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Teaching without noise of words

People love to talk (especially Christians), but what profound revelations are we missing because we refuse to shut up? By James Karran

People talk too much.

Man prayingThe more we at Llan have immersed ourselves in the contemplative, Celtic spirituality lark, the more this truth has become profoundly evident to me. Everyone has an opinion that HAS to be expressed, everyone HAS to be heard, and when the person who is currently speaking gets boring, they HAVE to be interrupted because their thoughts are pointless and mine are brilliant. In the words of Fight Club's Marla Singer, people don't listen to each other, they're just "waiting for their turn to speak".

And Crispies are the worst (Crispy = slightly irreverent term of endearment for Christian), especially the Evangelical types. We love speaking and noise SOOOOO much!!!  Songs, prayers, church services, bible studies, pretty much anything involves lots and lots of noise. Speak speak sing speak speak speak speak read speak speak sing speak. In most Baptist churches, that is a pretty accurate summary of what goes on.

I can understand why. Silence makes us feel awkward, as though we've been conditioned to believe it's a bad thing. After all, there's nothing really going on in silence is there? It's a waste of time. We could be doing something productive, or even better, saying something important. Being quiet, being still, these hardly fit in with our holy western work ethic.

But we are missing a trick here. The problem with words and noise is that they keep everything superficial, keep everything surface, stop life-changing truths from infusing the core of our being. We hide behind words. We use them as shields to protect ourselves from the terrors of vulnerability. As long as I can say the right things, share my opinions, sing songs loudly, I don't have to do the unspeakable - look into the cave of my own soul and face the demons there.

Saint Therese of Lisieux, a 19th century Carmelite nun, once said ”Jesus needs neither books nor Doctors of Divinity in order to instruct souls. He, the Doctor of Doctors, He teaches without noise of words.”

Since exploring contemplative spirituality, I have personally come to appreciate the truth of this. During a recent Llan retreat to Llangasty (a lovely house in the wilds of Powys), we had two hours of intentional silence (yes, two whole hours!) which included ANY form of communication (including phones). The experience was….penetrating. Christ spoke to me in that silence. He whispered of his majesty in the sun’s heat, he spoke of his artistry in the hapharzard arrangement of a bramble thicket, he sang of his joy in the playful dance of two butterflies, and he reminded me that I have not been forgotten.

And I smiled. I was happy in the Divine presence. And this genuinely, not because I was in church and, well, you’re supposed to be happy.

So try silence. Try quiet. Try stillness. Try listening.

And next time you find yourself in church, do something crazy…

Shut up.

Accredited Baptist minister James Karran is the Cardiff based leader of a new monastic community called Llan. Persevering pioneer, lover of metaphor, spiritual questor, determined stumbler, seeker of all things brave.

To read more semi-heretical thoughts and musings, check out the Llan blog: http://llan-community.org.uk/blog/

Related: Developing the Use of Silence in Prayer

Picture: RGB stock

James Karran, 30/09/2013
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