How Silently

Luke 21:25-36

My laptop’s ‘delete’ button has been busy recently. First, there was Back Friday and now it’s Cyber Monday. It seems anyone I’ve ever bought anything from wants me to know how cheaply and easily I can get the latest ‘must have!’. They tell me to “Hurry!” and some even do a countdown of the hours left before the offer runs out. Weeks down the line, I wonder if any of these ‘must haves’ will really have filled the nagging, empty hole within us that so many seem to feel. It reminds me of the time I asked a colleague what they would do if they knew the world was definitely going to end in four days’ time. The answer? “Go shopping”, as if shopping is a way to feel in control in a world increasingly out of balance.

Late last Sunday afternoon, I walked to All Saints through the soft blanket of  newly fallen snow. A solitary blackbird, silhouetted against an ice cream sky, sang its heart out in the bones of a tree as I passed through the hospital grounds. And then I walked into ‘heaven on earth’. No electric lighting, just row upon row of candles down the aisles and in each stained glass window, casting a new light on the stories depicted there. All the stuff and busyness fell away into a hush that didn’t feel empty, more like “God’s presence even in loquacious silence” as Carys Walsh puts it in her account of D.S. Thomas’ poem Kneeling.

In the poem Thomas, who was an Anglican priest and poet, moves from his own actions of kneeling and praying (expecting to be in control of his encounter with God) through to realising that he can only present himself, ask and wait with the questions. The point being that all of us, even clergy, can get wrapped up in all the busyness of this time of year but, really, the meaning of it is found in the waiting, the bit we find hard to do. 

In that lovely prayer from the Sarum Primer, “God be in my  head and in my understanding…” I often feel that a line has been missed out and, perhaps, it should also include, “God be in my ears and in my listening”. Jesus warns his disciples not to get “weighed down with the worries of this life”. Until His second coming, which will be so huge an event that ALL will notice it (Luke 21:27),  our answer lies in that still, small voice heard in the space we make to listen. And, when we hear it, then we can lift up our heads in greeting and thanksgiving and know truly that ‘unto us a child is born’. Unto us the best, real, and most precious gift of all has already been given! 


Moments of great calm,

Kneeling before an altar

Of wood in a stone church

In summer, waiting for the God

To speak; the air a staircase

For silence; the sun’s light

Ringing me, as though I acted

A great role. And the audiences

Still; all that close throng

Of spirits waiting, as I,

For the message.

              Prompt me, God;

But not yet, When I speak,

Though it be you who speak

Through me, something is lost.

The meaning is in the waiting.

R.S. Thomas cited in Walsh, C.  (2020) Frequencies of God: Walking Through Advent with R.S. Thomas, p16. Canterbury Press.