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Columnists

Being quiet

Sarah Strang

sarahstrang.jpgSilence is no longer a natural state. Minimise this browser and allow yourself a moment of quiet, then ask yourself why do we choose noise when presented with the choice of silence?

Living is noisy and the oft-repeated, luxurious desire to 'get away from it all,' infers that it is impossible to be fully engaged with our lives and be at peace. When we are surrounded by people, animals, technology and work, is it possible to find silence within that ever-changing soundtrack?

Beautiful noises - such as the rustling of woodland trees, the contented sighing of sleeping children or the reverential hush of the church interior or gallery space - invoke quietness as something sacred. Do we get joy from such things simply because nature, humanity and architecture can be innately beautiful, or is it that in an age when noise is omnipotent, quietness can appear wonderful? Yet either way, so often we choose to fill our places and spaces with noise or create an interior soundscape in a peaceful place through the use of personal music players and mobile phones.

My favourite childhood memories, from around age five, consist of being silent and solitary, and savouring the boredom of the final weeks of the summer holidays. After spending most of the morning outside, where I had been constructing a house by draping dust sheets over a wooden climbing frame, I would simply sit in the new house all afternoon, watching the sheets dip in the wind and be happily quiet.

The other thing that created a quiet euphoric feeling was when I spent an afternoon lying on some paving in the garden, undisturbed for some hours, just listening to the clicking of the black plastic drainpipes in the heat and the occasional low-flying aeroplane overhead.

Perhaps the need for noise is vital and human, connecting us with one another. But gentle periods of silence - including silences within our relationship with God - allow for a deeper intimacy between us. This may mean going deeper than we'd at first like, into places that we may be afraid of, or feel that we are too busy to encounter.  In this way silence provokes a communication that is not too straight-forward. We hear a wave of words, or murmurs and noises - less decipherable, imperfect and less tangibly God-shaped than we often desire.

Engaging ourselves within a steady soundtrack of noise is often an attempt to escape an uncomfortable moment of fear, doubt, pain or even joy. To hold it at arm's length. Perhaps if we choose to create a distance from potential intimacy with God we feel more comfortable. Less afraid but perhaps less engaged.

Grief, particularly the loss of a loved one, dictates living for a while in the shadows of what has existed. Life can somehow be made to feel like it has stalled. But if in this moment silence can prevail, the lamentation and joy of a resurrected Christ can too.

Lucy Winkett is away.