We are pleased that we have a guest blogger today, Canon Andy Bryant. Norwich Cathedral's Canon Pastor.
It is the silence that is the most poignant sign of these most unusual of times. The great Cathedral Church of Norwich stands locked, still and silent. I open my front door and gone are the noises of the busy city. Traffic sounds are rare and the voices of people rarer. Looking out the window nobody passes by. There is just silence.
Some people get nervous in the silence. They find comfort in leaving the radio on during the day to have the background of human voices. Or they full their house with music, keeping the silence at bay.
But I find this silence deeply re-assuring. For me this silence says: we are taking this virus seriously. We are following the rules because we want to help. And the silence – the absence of activity – is not just our ways of keeping ourselves safe, it is our way of supporting our wonderful NHS and its dedicated staff. The silence of church and city is our act of solidarity to protect the NHS, to minimise the pressure that it will inevitably come under. Our silence is our standing alongside all who have and will get the virus, and especially those mourning and the many more who will mourn before we see this through.
I do of course miss the music and liturgies of the Cathedral. I miss my colleagues’ voices as we join together in prayer, I miss their voices bringing alive the reading of Scripture. I miss the singing of the choir, their harmonies balm to the soul and the sudden surprise of a chord that breaks open the heart. I miss the sound of the organ filling the space and echoing in the depths of my being. I miss the Cathedral Community, their conversations and the sharing of their lives.
But though I miss these things I nevertheless value the silence for God is in the silence. Some long to hear God speak directly to them. They want a God who acts, gets involved, does stuff. Others mistakenly presume that the silence from God is the final proof of the absence of God.
But if we allow it the silence can nurture us and renew us. When life is in free fall and all the familiar landmarks have disappeared what I need to know is that I am held…and in the silence I feel held. Amidst the jumble of thoughts chasing through my mind the last thing I need is more words, either human or divine. Amidst the endless commentary on the events of this present time I do not need more words. Rather I need to be held, held by the One who even amidst my free fall I know will not let me go. A true friend is one in whose presence you can both be comfortably silent. A trusted lover is one who will quietly hold you, whose holding is healing, an anointing for a troubled body, mind and soul.
Silence provides the necessary space for letting go and for discovering what I most need to hold onto. Silence strips us and re-clothes us. It empties us and fills us anew. It bathes our wounds and binds them. It reminds us what we are not, and what we are, whose we are not, and whose we are.
It is captured for me in this quote (whose origin I have sadly lost):
Silence is the assurance of God’s presence, not absence.
Silence is the dark faithfulness of God’s promise…
When above all, we need to recover
A sense of the presence of God who is within,
And by whom we are enfolded.
It is in St John’s Gospel, Chapter 17:
You in me…I in you…they in us…I in them…you in me.
Embrace the silence that is around us at this most unusual of times. Allow yourself to be held in the silence by the One from whose love we cannot be separated. Allow the silence to nurture you and uphold you. Counterintuitively remember that the silence does not mean you are alone, but rather in the company of One who is beyond all words, all imaginings, and who holds you safe in the palm of the Divine hand.