How we are addressed in silence (revisited)

By Simon Barrow
August 15, 2013

Before any words we might speak, there is the silence with which we are addressed by God, says liberation theologian Gustavo Gutierrez.

What gives meaning to our speech, suggests Rowan Williams, is the fact that we are already addressed - but not in the disturbance and clamour we find around us. No, the divine word is issued in silence and then becomes flesh, before we ever attempt to comprehend and transmit it in the web of language.

It is part of the very condition of the modern world, we are assaulted on all sides by noise. But silence can reorient you and change your life, as a talk at Just Festival today (Thursday 15 August) explains why.

It is vital to 'return to the source' and know that we do not own or control it in any way, through the usual instrumentality ofd language and action. That, Christians and others believe, is the heart of prayer: letting go of the desire to control, and instead being re-tuned into a frame beyond framing.

Equally, Christ's silence before Pilate is, Denys Turner reminds us, a straightforward refusal to collude with the frivolous imperial moraliser; the denial of his power games. Here we have potent political witness against the abuse of the political.

There is, of course, 'the silent witness'. More recently, in response to the misogynistic abuse of women on Twitter and other social media, there has been a debate about when silence is appropriate and when it might not be.

Or take the silence of the Garden of Gethsemane: this is the quiet of the grave, yet even this is pregnant with the possibilities of a life-giving that it can neither comprehend nor contain.

Silence as a strategy of patience, discernment and waiting has long been central to the spiritual practice of Quakers, of historic peace churches, and of other Christian traditions.

Graham Turner has explored the power that can be found in silence through interviewing monastics, religious leaders, composers, actors, psychotherapists, prisoners and peace workers about their experiences of practising silence.

Ranging from Christian contemplation in the Egyptian desert to Vipassana meditation in India, from the shared silence of Quaker meetings in Oxford to the profound stillness of the Alps, Turner fills a substantial gap in modern human awareness.

Running from 4-5pm in the hall at St John's Church (corner of Princes Street and Lothian Road), Edinburgh, a talk and reflection session on The Power of Silence, led by Turner, costs £5. You can purchase tickets online or from the cash box office at the venue.

Just Festival, also known simply as Just, runs from 2-26 August 2013. It is based at St John's Church (corner of Princes Street and Lothian Road) and some 27 other venues, and combines artistic and performance style events with conversations, talks, films exhibits and other ways of exploring how to live together creatively in a mixed-belief society.

* Full booking details for The Power of Silence here:

* For more information on Just Festival, visit and

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© Simon Barrow is co-director of Ekklesia and a media adviser for Just Festival.

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