This is a copy of my article in the AUGUST 2015 edition of the Billericay ‘Around Town Magazine’
Silence is a rare commodity these days. Never before in human history have so many words been so widely thrown about with such remarkable ease. The advent of social media has launched a new age of words, words and more words: Email, Text, Twitter, Face Book, TV and everything else in-between.
In his 1851 work ‘For Self-Examination’ the Christian thinker Søren Kierkegaard wrote: “Everything is noisy; and just as a strong drink is said to stir the blood, so everything in our day, even the most insignificant project, even the most empty communication, is designed merely to jolt the senses or to stir up the masses, the crowd, the public, noise!” We seem, he continues: “To have become sleepless in order to invent ever new instruments to increase noise, to spread noise … on the greatest possible scale.” Kierkegaard’s remedy to a noisy world is to: “… create silence!” There are obviously many good things about the digital age, but Kierkegaard’s observations were more prophetic than he would have ever imagined.
It is often said that silence has its roots in listening to others. We have, after all, been blessed with two ears and one mouth – a reminder (I speak for myself, here) that we are to listen twice as much as we speak! The Book of Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament echoes this when it says there is: “A time to be silent and a time to speak” (3:7). But it’s also the case that the significance of silence rests in the fact that once spoken, we can never unsay something we have said. Indeed, political spin doctors make their living out of interpreting, and re-interpreting, the use of inappropriate words. However, as someone wryly observed: “Silence cannot be misquoted!”
We are not accustomed to thinking in silence, though, are we? We want to put out a statement, give a response, open the conversation, comment on a recent event etc. As the Tremeloes sang back in the late 1960’s: “Silence is golden, talking is cheap!” New York Times cultural columnist David Brooks comments that the world of “fast and loud” prevents us from hearing the quieter sounds around us – when those sounds are often the ones we most need to hear when we want to speak words wisely.
The New Testament letter of James knows the power and purpose of silence. The author writes rather bluntly: “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless” (1:26). In contrast to many other ancient writers on speech and silence, James knows that silence is the human way God’s compassion is often revealed. A constant talker cannot hear the cry of the widows and orphans (1:27). Later, the author reflects on the remarkable power of the tongue: “It is like a rudder that guides a massive ship, or a bit that can check a powerful steed. Used improperly, it is a match that can ignite a raging forest fire, or an instrument of cursing. But properly disciplined, the tongue is nothing less than a source of blessing” (3:1-12). We might be right to conclude that bridling the tongue is impossible without the discipline of silence.
In the midst of so many words: ‘Silence is golden’ and something we simply cannot do without if we want our words to bless and our faith to be true. Why not experiment, over this next month, with a response of silence rather than words and see how much your life, and the life of those around you, is enhanced?