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There is nothing so much like God in all the universe as silence

‘Words words words, I’m so sick of words, I get words all day through, first from him, now from you, is that all you blighters can do?’ So sang Eliza Dolittle in My fair lady, the 1964 movie I loved best as a child.

I wonder if God sometimes thinks that. (Or maybe God is just so happy to hear from us at all that she isn’t likely to be complaining!) If you search the internet for quotes about the holiness of silence from religious legends around the globe and throughout history, there is a plethora of results, and sometimes disagreement about attribution.

‘God’s first language is silence, everything else is a poor translation,’ is attributed variously to 13th century Persian mystic and poet Rumi, and 16th century Christian mystic St John of the Cross. Mother Theresa says, ‘God speaks in the silence of the heart; listening is the beginning of prayer. Then there’s the German theologian from the 13-14th centuries, Meister Eckhart, who apparently wrote ‘There is nothing so much like God in all the universe as silence’.

There is the famous story in the first book of Kings where the prophet Elijah, who is in hiding for fear of his life, experiences a great wind, an earthquake and a fire, but God was not in these mighty things, but in ‘the sound of sheer silence’. And Jesus allegedly spent a significant amount of time on his own in prayer.

Of course, there are different kinds of silence. Silence can be the refusal to acknowledge abuse, can be coverup of corruption, can be lack of courage to name wrong doing. And it’s not enough to say there is nothing in the universe as much like the Divine as silence. We need our stories, our traditions, the sharing of our experience to flesh out our picture of God. Christians are a community gathered around the character of Jesus of Nazareth, through whom we claim to most clearly see God. One of our best-loved metaphors for Jesus is, in fact, the Word.

Might I venture to suggest, however, that in our religious traditions, we might have had a surfeit of words. This Lent, well on its way by the time you read this, consider giving up some of your words. Practice listening to each other, with calm attention. Listen to your own deepest longings, which may well be in complete harmony with what God wants for you. Listen to the sounds of the created world.

Most of all, take time to listen to God: to the dear, loving, inner promptings of the Holy Spirit. There are tried and true Christian ways of doing this, many of which are explored in the pages of this publication from time to time. Centring prayer, focus on the breath, use of a prayer word – many devout Christians find these things invaluable.

This Lent, consider giving up some of your words. And be surprised at the God you may meet in the silence.

This was published in the March edition of The Melbourne Anglican

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Reader Comments (4)

Psalm 19 begins with a riddle – what tells of God’s glory without saying anything at all?

March 6, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAnn

A silent Amen!

March 6, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterHarriet

The sounds of silence

March 6, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterZag

R S Thomas wrote one of my favourite poems on silence.

Moments of great calm,
Kneeling before an altar
Of wood in a stone church
In summer, waiting for the God
To speak; the air a staircase
For silence; the sun's light
Ringing me, as though I acted
A great role. And the audiences
Still; all that close throng
Of spirits waiting, as I,
For the message.
Prompt me, God;
But not yet. When I speak,
Though it be you who speak
Through me, something is lost.
The meaning is in the waiting.

March 6, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRod

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