Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Touch the Silence

You can probably spot that part of the inspiration for this latest poem is the peace of our Boholano holiday. But it is also about more than that.

This is the first new year for several years that I haven't boosted my Taize batteries in one European city or another, but, thanks to the wonders of the internet we were able to join the last evening prayer live by webcam, even if we did have to wait up to 2am to do so. Even from thousands of miles away, it is something very special to take part in.  

Anyone who knows me well, knows that Taize is a very important part of my life. I can (and often have) waxed lyrical about the merits of Taize, and one (of the many) things they do very well is create the space for silence. Few people would describe me as the quiet, retiring type, but I have certainly come to learn the value of silence, the importance of  emptiness. In our results driven world with its judgements based on what we achieve, the importance of time just to "be" is essential and life-giving. It is something which is often missing in life, where, by choice or not, we are constantly surrounded by both auditory and visual noise. We live in environments where filtering out noise, even, maybe, where really listening is very difficult.

I think silence is one of the gifts that Taize has given me, and is one of the gifts, perhaps, which the church has to offer to the world. The problem is, that even in the church, silence is something which is often missing. Others may have different experiences, of course, but it seems to me the average length of the silence between "let us pray in silence for our personal intentions" and the next words can often be counted in seconds rather than minutes. So why do we feel the need to fill every moment? Why this absence of silence and space? 

Do we think we are just too busy and don't have time to stop? That in this hi-tech, supersonic world we can't "waste" time doing nothing? Are we under so much pressure to "do" that we don't have time to "be"?

Or is it even more than that - are we afraid of silence? Afraid of this absence, this emptiness - and if so why? What might we "hear" in the silence that makes us avoid it? Are we avoiding really listening, because beautiful though the message we hear may be, we fear it may cost us just a little too much of our comfort?

References to palm trees and sandy beaches aside, it is that, really, which this poem is about.

Reach out and touch the silence

Gentle waves on an empty shoreline
Blue reflecting blue
Sun sparkles
Emptiness stretching beyond horizons

How many grains of sand sit in silence?

Reach out and touch the silence

Palm trees silhouetted against brightening skies
Gentle rain on fresh green leaves
Washing clean
A canopy of life

What price this living silence?

Surrounded by chattering voices without
And amidst incessant ones within
Amongst the shoulds, and musts and ought tos
And the scars of society’s demands

Why do we fear this silent place?

Reach in and touch the silence

There is a place
Deep inside
We see

The beauty
And its cost

Hidden in the soul
Not hiding but living

Reach in and touch the silence

In this silence a whisper speaks
More is possible
Life in all its fullness

There is a place
Deep inside

Reach out and touch the noise
From your silence


  1. Your poems get better and better ... you definitely have a gift there. I agree with everything you say ... silence is a seed Taizé sowed in me which has continued to grow and blossom, when I allow it to. Why do you say 'emptiness' though? In silence my soul often feels very 'full'. I feel empty when I haven't made space and time for silence with God. Just a thought that your post sparked :-)

    1. Thank you for the compliment!

      I agree that silence can be "filled" although I do maintain that it can remain empty too, and that shouldn't necessarily be seen as a negative. I suppose in my mind there was a distinction between the emptiness of lethargy, and feeling worthless, and the "emptiness of noise"; and an emptiness that is an openness to be filled - but for the "filling to take place" a certain emptiness is required, but a different emptiness than "nothingness".

      Hmmm, not sure if that makes any sense at all to anyone but me ... Oh well, I tried! Maybe there is a poem in types of emptiness next (but maybe not, don't hold your breath!)

  2. This reminded me of the oft quoted poem by William Henry Davies (I admit I had to look up his name!)the last verse of which is:

    A poor life this, if full of care.
    We have no time to stand and stare.

    A little time taken for peaceful reflection, for those of us who are not necessarily believers or church goers, can enhance our mental well being and human understanding etc. At least I find it can.
    Think of the very old adage "Silence is Golden" - so true and yet so hard to find!

    1. I suppose for me, I would say, and you are of course free to disagree, that whether you are a believer or not, that sense of well-being, and openness to human understanding, found in a life-giving silence, is perhaps already the whisper of the voice of God ...