Walking on the beach with a friend, we were struck by the grey beauty of the winter’s day, by the cloak of low cloud and the deadening of sound. I searched for, and didn’t find, the words that would explain what silence is to me. He’s a poet and came up with a zillion. Well, five. His words explained what silence is to him, but the words I wanted were elusive, just out of reach. But I have it now; Silence to me is woollen, woven, enfolding, gathering. Silence holds me together.
Until 5 years ago I lived in the middle of defiant noise; when I woke I would turn on the radio… speech, rock, dramas, anything. In the evening there was my juke box, party, friends, drink, noise….. And all the while, all through that noise, I wrote. Music on, loud-as-you-like and then start to work! TV series after series, story after story, play after play. And as I thumped on the keyboard my internal soundtrack was as vigorous as the garrulous conversation of people who should have put the cork back in the bottle three drinks ago. My head was full of characters and dialogue. Clamouring. Funny. Heart breaking. Exciting. Life was a cabaret, old chum. And then I heard a question that challenged me and all my ways, and the answer that came to me, from outside me, changed everything, whipped the ground from under me, silenced the bedlam. A question from God. An answer from God. Deep calling to deep. I fell in love with the God of peace.
Silence fell on me. That’s the only way I can describe it. Overnight I found silence. I worked in silence, walked in silence, drove in silence. Folded into peace. Silence woollen, woven, enfolding, gathering. Silence holding me. One day I was singing “A whiter shade of pale” at the top of my voice, engine roaring, bass speakers buzzing, racing along the M4, the next day the music was off, and I was lost in thought. It was that sudden.
This is one of the things I say when I’m asked why I believe in God, how I know that He is real. Only the real can create real. And that includes real change. God created a new world for me when I surrendered to Him – a world not of my making, but of His. I’d battered along unchanged and ungrowing (yeah, alright, pretend it’s a word) all on my own for years. He took hold of me and everything changed. My life, my work, my inner world… changed beyond recognition.
Work stopped. Overnight. Two huge projects cancelled. Income cancelled. Life changed.
And my inner world fell silent. Peaceful.
What can I say about the gift of silence?
In prayer, just sometimes, that silence becomes enchanting. Overwhelming. Like a blanket of snow, like the very first snowfall on the very first day, the sounds of the world dwindle away, as I step into the reality of God. Silence. Woollen silence.
When that happens, when everything is stilled, when time is lost and the heart overflows with love and worship, then I recognise silence as a precious gift.
Only recently did I discover that I’m following my father into his world of deep silence. Indeed, if I live long enough my silence will be complete. And (here’s the great and wonderful gift that God has given me) I am ready for it. I don’t fear what’s ahead.
I’m going deaf. Like millions of others.
There’s a funny side to being deaf. The things I hear are often a lot more interesting than the things everyone else hears, so that the answers I give to the simplest questions make my granddaughter laugh aloud. On her way to bed I asked “What time are you going to school tomorrow?” and she replied “I’m going to a wedding.” There followed a series of confusing questions “Whose?” “What are you on about?” Whose wedding?” “What?” “You said you were going to a wedding.” “No, Nana, I’m going in at eleven.”
And in a hushed Cathedral one Summer’s evening, in the Evensong Worship, a friend’s exaggerated gestures and unorthodox sign language sent us into snorting giggles, until we slithered away guiltily, exploding into laughter as we hit the outside air.
It creeps up on you, this deaf thing. Like grey hair and disapproval. But it’s not so terrible.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
Here’s the blessing in all this: For a few weeks there was a misdiagnosis of aphasia, a slow and medically inevitable decline in speech and understanding. During those lonely weeks, it really didn’t feel great. But it wasn’t terrifying either. I would not, I knew, be swept away by the waters or burnt by the fire. It was part of what God might have in store for me, and that was OK. At 3am as I lay awake, there was sadness, but God never left me. He was at my side, my Paraclete. And He was enough. It might be inevitable medically, but with God nothing is impossible, and I put my trust in Him.
I realised that God had already prepared me for silence. He’s gone before me and smoothed the road.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.
I am so thankful for faith, for peace, for friends and for new life, for humour, and for woollen, woven, enfolding silence. For the written Word of God, speaking to me in silence.
In that silence God gathers me up. Holds me still. Brings peace. His silence, His gift.
(By the by, I don’t have aphasia. I’m simply mutton Jeff, or mutt’n’jeff)