This is a poem with which I am very familiar. Some years ago, the church for which I then worked used the last line of it – “the meaning is in the waiting” – as part of an Advent display, and passing it daily, several times a day, for the whole of Advent became a sort of extended meditation on those words. It was a time in which I came to realise in a new way, at a deeper level, that as Carys Walsh says in today’s reading “waiting upon God is fundamental to knowing God”.
This poem also contains one of my very favourite images: “the air a staircase for silence”. I have always wondered which direction the silence is travelling on these stairs. Is is something which ascends from me to God, as a form of prayer? Or which descends from God to me, as a gift of grace? Or perhaps both.
But today it was neither of those things which caught my attention. Instead, it was the idea that “When I speak… something is lost.” There is an acknowledgement here again that silence is not nothing. Silence is something, and something precious, and speech is an interruption of that.
I have been thinking a lot about silence during the current pandemic. Silence is one of the things I am missing, which sounds strange when I am spending so much time alone. But what I am missing is shared silences – the silence before the liturgy begins, the silence in a conversation which has moved into deeper waters. I find that on Zoom I am more likely than in physical encounters to interrupt the silence, to fill it with words, and in that something is indeed lost.
There is an art to waiting, to not rushing to speak, to allowing a silence to linger. It is an art which, like any, requires practice and which requires a deep appreciation of silence, not as the gaps between speech, but as something precious in its own right. I remember reading somewhere (though I can’t remember where) the idea that it is rather the other way round – that speech is the gaps between the silences. I suspect R.S. Thomas might have agreed.
This year for #AdventBookClub we are reading “Frequencies of God: walking through Advent with R.S. Thomas” by Carys Walsh. Join the conversation on Twitter using #AdventBookClub or on Facebook by searching for the group ‘Advent Book Club’.