A sounds of sheer silence.
One of my favourite hymns is ‘Dear Lord and Father of mankind, forgive our foolish ways…’ The tune for this hymn was composed by Sir Hubert Parry one of the finest Church muscians of the 19th Century. I remember well when I was a chorister at Newport Minster on the Isle of Wight singing the penultimate line of that hymn with much gusto as the Organist and Choir Mistress Miss K Lower would pull out all the stops on the magnificent three manuel Harrison and Harrison Organ to a loud crescendo to excentuate the words earthquake, wind and fire and then a diminendo to a very soft ‘O still small voice of calm.’
The words for this famous hymn are partly based on our first reading at Mass today from the First Book of Kings. Elijah was up on Mount Horeb sheltering in a cave when he is told to go out and stand before the Lord. But the Lord was not in the earthquake, the wind, or the fire, but in that still small voice of calm, or as the NRSV Bible translates it ‘a sound of sheer silence’. God is present in the sheer sound of the SILENCE!
Silence, what an impact it has upon us! I don’t know about you but the silence of the outside world during the lockdown was striking, particularly for those of us who live in built up areas or indeed on the main Portsmouth Road. Silence was to be had everywhere and during this time the sheer silence was only broken by the singing of birds or trains going past on the Woolston line, neither of which is usually heard in and around the presbytery during normal times.
Then there was the fear that silence brought during lockdown because it filled our minds with distractions and anxieties over the pandemic and what would happen next. Elijah knew that it is only in our surrender to the silence that we can hear the voice of God, the voice of peace.
Sadly, many of us today with the aid of popular culture and social media block out the silence. There is almost a fear of what silence may bring us. It is said today of many city dwellers that the only time they encounter silence is just before they fall asleep lying on their bed and it is then that they encounter who they really are and what they are before God. You encounter God in the silence, in the quiet and for many that can be uncomfortable because you are confronted with yourself and who you really are and that can be frightening and challenging.
St. Theresa of Calcutta, a woman who in her life suffered with many spiritual anxieties and doubts, would often say: “We need to find God and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is a friend of silence. The more we engage in silent prayer, the more we can give in our active life. The essential thing is not what we say but what God says to us and what he says through us.”
Did you encounter God in the silence of lockdown?