Thursday, 18 May 2017

The Sound of Silence

I haven't had time to blog for a couple of months, what with Easter, baptisms, dedications, a wedding and a couple of funerals, the time has zoomed past. Oh and then there was preparing for a Sabbatical. For those not versed in these things, every seventh year, as a Baptist minister, I can take a period, of up to 3 months, when I have no pastoral duties with the church in which I serve. But preparing for it takes some doing, handing over things ensuring that at least some of the things I cover routinely, will be done while I am taking this break.

So ...

Growing up, the song the sound of silence was one I quite liked, perhaps because of my busy mind. Not that I find comfort in darkness or associate with all of the lyrics, but the idea of a still and tranquil mind appealed to me, focusing on one thing at a time or even a place of stillness.

Over time I have learned that my mind can often be processing a number of things at once and it seldom truly switches off. As a software designer, I could wake in the night with a solution to a problem that I had been working on. Its one of the reasons that I spend time walking and not talking to others while doing it, it helps me let things go and be a little more detached at times.

Anyway the thought of 3 months with no pastoral work was, I admit, a little daunting. To start this period I went off to a priory that I have used over the last 6 years. No laptop or pad, no emails, phone on only in the evening ...

One of the brothers, after a chat to guide me on my time out, suggested that to still my busy mind I should try two days of silence. Regular times of 20-25 mins of sitting in silence, between which I should walk, enjoy the priory gardens, have a coffee or whatever, but no Bible reading after the start of the day or prayer as such, and after dinner, doing something to relax.

You can imagine, if you are busy minded like me, that this was no easy thing, each time I sat in silence my thoughts raced around, no matter how hard I tried to put them aside, after a few moments back they would come. However I stuck at it and the brother was not surprised at the end of the first day that I felt I had achieved nothing. Day 2 I persisted, its one of my traits that I will stick at things to see them through, Half way through the afternoon, and 5 periods of silence later, I decided to go for a walk in the countryside - over fields, beside a river, using my binoculars to watch some birds, looking at the crops growing in the fields and the colours of the leaves on the different trees. Sitting down when I got back, it dawned on me that for two hours I had not been thinking of anything - no church stuff, no family stuff, just quiet and enjoying what I was seeing, hearing, experiencing - the sound of silence!

Later when I met with the brother, he listened and then smiled and suggested that this is the effect of the times of sitting in silence and that it makes a difference to the things we do in a day and how we do them.

The times of silence played out in stilling my restless, purposeful mind and helped me find a place of quiet, peace and silence. Socrates is quoted as saying "Beware the barrenness of a busy life". Perhaps he had a point, am I a little too busy getting things done?

While I cannot spend every day like that, I aim to start each day alongside my bible reading and prayer, with a time of silence and maybe find time later in the day to do the same.

Rest, peace, silence are hard for many of us to find. Yet it may be in the silence and the restfulness that follows, that we can find a peace in any situation, maybe that's what Jesus meant when he talks of a peace that passes understanding. A peace that the world cannot give, a peace that any of us can find through that place of quiet or silence. A peace that helps us hear more clearly once the busy, noisy mind is quietened.

Philippians 4:7

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.