Thursday 13 February 2020

Learning to shut-up in the presence of God! Some thoughts on silence, or the lack of it in our lives and in our churches

We live in an ever-increasing noisy world. With social media, Netflix, emails and people we are surrounded by sound all the time. On those rare occasions when we might get the opportunity for silence many instinctively fill the void by watching YouTube, putting the car radio on or calling someone up on the phone. Noise it would seem is not just everywhere, there is also a sense in which we want it - it’s as if we are afraid of what we might face in the silence. What is more, noise is not always audible. This might seem like a bit of contradiction, after all, is noise not sound by definition? Well perhaps on one level it is, but on another level, a spiritual level, noise also refers to the busy-ness that we fill our lives with. The books and articles we read, even spiritual ones – the work that we do, the things that we have. In short, our thoughts can simply become noise and can block out a certain degree of reality by filling our mind with noise. This is problem, not least, because the ultimate  reality that is shut out is God. Noise destroys silence and silence is the language of God.

It is in the silence of our hearts, the silence of our souls, that we encounter most fully and intimately the divine presence. Silence connects us to the still, small, silent voice of God who resides in the depths of our hearts.

I firmly believe that as Christians we need to learn to be people who shut-up in the presence of God. When we love someone or are best friends with someone it is not always necessary to speak – we can see this in couples who have been together for a long time – often it is enough simply to sit and be in each other’s presence,  simply being with the other, that is enough.

I think that we lose something profound and important when we lose the ability to simply sit and be.  Furthermore, one of the big problems that relates to the loss of silence in our world is the confusion that has arisen between function and being. Put simply, our world, our society and even our Church at times seems obsessed with what we do, how successful we are and how productive we are. Ask people how they are, and you invariably get the response ‘busy’ – I’m guilty of it myself. Busy-ness has been turned into a virtue – we feel like we should busy doing stuff all the time. Yet, being busy, filling our time with stuff – even stuff “for the gospel” is not a virtue. In fact, that latter, can be detrimental because the whole gospel endeavour can quickly become about us, about our initiative, and how much we are doing – whilst all the time ignoring that God is the one who is in charge, God is the source, God is the reason – not us.

I am utterly convinced that serious spiritual development cannot take place without silence. One of the things that I try to instil into my own parish community is the need for silence in and around Church and Mass. Silence and reverence are in inextricably related. It is hard to pray in a Church if the people around you are talking incessantly or worse, they try and talk to you whilst you are trying to talk to God!

We have lost, it seems, the instinctive silence and indeed reverence that is required for prayer and worship. It is wonderful that we have vibrant and joyful communities that are happy to see each other and share the weeks news, but this should never happen at the expense of being quiet, still and silent in the presence of God. The fact that our churches contain the greatest of all treasures – Jesus Himself, truly and sacramentally present should invoke real silence and reverence. Sadly, it seems so often that presence of Christ in his Church is obscured by the din of a social gathering rather than revered by prayerful and reverential silence.

In short, we live in a world of noise, but the God of silence calls us out of this noise into a place of rest and peace. If we as individuals and as a Church are to be everything that we are created to be, perhaps we all need to learn and re-learn to shut-up in the presence of God!

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