St Paul and Silence

Yesterday Pope Benedict issued a message for World Communications Day which has been deservedly well received (text here). Inevitably, everyone has taken from the message what they most want to hear. Those of us who have embraced social media as a way of exploring and sharing Faith were heartened to find the pope acknowledging the importance of contemporary means of communication and endorsing their use. The deeper message, about the relationship between word and silence, was one which contemplatives were particularly glad to hear because in the rush and tumble of words and images that fills every waking hour, our cultivation of silence and (apparent) emptiness is not only contradictory, it is incomprehensible. It was good to find the pope reminding us all of this essential silence and humility before the Word of God.

How does this link with St Paul? I think there has never been a more eloquent preacher of the gospel than St Paul. His words whip and weave through all the intricacies of Christian life: the theological heights and depths, the moral dilemmas, the complications of the missionary journeys. One minute he is meditating on the meaning of the Cross, the next fussing about a cloak he has left behind, writing with warmth and tenderness to some, excoriating others. Words are his stock in trade as once the needles of the tent-maker had been. And yet. And yet. One does not have to read very much of St Paul to realise that beneath all those words was a profound silence, a profound humility. What happened to Paul on the road to Damascus changed him for ever. His eloquence and zeal remained but were transformed by an experience of God we can only guess at. His words henceforth were to proceed from a union of prayer and obedience that could only be attained through silence and listening.

In the presence of God all human eloquence falls dumb. Only silence can embrace the absolute holiness of our Creator and Redeemer. That is something to bear in mind as we read St Paul today.

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7 thoughts on “St Paul and Silence”

  1. It’s interesting the ‘Road to Damascus’ event is used in modern contexts to talk about conversions.

    It is something that I experienced, that changed everything. These are the stories that if shared can help others to have their own ‘conversion experience’. I believe that if people are open and receptive to God, they will receive an unmistakable sign that will point them towards him.

    Paul gives us inspiration due to his own conversion, and sets an example that many would love to be able to emulate. I feel called to proclamation particularly so look forward to using his inspiration in the future.

  2. Thank you, UKViewer. Of course, not everyone IS blessed with a conversion experience. For some, it is more a case of limping along the way, with many hesitations and turnings aside, rather than running a straight course to the end. We all need prayer and the support and encouragement of what Julian of Norwich called ‘our even Christians’.

    • “For some, it is more a case of limping along the way, with many hesitations and turnings aside…”

      This is enormously encouraging, SC. TY.

      “…this essential silence and humility before the Word of God.”

      This is the only blog I return to to reread posts, to meditate on profound and illuminating words as these. DG.

  3. not so much of a single conversion experience? I tend to think of having a series of conversions, maybe the way butterflies are eggs, caterpillars and cocoons on their journey to being fully fledged? (Being transformed from caterpillar to butterfly in a cocoon must be an extraordinary experience to undergo. What a shame butterflies can’t talk. memo to self; add it to the list of questions to ask in heaven)

    • Kirsten, I read somewhere that if one were to cut open a cocoon, at some stages there wouldn’t be a recognisably forming butterfly but a bit of a mess. It’s a good thing God knows that our messes are on the way to something. I was thinking about dying recently and wondered if before birth we were able to choose, we might choose to stay with what we know and remain warm and fed and not be born – and see what we’d have missed.

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