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Anglican Diocese of Bendigo

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Christ Church - ​The Anglican Church on Agitation Hill

St John's, Chewton​


INTO THE SILENCE

Silence seems to be feared and so avoided in our contemporary culture, suggesting it is exactly what we most need.

​​Silent Worship: An Oxymoron for Anglicans?
Betty Ashton
Anglicans are accustomed to polished English with complex syntax’, and, I would add to this excerpt from the Preface to our current Prayer Book (A Prayer Book for Australia: 1996 p viii), a rich vocabulary.

Words are important to us, and in our worship we strive to make the words we use relevant, accurate, appropriate—and elegant! At the same time, we readily acknowledge the inadequacy of words; the sacred truths we attempt to express in worship cannot be contained in human language. We draw on music, singing, movement, posture, coloured hangings and vestments, and symbols from many art forms, engaging all our senses to enhance our words.

At its best, all this sparks imagination, creativity, wonder and awe; at less than its best, it can make us content with busyness, or worse, lazy, letting all these externals do our work, ‘closing off’, as the writer of the Preface goes on to warn, that very ‘sense of the numinous’— the transcendence and immanence of God— it is all intended to evoke.
  
'Into the Silence’ offers an Anglican opportunity to reconnect with this ancient—and yet contemporary—practice, as a complement, not an alternative, to our ordered verbal liturgy, expanding our worship experience.

Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, likens the practice of silent worship to bird-watching: still, patient, attentive, committed, not necessarily comfortable!, expectant, waiting for the flash, the glimpse that may or not come. Such a practice may seem daunting—but only because it is for most of us, new, unfamiliar, different. Bit by patient bit, we learn to trust God to show us how to manage distraction, to accept we do nothing, leaving all the initiative with the Spirit, expecting nothing—and everything! That said, there is much wisdom in the old Anglican advice on another matter; ‘all may, none must, some should’. This practice may not be for you, now.

We meet at St John’s Chewton, its simple dignity and quiet bush setting fit well with our intention. We sit in silence for an hour, without direction. At the end of the hour, there is an invitation to speak, either about what arose in the silence, without discussion, or to ask about the practice.

‘Into the Silence’, every Monday 3.25 for a 3.30 start. Just come!
  

Recall, for example Elijah sitting in his cave, finding the voice of God not in the wind, nor in the earthquake, nor in the fire, but in the sound of sheer silence.
(1 Kings 19:11)

​​Yet for some a niggle remains: is this enough? is this all?​​

Scattered throughout Scripture, and found as a constant in Jesus’ life, are examples of the place for withdrawal, stillness and silence in our lives as an essential complement to such human activity and human initiative. Recall, for example Elijah sitting in his cave, finding the voice of God not in the wind, nor in the earthquake, nor in the fire, but in the sound of sheer silence (1 Kings 19:11).

Silence seems to be feared and so avoided in our contemporary culture, suggesting it is exactly what we most need. Even among those becoming aware of a yearning for it, a prompting of the Spirit, there also may be hesitance about launching into the unknown deep of silence without the anchor of form and the rudder of language. Indeed many of us were taught that such an unstructured practice, being both hard and dangerous to right belief, is best reserved for a select few, preferably in religious communities where such risks can be monitored and contained.

  Thus the habit of silence, having fallen via suspicion into disuse, has come to be seen as being for others, located elsewhere—in other places and times, such as Hildegard of Bingen in 12th century Germany, or the 16th century Spanish mystics like St Teresa of Avila or St John of the Cross, or in other religious traditions, such as Buddhism. It is not something for us!
The Prophet Elijah in his cave.   Contemporary Greek Orthodox Icon
So it may come as a surprise to be reminded that there is a long tradition of the silent way in the English church.

Most of us have heard of Julian of Norwich, but may not know that there were many others following the same way across England at that time. She is one of several whose works are still read and used today from the 14th century. The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) are probably the best known to us today, having maintained silence as their communal worship from their beginnings in England in the 17th century. In the early twentieth century Evelyn Underhill and Bede Frost, to name just two, encouraged the use of silence through their writing, retreats and spiritual direction.
   
Let the poets have the last word.

T.S Eliot reminds us of the
            … unknown, remembered gate…
           Not known, because unlooked for
           But heard, half heard in the stillness
           Between two waves of the sea

James McAuley’s response to the distraction that marks our era is a cry to ‘set pools of silence in this thirsty land.’