A few days ago I sat with some friends and watched one of those Rob Bell ‘Nooma’ DVDs. It was called Noise, but it was really about silence – or rather than absence of silence in our lives.
The concept is really clever. As the viewer, you are watching Rob, watching TV. There’s lots of background noise going on. He’s switching channels and adjusting the volume. At times the noise is distracting you from hearing what Rob is trying to say. Then he turns the TV off. There is a blank screen. And there is silence. A silence that you really notice. Which got me thinking. Is silence simply the absence of noise, or is it something more tangible than that? And is it something we should be pursuing?
Because our lives are so noise-filled, most of us find silence uncomfortable. Silence can make a situation feel edgy, or a place sinister. What’s more, it can reinforce our loneliness, which – even if its only temporary – can be hard to accept. Even when all audible noise is absent (a rare thing indeed) the silence leaves us with our own internal ‘noise’ , those inner thoughts and demons that remind us who we truly are. Perhaps that’s why so many us prefer to have an mp3 in our ears, or a phone clamped semi-permanently to the side of our heads, or the TV on, even if we’re not really watching it. Even as I write, I’m aware that I’ve got coverage of the French Grand Prix on, even though I don’t follow motor racing. I could have silence – after all, I’ve got one of those rare moments when I have the house to myself.
In the brief silence of the other night, something felt right. It was as if as a human being I was created for times of silence. That there is some fundamental link between silence and an awareness of being human. Perhaps silence links us back to something primitive, possibly even pre-existent, for one assumes that before the Big Bang, whatever was, was silent – and so all that is came out of that silence.
Of course, the point of Rob’s DVD was to suggest that we find God in the silence – yet how many of us ever seek God that way. Perhaps so much of our communication is noise based, we assume ‘noise’ should also be part of our spirituality and communication with God. Certainly there is seldom any silence in church on a Sunday morning. And even when silence is made available, its usually for a reason. Which caused one of my friends to observe, ‘It’s as if everything has to have a purpose, we are not allowed to just ‘be’ – to have the presence of silence – because . . .