Monday, January 9, 2012

On Silence

This piece appeared in The Sunday Age Faith column yesterday. The church is the South Yarra Community Baptist Church, but if you come looking for a blogger with three young daughters, beware, there are two of us in our tiny congregation!


On Silence

When I was a child in church, prayer was long and wordy. Responsive prayers dragged on for hours; extemporaneous prayers were worse. Forests grew and glaciers melted in the time it took some to say their piece. I would shift in the hard pew, trying to get comfortable, and wiggle my toes in their Sunday shoes dangling above the floor.

Encouraged to pray publicly from an early age, I could think of nothing to say. God didn’t need me to point out what was wrong with the world; I was pretty sure God had a handle on it all. On the other hand, I was reluctant to raise personal matters out loud, so I kept quiet in the stiff silence of disapproval. At home alone, I couldn’t pray either. When I tried, I felt awkward and fake. My words rose no further than ceiling, there to rebound and fall heavily to the floor.

For a decade or more, I didn’t pray at all. The words didn’t work; I didn’t know why. I stumbled in and out of churches, wondering, until by God’s grace I found myself at a church which taught the beauty and wonder of silence. Like most churches, we sing some prayers and say others – but then, together on a Sunday and separately during the week, we make time to sit quietly and let God in.

In silence, no words are necessary. I learned that I don’t need to say anything; instead, I just listen. Listen to the voices and the chatter in my head. Listen to the errands I am planning, listen to the worries that spin around, listen to my self-condemnation that I can’t make silence. I remind myself that it takes practice, practice and gentleness...

And as I practice, and identify the voices, and let all the noise float away, gradually I become aware of a cool sea breeze, sweeping in like a southerly and driving out the stale air; and that’s when I begin to trust.

With it may come a sense of calm, forgiveness, or hope. Other times, it’s accompanied by an image. Green tendrils, burgeoning new life, throw out joyful shoots. Arms flung wide welcome me in. Laughing children run into the sky. A universe of stars rumbles with laughter. An old typewriter waits just for me.

From such an experience may arise a new understanding, or a direction, or an affirmation. Other times, it offers only mystery, to be held gently and pondered; or solace when it is needed most.

Whatever is there is always surprising, always a gift. From silence, I surface, restored. Quietly, I stretch and take a deep breath; and quietly I get back to work.

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