Silence

That phrase ‘silence is golden’ came to my mind last night as I listened to the sound of birdsong in the evening light, as the sun was completing its long descent to awaken the southern hemisphere.  Normally, living so close to the High Road in Chadwell Heath I am gifted the noise of traffic moving to and fro… even in that late part of the evening it can be quite loud, with the sound of bird song lost to car horns, sirens and the general hubbub of people moving from one place to the next.  But not last night, and not for a while.  I have to confess; I enjoyed the quiet.

 

But as I thought about this quiet the lyrics of a song came to mind, Simon and Garfunkel’s classic The Sound of Silence.  Written in the mid-sixties it echoes Paul Simons disquiet at what he sees happening to society around him… it was becoming more and more isolationist, less about community, more about ‘me than we’.  The art of being people together was being stripped away by the rise of TV and the fracturing of one community into little communities, the views of the loudest voices drowning out all else.

And as I pondered the lyrics of the song I wondered if there is a danger that this could be an unintended consequence of lockdown, that we all become more comfortable with the latest box set TV series, our own space, our own views that this ‘new normal’ leaves scars on society that are hard to remove… the sound of silence in so many ways becomes easier to live with that the effort of listening to and living alongside others…

And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence (one of the verses from the sound of silence)

There is also the silence we encounter when it is easier not to hear the suffering of those around us, and at the best of times, when society is in full swing, the voices of the voiceless of often lost or ignored, how much more so now when we cannot meet each other so easily, when technological routes to communication rely on access to technology, funds to buy data or broadband packages, or possibly the ability to communicate in languages other than the native tongue of your home country.  It easily becomes a society where ‘no-one dares disturbs the sound of silence’.

But what can we do?  Is silence bad?  To answer the second question first.  No, silence is not bad if it something that you intentionally engage in to get away from the rush of modern life for a while, if it is a way to calm your mind and emotions… yet if it is a state that is imposed on you, if there is nothing but silence, if you find your voice removed from you because there is no-one to hear it, to listen to you.. then silence is no longer escape but it becomes a prison, it is no longer a refuge but becomes a torment…

What can we do?  We can remember that the bible speaks of people in community almost all the time.  There are moments when it speaks of being alone, being quiet, but mostly it speaks of being together… phrases like unity, family, gathered… all remind us that we belong together, people are strongest when we are connected, safest when we are connected.  We are to look after each other, be the voice for the voiceless. 

So, in the days and weeks to come, as lockdown continues, please look out for those on the edges of the communities you belong to.  Make a phone call, send an email, say Hi over the garden fence or hallway, write a letter… remember we are community, that is the way God made us to be, anything else is damaging to our souls… we were not created to live in silence.

Silence is only golden when you have the option to change the volume.

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity. (Proverbs 17:17)

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2)