Catholicism”
          Lol ..

          • len

            I didn`t find it a laughing matter quite the reverse…

          • Inspector Jacques Clouseau:
            “There is a time to laugh and a time not to laugh, and this is not one of them.”

          • len

            If you can laugh at murder, torture,hypocrisy, heresy, paedophilia, please go ahead but I find it repulsive and tragic that the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been dragged through the gutter by a bunch of unscrupulous men…

          • Jack finds your “investigation” of Catholicism amusing, not the history of the Church. You remind him of Clouseau bumbling around in the dark. The sinful nature of man is reflected in the Church. Why wouldn’t it be? It has attracted betrayers from the start. However, on doctrine and dogma concerning faith and morals, there are no errors. God wouldn’t allow it.

          • len

            The RCC is riddled through and through with error this can easily be discerned by comparing RCC dogma with the Word of God. You already know this…
            IF you place your faith in a church rather than Christ`s teachings you are wide open to deception.Then having been deceived you say’ I cannot be deceived.’…Makes no sense to me at all.

          • You don’t sound terribly certain about this. You’re like a little boy who closes his eyes in the dark hoping that the monsters he fears will go away.

          • len

            I am 100% certain that the RCC has left a trail of blood wherever it has been able to gain a foothold throughout history. The’ horrors’ that are lurking in the RCC are the self same horrors that you have accepted as’ part and parcel of your religion’….

          • Cressida de Nova

            You have to rid yourself of this hatred Len. It is verging on the psychotic.You are too confounded by the Borgias and all the spectacular tales. You need to examine the doctrine in a detached manner. If you did this without the burden of your blind hatred and prejudice you would find that Catholic ethic which is the true Christian ethic based on the gospels and the sacred tradition is the only way successful way to live. The fact that you are burdened with this hatred is the sign that your cult is not giving you any peace. There is no place for hatred in the concept of true Christianity.

          • len

            I don`t hate anyone as you know full well Cressida.
            I don`t however like deception and if you do not’ hate’ deception then you cannot have a love of the Truth..
            Catholicism is based on a lie and if you cannot see that I am truly sorry for you and all who do not have a ‘love of the truth’.

  • Anton

    When the phone goes, you have an option to answer it. Not a duty.

    • David

      Few recognise that they have a choice.

  • Inspector General

    Saints preserve the garden shed…

  • David

    I totally agree with the spirit, if nor every word, of this piece.
    As a sixties something man who loves to hear the silence of the woods as part of the beauty of God’s creation, it concerns me to see how most people, especially the younger ones, seem to know anything of the therapy and spiritual qualities of silence.

    As a lad I would climb a mountain with a friend or two, and be rewarded at the top by the beauty of the views and the silence of the winds. Nowadays with phones constantly switched on, so many have become slaves of whoever decides to summon them. With their heads so busy constantly, full of usually meaningless sounds, it is no wonder that few can hear the “still, small voice” of God.

    For me nature is the best cathedral of God, where few who truly savour the wonder of this earth and its creatures, can fail to realise that we are surrounded by, and indeed are part of, no mere accidental process, but wonders that all reflect and obey the laws set in motion by the great scientist Himself, God Almighty.

    • dannybhoy

      Taking young people to hear the silence of the woods could get you arrrested..

      • David

        Young people need to take themselves there, and discover the beauty of nature, and therefore God, for themselves. Some of my generation did just that.

  • IanCad

    An introspective yet thoughtful post YG. Not one to garner many comments.

    “There is manifestly a time for shutting up, not least when we need to listen.”
    Or, not to comment when others are making more sense. I must try that sometime.

  • William Lewis
  • When Jack is in need of peace and quiet, he switches his hearing aids off.

    • Anton

      I’ve always found the phrase “the leisure industry” to be an amusing oxymoron.

      • “Deafening silence.”

        • sarky

          Military intelligence.

          • Government organisation.

          • Pubcrawler

            European Union.

          • Right Honourable Member of Parliament.

          • Pubcrawler

            Working lunch.

          • American English.

    • dannybhoy

      What did he say??

      • Pardon.

        • dannybhoy

          Did you get that?
          (sign language for dumb people…)

  • Thank you for this post Cranmer.

  • preacher

    Amen !!!

  • Dreadnaught

    Interesting debate from Canada on the European immigration crisis featuring Nigel Farage and Simon Schama. It was broadcast on Canadian TV yesterday, while here in the UK and Europe and most affected by it, are condemned to suffer our frustration in politically correct and ignorant silence. Silence is not always an appropriate virtue when imposed by other than ourselves.

    Live in Toronto: Steyn & Farage vs Arbour & Schama

    http://www.steynonline.com/

    • The Explorer

      Thanks for the link. We’re very lucky to have the internet to tell us what’s going on. Having to rely on the BBC for information would be a bit like relying on Pravda.

      • Dreadnaught

        What I think is more important is the fact that these debates are taking place – but not where it matters most; and they tell us we live within a democracy where freedom of speech is paramount – My Arse it is.

        • dannybhoy

          Keep that pimply posterior out of it…

    • dannybhoy

      I clicked on and listened to this snippet….
      http://www.steynonline.com/7504/a-sennight-of-steyn-march-28-april-3

      See, imo this is what gets us Christians a bad name. We feel terrible about the refugees and feel it’s our (joint “our”) responsibility to accommodate them. never mins what the consequences might be; we must be compassionate.
      But a) We don’t own our country, we’re only citizens,
      and b) when non Christians can see what is happening and we can’t, we just look like naieve handwringers. Some European countries are starting to buckle under the strain of mindless compassion towards people whose beliefs are at odds with ours…
      Jesus said
      “’ 8 So the master commended the unjust steward because he had dealt shrewdly. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light.” Luke 16.

  • David

    Congratulations to all of His Grace’s usual correspondents who have complied with the request ….to say nothing !
    Some of us are, sadly it seems, of a more garrulous nature, present company included.

    • len

      Less is more sometimes…..

  • len

    There used to be’ a tent of meeting’ in Old Testament times where Moses drew away from the crowds and the noise and met with God..
    Jesus used to go to solitary places to pray away from all the distractions so perhaps we Christians should follow His example..

    • David

      I often do pray Len, whilst on a solo forest walk.
      However finding truly solitary places is becoming increasingly difficult in the overcrowded south.
      The other alternative, domestic circumstances permitting, is to take Jesus’ advice, go into a room on your own, close the door and quietly pray.

    • Pubcrawler

      ” perhaps we Christians should follow His example”

      A great many have down the ages. They just don’t make a big fuss about it.

      • dannybhoy

        Ouch!

      • len

        How do we know they did then?

        • Pubcrawler

          Others who knew them have written about them, some have been prompted to write themselves.

          • len

            If people have withdrawn from society and had a ‘religious experience’ then perhaps if they shared this experience with others it could have been a source of encouragement ?.
            I don`t believe Christians are meant to permanently shut themselves off in Monasteries (that seems a rather selfish thing to do) when they could be out in society spreading the Word and helping people.
            But there again that’s just my opinion….A time of reflection is good but to became some sort of recluse seems to be missing the point somewhat?

          • Pubcrawler

            Information might break down some of your presuppositions. You could investigate (for starters) the lives and/or writings of the Desert Fathers (and Mothers), the late 14th-cent. English mystics/contemplatives (e.g. Cloud of Unknowing, Julian of Norwich) and the French Brother Lawrence.

          • len

            So what was your comment referring to them ‘They just don’t make a big fuss about it’. Seems perhaps they did?

          • Pubcrawler

            Others made something of a fuss; they themselves didn’t, unless prompted, and then privately. But people knew about them in any case. And these are only a handful of the best known. Christians continue to go on retreat, singly or in groups, frequently to those very monasteries; it is hardly rare or exceptional. Your original comment suggested that you were/are unaware of this.

            As for why they don’t broadcast, let their own words (direct or reported) speak for them. I’ve given you some pointers for where to find out more. The rest is entirely up to you.

          • len

            Well my original comment was ‘perhaps we should follow their example’, this seemed to offend you in some way , so I can only assume that you have spent time in quite reflection and are annoyed at my comment? I congratulate you on the time you have spent (but will not make a fuss about it?…)
            Now I am off for some quite time , but will not mention it too loudly…….

          • preacher

            Hey Len, the Celtic Church were a good example to follow. They ticked many of the boxes & spent time in prayer, but were bold adventurers when it came to preaching the gospel to a hostile World. Their communities were open to all & they practised hospitality teaching, education & literacy.
            Pity about Whitby, when Rome got involved though.

  • chiefofsinners

    Shame on us Christians that other religions have identified the value of silent contemplation, championed it and achieved great popularity thereby.
    We have always had this truth but have disdained it, perhaps because we have also got so much to talk about.

  • big

    The only place England survives is in Midsomer.

    • Pubcrawler

      You haven’t watched it recently, then.

      • big

        …Turkish Airlines now fly to Gotham…

        • big

          …..Gotham …..a city that doesn’t exist.

      • big

        Agree …..i can’t watch it.

    • dannybhoy

      Is there anybody left alive in Midsomer?
      ‘The Darling Buds of May’ by HE Bates
      Countryfile
      Rural England..
      The Commonwealth
      Six Nations
      BST

      • big

        i hate the six nations! ….. it’s absolutely crap.Advertising plus sport.Bring back the good old days of amateur sport,i dont agree with professional sport ,get rid of Italy they’re dreadful.Country file same as above.

        • dannybhoy

          Six Nations good!
          Wales -heap good team.
          Italy improve by leaps and bounds.
          Sergio Parisse heap good Capitan.
          Have no reverse gears..
          English people very supportive of (improving) underdogs.
          Scotland case in point..

          • big

            Parisse….rugby god,lost in a crap team.Six Nations….sorry its still crap.

          • dannybhoy

            Parisse is a great capitan a credit to Italian rugby. As was
            Alessandro Troncon before him.
            The Italians really have improved as have Scotland. They used to be rugby miners..
            Advance a step and then dig in…
            All the better for world rugby when these teams improve.

          • big

            …when they improve! ….we most be watching different teams.

          • Anton

            The Italians should do what the Argentinians did when the Northern Hemisphere teams told them to get stuffed… join the Southern Hemisphere tournaments. As a result, after only a few years Argentina have become very nearly as good as the Six Nations.

          • CliveM

            Some would argue better.

          • dannybhoy

            It depends on the pool of talent available, surely.
            The Kiwis have access to Maoris, they approach the game scientifically.
            England has a much bigger pool of talent, loadsamoney, yet we lack consistency and often fall apart when we can’t play to our game plan.
            The Welsh play with passion and skill and have great team cohesion. We love watching the Welsh!

          • James60498 .

            Agree with most of that. But Italy poor.

            Possibly the underdog supporting Englishman might think it time to give Georgia a go.

          • dannybhoy

            Georgia are amazing to watch.
            A real “pub team..”