GOOD FRIDAY 25th March 2106
SIXTH ADDRESS: The way of silence 1.15 p.m.
There is no silence like the silence of the desert. All the multitude of background noises of everyday life are no longer there. It is uncanny and scary to find ourselves in such a silence. We all like a little peace and quiet but this is something quite different, it doesn’t reassure you in your desire to be have a bit of a rest from daily demands and too much talking. It has a sense of undermining a sense of security which you thought you had, it can feel as if the foundations of your life are being taken away.
It has been said that peace comes to us when we stop running away.
The Desert Fathers and Mothers were certainly seeking the peace of God when they retired to the silence and solitude of the desert. They were certainly not running away. But the peace they sought was a radical peace different from the kind of worldly peace we might get on the first day of our holiday.
Nevertheless they were not saints when they first arrived in the desert and they like us sometimes got it wrong , they hadn’t realised how the silence would challenge their motives, their selfishness and their vanity.
We are told of a brother who was restless in his community and was often irritated. So he said, ‘ I will go and live somewhere by myself. I will not be able to talk or listen to anyone, and so I shall be at peace, and my passionate anger will cease.’ He went out and lived alone in a cave. But one day he filled his jug with water and put it on the ground. Suddenly it happened to fall over. He filled it again, and again it fell. This happened a third time. In a rage he snatched up the jug and smashed it. Coming to his senses, he knew that the demon of anger had mocked him, and he said, ‘Here am I by myself, and he has beaten me. I will return to the community. Wherever you live, you need effort and patience and above all God’s help.’ So he got up and went back. “
( Monastic Way 1st March)
‘Above all God’s help’… sometimes like that desert brother we might seek peace, or silence or solitude so that it will give us a sense of being able to cope with our own resources, so that we can escape our dependence on others. But the silence of the desert is relentless in exposing any attempt to escape the reality of our life and who we are. And of course there was always the temptation in the desert to escape its testing silence in idle chatter, as true then as it is for us now.
‘One day as Abba Macarius was dismissing the gathering he said to the brothers of Scetis, “Flee brethren ! “ One of the old men asked him, “ Where can we flee to that is further away than this desert ?” Macarius put his finger to his lips and said, “ Flee that.” And off he went to his cell, shut the door and sat down.’
( Rowan p.67)
Rowan Williams recounts this story in his beautiful book about the Desert Fathers : ‘ Silence and Honey Cakes.’
He writes in comment: ‘ However physically remote we may be from the more obvious temptations, there is always the damage that can be done by speech…the half-hidden power-games of our talking – including our talking ( and writing) about spiritual matters…the concern of the desert monks and nuns is to save us from easy speeches and from the ultimate cruelty they encode, the destructiveness of the lies we tell ourselves and each other about humanity.’
In watching news of the American election preparations which of us cannot help longing for a St. Marcarius to say : “ Flee that”.
To learn to speak truthfully and honestly can be a life-time’s struggle even if we may feel we wouldn’t want to go as far as Abba Agathon of whom it was said that for three years he carried a pebble around in his mouth until he learnt to be silent.
( Japanese Sayings p.5)
The outer silence of the desert was a call and a challenge to find an inner silence in which God’s word could be heard.
The figure on the cross teaches us today above all by his silence. There are the traditional last words from the cross but these few words, important as they may be, really do nothing to break the huge and vast silence. There must have been in fact a lot of noise around the cross but mercifully we cannot hear it. Just the silence…and the question: What is he saying to me ?