Hymns to the silence

How many conversations begin: “How are you doing? busy…chasing my tail…meeting myself coming back.”

Busyness – sometimes it seems we can’t avoid it. Yet sometimes we like that there are no gaps in what’s coming next. We can become complicit with the frenetic pace even when it puffs us out. Why would we choose to be so busy when busyness easily becomes an inhospitable place?

Busyness never permits us to go to the quiet center of who we are. Maybe that’s why the depth Psychologist Carl Jung famously said busyness is not of the devil it is the devil. To never explore who we are is to become a ghost.

Why are we reluctant to step off the carousel of the next thing needing done? Because it distracts us. In his poem Burnt Norton, one of the 4 quartets, T.S. Elliot writes we are: distracted from distraction by distraction…

Distraction. Are we more than a little afraid of what slowing down might reveal – the deeper rhythm that lives in us: desire, dream, regret, sorrow, longing. What would they reveal to us about ourselves?

So the constant routine with a few extra things thrown in anesthetizes our soul.

But there is more below the surface of the next thing needing done. A deeper presence: the presence of our own life; the presence of God. The Psalmist puts us in touch with that presence when he writes of God’s invitation: Be still and know that I am God.

Stillness is the precursor to silence. We emerge from silence…the silence of the womb; we will return to silence…the silence of our mortality. Our deepest origins, our journeys end: are held in silence. Is it really so surprising that the One who calls our beginning from silence, the one who calls us into our silent end should choose silence as the place to meet?

Silence brings us to the deep well of presence where our being and God’s being come face to face.

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.

A solitary place, stillness, silence -it’s here we come close to the presence of God. The 14th century Christian mystic and scholar writes:

‘”When all things lay in the midst of silence

then leapt there down into me from on high,

 From the royal throne, a secret word.”

Meister Eckhart

Silence is the cupped hand around the ear of our heart where God speaks to us the open secret of love, the open secret of joy, the open secret of sorrow.

Silence, space, solitariness, stillness, each joins hands in a dance that transforms time from duration into depth. The dance of these partners invites us to become present to the world around us, present to God, present to ourselves, present to the dearest freshness deep down things, as Gerald Manley Hopkins wrote.

Is that why Jesus makes the effort to seek it out? Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.

Does silence guide to where time blossoms into eternity, where heaven’s wave laps against the shore of our living. Is this what the Celtic Christian’s called a thin place: as the world around and the world within speaks with a sacramental voice.

Very early in the morning – seems to be the only time Jesus could call his own. It was time that would be soon enough interrupted by demands. It was time were he gathered all the resources he needed for the day ahead. Jesus made time to pray. Jesus found a place to pray. I guess he could have nipped into Peter’s living room, he could have lay on his bed, but he rose and went to a solitary place. Jesus found a place to pray. And that place was a solitary one.

Now it’s true that we can pray anywhere and anytime. But do we glimpse in the life of Jesus the importance of finding a solitary place for yourself, somewhere that is your space, somewhere you can return to again and again over time to reflect and pray?

The picture at the top of the page is the space I’ve made. It’s a simple corner of a cluttered room. It has a chair facing a wall with Icons from the Greek and Russian Orthodox Church. There is a cross that belonged to the vicarage where T.S. Eliot once made a home.

This is my Solitary place.

Where would your solitary place be? It doesn’t have to resemble mine. It could be a familiar walk. I knew someone who made their solitary place the car journey on their way to work. Someone else made swimming their solitary place where they prayed. A runner creates stillness out movement: foot and breath moving together in the physical mediation that would be a great space for the Jesus prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me. Music makes a stillness by diving into the fathoms of who we are and carrying us down there, like a pearl fisher.

Where might you become still? What brings you into silence. What is your solitary place?

Could you play with making a solitary space of your own?

Come and find the quiet center

in the crowded life we lead

find the room for hope to enter

find the frame where are freed,

clear the chaos and the clutter

clear our eyes that we may see

all the things that really matter

be at peace and simply be”

Come and find the quiet center, Shirley Murray.

p.s this is the third attempt to post this and each one has gone missing hence the changes in the text!

4 thoughts on “Hymns to the silence

  1. thanks Campbell – for some reason this post kept disappearing or reverting back – so it’s now on its 4th attempt to stay put (and keeps changing each time! Memory not what it once was)


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