Yesterday evening the A465 emptied, the rain ceased and there was a moment of pure, luminous silence. It is not often that exterior silence meets the interior silence monastic life teaches us to cultivate, but when it does something wonderful happens. Every nerve, every sense becomes alert. The white line of the horizon over the Black Mountains quivers; the sweet warm breath of the Herefords over the way fills the air; the psalter in my hand is soft to the touch, comfortable, familiar — and all because, for a moment, the mind is freed from its need to process sound. We sometimes forget the importance of physical silence; but just as the rests in a line of music help to shape its form, or the white space on a page makes eloquent the text, so moments of silence are essential for us. Complete physical silence, however, cannot be endured for very long. The pounding of the blood in the ears begins to take over. We become uneasy, self-conscious, may even hallucinate.
That is one of the reasons why, if someone tells me they can never find a quiet time in which to pray, I always reply with a robust, ‘How lucky you are!’ Some background noise is usually good for us, a necessary distraction from an overwhelming preoccupation with self. The effort we put into trying to quieten our environment would be much better spent trying to instill some order into our wayward thoughts, into cultivating an interior silence that is not dependent on what is going on around us. A quiet heart, a quiet mind: these are not to be sneered at but welcomed. They provide a chink for the Holy Spirit to get through.