Reflection by Parish Councillor Josh Evans
Silence is somewhat of a paradoxical thing to write about for obvious reasons. But it is something we have all experienced, whether it is the silence experienced during a beautiful sunset or the awful silence following terrible news. However, what I want to briefly explore is the purposeful introduction of silence into our lives. Before I do so I want to acknowledge that I do this not as someone who sits easily with silence and contemplation – but as someone who is prone to distraction.
In 1946 Aldous Huxley wrote that “The twentieth century is, among other things, the Age of Noise… And no wonder; for all the resources of our almost miraculous technology have been thrown into the current assault against silence. That most popular and influential of all recent inventions, the radio, is nothing but a conduit through which pre-fabricated din can flow into our homes. And this din goes far deeper, of course, than the ear drums. It penetrates the mind, filling it with a babel of distractions”
If the radio facilitated an assault on silence in 1946 – how much more is this the case in our connected world of Facebook, Netflix, and Youtube. We live in a culture that abhors silence and a world of technology that is designed to distract us. I’m certain my capacity for concentration and contemplation has diminished as smart phones have consumed more of my attention (podcasts are my distraction of choice).
There is of course a strong tradition of silence in the Church extending back to Jesus for whom prayer and contemplation were an integral part of his life:
Luke 5: 15 -16 – But now more than ever the word of Jesus spread abroad; many crowds would gather to hear him and to be cured of their diseases. But he would withdraw to deserted places and pray.
Luke 6: 12 – Now during those days he went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God.
Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams tells us that ‘for God to communicate who and what God is – God needs our silence’1. So, if silence is so important how do we go about it? Can we sit down and just decide to be silent? For those of you who have tried, you will know that it is not that easy.
Fortunately for us the Desert Fathers in third century Egypt established the practice of ‘interior silence and continual prayer’2 which became the model for many monastic traditions in the following centuries. This tradition was reinvigorated amongst lay people by John Main (a Benedictine Monk) in the 1980’s by establishing what has become the Worldwide Christian Community of Meditators (WCCM)3– or Contemplative Christianity for those who would prefer not to use the word meditate. Part of my own experience of silence was with a group of parishioners at the Anglican Church on Chevron Island who used the resources of this organisation.
Perhaps God is seeking more silence and attention to the present from his people in this age of noise and distraction. Could it also be that this is part of what our broader community is seeking from the Church? Rowan Williams has spoken of the ‘growing significance of contemplative practice which enables many who have drifted away from the regular practice of sacramental faith to reconnect with the deep roots of the tradition and reawaken to its transformative dimension’.
For those of you who are interested – of course there is an app for this! Just search WCCM in your app store.
Thanks for your time.
- Rowan Williams, Being Human, 2018