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THE SOUND OF SILENCE
'We worship a God who doesn't always speak - at times his silence can be almost impossible to reconcile with our own faith. Could an understanding of silence help us appreciate better this aspect of the divine?' So wrote Lucinda van der Hart in a magazine I was reading recently.
Anyone who knows me might conclude that, talkative as I am (and always have been!) the keeping of silence, whether it be voluntary or enforced, might not come easily to me. Yet, perhaps to your surprise, I have always enjoyed times of silent retreat and as I have grown older I have found that I need longer and longer times of 'silent withdrawal' to gather my strength for the next 'communicative phase'.
Whether it has been mountains, with their winds that carry all sound away, or libraries with their purposeful hush, or periods of deafness that have been caused by a childhood injury, 'the sound of silence' has been an important part of my formation as a Christian.
The silence of God, however, is quite another matter. His silence can be very uncomfortable. Prayers of the heart, spoken and unsaid, cry out for an answer - and it seems there is none.
That is not the same thing as there being none, however. 'Waiting upon God' for extended periods of time may not come easily, but it comes with an assurance of His blessing. Jesus did it (all those days in the wilderness) and we should not be surprised to find that, at several times in our life, we too have some 'wilderness time'.
Every Saturday morning at 9.30 a.m. for many years there has been a few people coming to the parish church to keep a vigil of silent prayer. For half-an-hour they sit in the South Chapel in church, ignoring the distractions that occur even in a place set aside for prayer. People, matters great and small, requests for prayer written on slips and put in the 'prayer box' near the votive candle stand, are all lifted to God in silence.
And does God speak? Yes, for He is a God who delights to reveal Himself in words that we may know Him and His will. The Bible is His authoritative word, written. If you read it, you will hear Him speak. There are other ways in which we will hear Him. Sometimes it will be through messengers of His truth (whether they realise it or not), in what people say to us. And sometimes - it will be in the silence.
Vicar & Lecturer