Golden silence

Andy Hawes is Warden of Edenham Regional Retreat House

If ‘silence is golden’, then Christmas must be the golden time. It is the only time of the year when the road through our village is quiet. It is the only time of the year when the phone does not ring incessantly. It is the one time of the year that our family has the house to itself. These ‘silent nights’ when the ‘silent stars go by’; the time when we remember ‘how silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given’ is a reminder of how important silence and rest is to our physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. At Christmas this may be an accident of the season, but for anyone who seriously pursues wholeness and holiness, silence is an absolute prerequisite.

There are two kinds of silence. One is the absence of noise. It is a good idea, from time to time, to have a noise audit. Just notice the level and type of noise you live with. In these days of personal media and the ever-present radio and television, there is often a ‘wallpaper’ of noise about. In fact, it can become addictive. It is one thing to turn on the radio for the news; it is another thing to leave it on all day. Ask yourself the questions ‘Why have I left this on? Am I really listening to it?’
People often tell me that they leave the television and radio on for company. It reminds me that owners do the same thing for budgerigars! There is something about this kind of noise that saps the will and deadens the senses; it leaves a kind of mental and emotional hangover. People tell me that they don’t have time to pray or can’t pray, but often the same people fill their inner life with indiscriminate noise. There is a connection here, I’m sure.

The other kind of silence is found in the depths of our consciousness. It is unlikely that the noise addict will be aware of it, but it is possible to dwell in this silence even in the midst of noise. I notice this in church. The people who can settle down and be quiet and attentive are usually people who are in touch with this interior peace, the ones that are irritated by noise or children or insist on talking and fidgeting are often those who (to my knowledge) make no attempt at a personal and private encounter with the God who is found in our depths.

It is a simple thing to be quiet in God but that simplicity demands a trust in God’s gracious presence for us and the will to ‘go into your own room and shut the door’. This silence – the gift of God’s presence – demands we let go and let God. As we hear in the Christmas Gospel, ‘to those who receive him, he gives power to become children of God.’ We cannot receive, we cannot listen, if either our lives are on permanent transmit or our imaginations and our interaction with the world is always being dictated to by the voices of the radio, even if they be ‘ever so charming’.