It was at last Sunday afternoon’s Choral Evensong that I realised just how many words we use in a service. Two lessons, three hymns, a sermon, prayers, a psalm, a couple of canticles and a creed.
Understandably, as human beings we put great store by words – to convey information, ideas and emotions, to express ourselves, to argue, to debate. They can be powerful, persuasive, aggressive, gentle, loving. They can be nuanced or direct. Yet, are they overrated?
Words, after all, are symbols. Powerful, yes, but nevertheless symbols. They are not the object, idea or emotion they describe. They are an attempt to capture and express reality. They can help us towards reality, but they only take us so far.
We are not keen on silence in the Church of England. Occasionally we say that we will have a moment of silence – and it lasts for about twenty seconds. We are not used to it and feel uncomfortable. Yet there is a reality in quiet and silence. Meister Eckhart, the 14thc mystic, said, “There is nothing so much like God in all the universe as silence.” “Be still and know that I am God”, says the Psalmist.
Perhaps just being still is the best thing. How about ignoring the words, allowing them to pass over and through us. As we listen to Choral Evensong on a Summer’s evening, could we drift and allow an inner silence to creep over us, a stillness from within that brings us closer to the eternal silence?