Many phrases express the same sentiment when it comes to the need for silence. One is ‘Stop spouting hot air’. Having a Caribbean background I know ‘Talk is cheap; money buys land’, which is often thrust at politicians who love to talk and shower us with empty promises. From my English upbringing, I know ‘You’re all mouth and trousers‘: I used to love hearing that sung at football (soccer) matches when the other team would hear that coming from raucous voices from the terraces (usually when a big-name professional club visiting my lowly club was getting a drubbing by our part-timers and so-called less-talented squad).
Sometimes, the sentiment is really in terms of ‘Silence is golden’. Sometimes, the sentiment is ‘Why fill the air with noise?’ It can be other things, but the bottom line is ‘Hold your tongue’… and ‘Listen to the breeze blow’… and ‘Don’t let you mouth get you into trouble’. People are very good at using words to give their bodies or deeds more substance: like clothing, it’s another form of cover–remember the Emperor who had no clothes.
My church is putting on a Lenten series entitled Saturday Quiet Days. On March 3rd, it will offer ‘Simplicity, Silence, Sabbath’, led by Kurt Aschermann: he will offer ‘tools to help you remain spiritually grounded in a busy and complex world’ and examine three practices: simplicity (the art of balance), silence (the art of being still), and Sabbath (the art of sanctifying time). This attracted me when I first saw it last week, and I gave it a try on my own over the weekend. Yoga and meditation have the first two elements and are good for personal positioning each day; the focus on the Sabbath seemed interestingly new.
People are often very uncomfortable with silence. Watch a spooky film and see how people react when someone walks into a dark quiet room, or into a room and everyone stops talking. Suspicions rise immediately.
Yet, people often crave silence. Noise is extremely disturbing, even destabilising: look at how people react when bombarded by sounds. It is an effective form of torture. Countries have noise-abatement laws, not silence-abatement laws. You are very likely to be at odds with your neighbours about the level of noise they create, rather than the amount of quietness that they impose on you. You jump up in the middle of the night because of the sound of a glass vase crashing to the ground, not as a result of a feather falling from your pillow.
So, after the plug for a Lenten discipline, I suggest a little ‘Pull the plug!’.