From the Rectory Window
Have you ever felt you are drowning in words?
After a verbal onslaught, maybe you’ve wanted to put your hands over your ears and scream Just. Shut. Up. In today’s interconnected, internet world, information overload is an increasingly malignant sickness which assails all of us.
Words matter I’m using them now. Language processing is a huge part of the function of the human brain. Yet words alone eventually run out. Religion that loses sight of this becomes a noisy gong, as E M Forster put it in ‘A Passage to India’: But suddenly, at the edge of her mind, Religion appeared, poor little talkative Christianity, and she knew that all it’s divine words from ‘Let there be light’ to ‘It is finished’ only amounted to ‘boum’. Western Christianity especially has suffered from this malady of anxious wordiness. The problem isn’t words. The problem is our philosophical and practical rejection of silence and our failure to acknowledge and protect the liminal space where words, rightly, fail. This, perhaps, is what worship means.
We need to recapture to true power of the word. Especially when it comes to the one whom we call ‘God’. True theology, far from being dogmatic, is meant to be, as Denys Turner puts it, ‘a verbal riot, an anarchy of discourse in which anything goes’ in the end becoming ‘speech about God which is the failure of speech’. Scriptures ceases to be holy without this, as the terrible misuse of them today by the angry and noisy amply demonstrates.
In other words, without wordiness, silence is mere lack of noise. Without silence, words are verbose and clamorous. Words and silence are meant to be like notes and rests in a musical notation. This is as true of conversation and day to day relationships as it is in deep discourse or public debate. We speak in order to reach the threshold were words are useless.
The world is so often noisy and verbose, avoiding silence like the plague. The result is lethal misunderstanding, dogmatism and strife. The answer to this isn’t less words, but lies in the paradox of going through and beyond words to silence, from whence the wordless Word emerges.
This is a lost art which must be recaptured. For God’s sake.