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The Sound of Silence

I have made a new friend. In the early hours of this morning, as I was tweaking my posts and twittering on twitter, as you do when you can’t sleep, I started chatting online to the friend of a Facebook friend whom I had befriended (still with me?) because we shared common interests in Flanders and Swann and that marvellous quote by Alice Roosevelt “If you haven’t got a nice word to say about anyone, come and sit next to me.” And though I may not be at exactly the same altitude as him on the church candle, his description of himself as ‘High Church Latitudinarian Anglican’ sounds pretty compelling to me. He writes like an angel, with that gift of establishing an immediate bond of sympathy across the ether which any writer trying to communicate with an audience would envy. He has no blog of his own at the moment, but has kindly allowed me to offer the following as a guest post. We would both appreciate your comments. Over to the Revd Richard Haggis:

The Sound of Silence
“How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given” we sing at Christmas time, and yet Easter time is much the same – there is silence from the tomb as the great and extraordinary event of the Resurrection actually happens. If it actually happened. Of course it did – we’d half of us be out of a job otherwise! Oh wait, I am out of a job! Christian art generally engages with the risen Christ – standing boldly atop the tomb or with Mary Magdalen in the garden or at the barbecue on the beach – but we read nothing of the moment, presumably glimpsed only by angels, when life was restored to death.

On this day sixteen years ago I was ordained a deacon of the Church of God. On this day eleven years ago, I was licensed as a parish priest to Saint Giles-in-the-Fields. Both make me think of silence. Some of the evangelicals on our ordination retreat struggled a lot with the rule of silence. One said she thought it was “rude” to be amongst strangers and not talking to them. Saint Giles had a congregation which appreciated silence in the intercessions, probably, on average, the most mature congregation, spiritually, I ever ministered to. Chequered times since, but I do not for one moment regret the privilege of ordination, nor the greater privilege of serving some very wonderful people. And even the less wonderful were pretty wonderful.

I was talking to a charming young lady at a party lately swapping notes about how much we liked walking alone in the dark, preferably in the rain, and it was the silence we agreed we both enjoyed, a sort of blanket of privacy, making the world and its woes irrelevant, and allowing and encouraging us to think our own thoughts. So many people these days fill up the silence with music, piped straight into their ears – Joyce Grenfell wrote a prescient song about that, when she noticed that piped music was broadcast in the ladies “and into the gents … they tell me”. (Bring Back The Silence And Deserve Our Thanks.)

I’ve known a few priests who are terrified of silence. This seems a shame. How else will they ever hear the “still small voice”?

But silence is a two-edged sword. There’s the mutual silence of calm content between friends or partners, and the silence of unexpressed grudges and sorrows; the warm silence of contemplation in the small of the night, and the silence of terror at real or imagined horrors; the silence of the aquarium and the sleeping cats, and the silence of the empty nursery, the deathbed vacated; and the silence that draws us towards the silence of God, into the transfiguring quiet of that emptying tomb.

Then there’s the silence when the bloody telly is switched off.

So, I’m broadly in favour of silence, but I know there’s a downside.

Littlemore, Oxford

2 July 2011

The video is attributed to i-church,which you can find online here

6 comments on this post:

Fr David Cloake said...

Richard is a great bloke and one I have know Fb style for a number of years now. He has also been poorly treated in his ministerial existence.

I am glad that he found his way here. You have a good taste in friends.

10 July 2011 13:26
UKViewer said...

Richard is brilliant. I have had loads of conversations with him on facebook and he is also a member of i-church, ( where he was very kind to me when I was a newbie, knowing very little about the CofE and he proved to be a mine of information.

I have never met him personally, something that I hope might be remedied soon, next time I visit Oxford.

And of course, he is so right about the lack of silence and stillness in our lives. Nothing better for me than early morning, before anyone is up and about for Morning Prayer. Just Rocks!

10 July 2011 15:22
Fr David Cloake said...

Wow – I even pre-dated RH in i-church in the Russell Dewhurst days. Just ask Ailsa or Phil about my barmy chats about being Borg!

Oh the days …

10 July 2011 22:13
Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you, David and UKViewer.

I think I have rather an ambivalent attitude to silence. On the one hand, I share UKViewer's love for that early morning moment before anyone else is up, with no telephone or other callers, and the bliss of solitude.

But that is not total silence – a car goes past, the birds sing, and a pet cat or dog comes to say hello. Absolute silence can be found in few places in the world except for the desert. I have been in the Arabian desert and, if the wind is not blowing up a sandstorm, that is real, total silence.
Richard said: "I’ve known a few priests who are terrified of silence. This seems a shame. How else will they ever hear the “still small voice”?". I think I well understand this terror, which was shared by Pascal – Le silence éternel de ces espaces infinis m'effraie -. It's all very well if you just hear a still, small voice. But what if the desert and silence act as a mirror in which you see all of yourself, including the bits you have been 'rising above' in order to carry on with your life?

Last Christmas a friend gave me Sara Maitland's 'A Book of Silence'. I thought it was rather a heavy-handed hint, as I tend to babble on when allowed away from my desk and out into society, and I haven't been able to finish it. Introspection is fine up to a point, but I personally feel there comes a time to decide whether you want to live a life of contemplation or be engaged in the world. I prefer the latter.

But a short period of relative silence, in a retreat, is certainly very appealing.

11 July 2011 22:41
Simon Marsh said...

The Sound of Silence: thanks very much for this “guest post” and also for the daily food I enjoy at layanglicana. Please, Richard, get blogging regularly!

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you, Simon. I am very pleased to say that Richard is now blogging at . I know he would love you to visit him there, and make some comment. If you have a quick look at the Saturday Reflections post , you will see my comparison with Speaker Bercow for the display of extreme modesty, obliging his fans to drag him into the blogosphere. But we have got there in the end: Hooray!

08 August 2011 15:59
08 August 2011 10:12

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