Silence is Golden. I will be Silent in Future.
Those were the lines that a secondary school teacher used to give our class if the class was rowdy or misbehaved when another teacher was absent.
Silence is Golden. I will be silent in future. At the time, I didn’t understand it and even now it seems to me to come from an odd direction, but I do understand something of the value of silence now.
I have always been quiet. I can remember in primary school feeling lost in the noise of the other students. There were times when the teacher left the room and little by little the volume of the chatter got louder until it sounded like a playground. I didn’t enjoy that noise.
There are many kinds of oppressive and ugly silences. I am thinking of the tense silence of the exam hall. There is the horrible silence after a loss or when a couple are fighting and in hurt, there are no words to say.
Much like nudity, silence is a two headed beast. When enforced, it is torture. If chosen, it is ultimate freedom.
I feel that silence is a precious thing. Silent spaces and shared silences are pieces of heaven.
I enjoy choosing silence and walking into silent places.
I grew up going to our local church every week. I learned that you don’t talk aloud in sacred places. I don’t consider myself Christian and I have no formal relationship with any of the main churches. I do, however, love church buildings. I love the smell of incense and the flicker of candles. I love sunlight streaming through stained glass windows.
Growing up I didn’t understand what was meant by calling a church “God’s house”. But now, I understand that what we mean is this is a place set apart from the ordinary world. This is a place set apart from the noise, the nausea, of the city.
In Galway I have discovered the Augustinian church as a place to sit and along the canal as a place to walk. The collegiate and the cathedral are lovely buildings but they are used so much by tourists and other events that silence is a rarity.
I have no desire to reconnect with the main churches. Their ceremonies and rituals have so little space for Silence. What I do want, is more open and silent spaces.
I want somewhere I can sit and be.
There is something magical about a place reserved for silence. Somewhere that I can enter and leave and that exists without me. At home, I can close the doors on the world but I can’t shut out my partner or household chores. Even learning to shut out the ever-presence of the internet is a major challenge for me.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there were more spaces for silence?
In Edinburgh airport, just inside the front door, there is a multi/non-denominational prayer room. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if there were more rooms like that in public buildings?
And we can choose to share silence. My partner and I inherited a form of grace before meals from some friends we stayed with in New Zealand. We simply hold hands and share a few moments of silence.
Last month I attended the Galway Quaker meeting. Quakers worship by sitting in silence for an hour. The peace that comes in that is immense. When I can, I will attend meetings like that.
At home, I will block out the internet more and more. I will light a candle and daydream.
Find the silent places in your life. Honour them.
If I were to reword the punishment of those lines and turn it into a affirmation, it would be this: Silence is Golden. In freedom, I step in and out of Silence.