In the early 400s a hermit named Agathon was said to have spent three years with a stone in his mouth to encourage him in his practice of refraining from speech.
Ignoring the fact that Agathon is a cool name and sounds like he should be a character in Lord of The Rings, he was evidently a man committed to silence.
I read this little anecdote in a book I’ve just finished titled, Silence: A Christian History by Diarmaid MacCulloch, the Professor of the History of the Church at Oxford University. As the title implies, it’s a book detailing the theme of silence through Christian history.
Since reading this book I’ve found myself pondering silence.
Silence seems to be elusive in our society, it’s not something we’re generally comfortable with.
After all, most of us, I dare suggest, prefer noise over silence.
As I sit writing this I’m well aware of the noise around me. I’m in a cafe where the customer and the owner are talking quite loudly about what they got up to on the weekend. There is a group of Christians (they look Presbyterian) praying in the corner, some of which I can hear. There are people getting up from the table and scraping their chairs on the wooden floor, and there’s the noise from the kitchen, dishes clanging and chef’s directing.
That’s just the noise from where I sit. It’s a comfortable place to be.
But think of the noise we choose to have in our own lives. This isn’t just the busyness that pervades our diaries, this is the actual noise we have ringing in our ears as we fall asleep, as we commute to work, as we do exercise. In each of these cases we may have the radio or the iPod attached as we seek to multitask and be efficient.
So, how do we bring silence into our lives?
If we go back to the example of Agathon we see his commitment to his cause. It’s radical, it’s extreme. I don’t imagine I could do it.
I think I prefer noise because it helps keep me distracted. It helps me avoid silence.
Silence can be threatening.
When there’s no one around and no distractions it’s only me and my own mind. I can get caught up in my own thoughts. Some good, some not so good. Silence means it’s just me. No one else.
From a young age I’ve enjoyed watching the detective series, Cadfael. Cadfael is a monk who was part of the crusades upon the Middle East but then turns to the cloister in search of a simpler life. In doing so he is portrayed as the worldly monk, competent in medicinal practices and helpful at solving the extraordinary number of murders that occur in and around the Abbey.
The monk life enabled regular time for silence, worship, and reflection on God. Silence was structured into the day. Over the course of a 24 hour period there are eight designated times of prayer and worship, while outside of this is space for the individual to be silent.
I’m not suggesting we need to join the monk life, but I am suggesting silence might help us cope with our busy lives. Silence provides a space for reflection, for thinking, for clarity. It enables us to have time to ourselves, to recalibrate our bearings. How long has it been since you recalibrated those rusty bearings?
Recently I’ve found myself enjoying even 5-10 minutes of silence every few days. It’s bought a sense of refreshment and the ability to persevere with whatever is next. For me, incorporating silence into my weekly rhythm will help give me the energy to deal with the week’s busyness.
What about you? Is silence something you avoid? Do you include silence in your weekly rhythm?
Challenge: Spend 10 minutes in your car with the radio off, how do you react?