The space within the noise

Hear that?

No, me neither. I’m straining with both ears and (for a change) my full attention, but there’s only silence.

Scary, eh?

Or maybe not: my world is full of noise. I spend my working days teaching violin, encouraging children not only to make music, but to do it in a pleasing and harmonious manner. At home, the relentless clamour continues. Much of it is good: conversations with family and friends, worshipping with my local Christian community. And there’s TV remotenothing intrinsically wrong with settling down to an evening in front of the TV, even if a large proportion of it is given over to flicking through the channels in the hope of finding something worth watching.

Isn’t there a danger, though, that we fill our lives to the brim with noise and fail to appreciate the beauty of silence? That we’re so busy doing that we forget how to be? Our minds are so constantly bombarded with information that we risk losing our ability to switch off and be still.

John Cage famously wrote a composition which required the soloist to sit at the piano for four minutes, 33 seconds and play…nothing. There are various theories about what he was trying to achieve, but it’s certainly true that sitting still in supposed silence for several minutes can serve to draw our attention to things that are going on in the background.

The Bible has plenty of instructions on the subject of making a joyful noise when we praise God, and it’s right that we take these injunctions seriously. However, we also discover reminders to be still, and to find rest in God. The most well-known psalm of all talks of being led beside still waters and lying down in green pastures.

I find myself increasingly challenged by this concept of being still in God’s presence; maybe because I’m the sort of person whose brain whizzes along at 100 mph even when I’m sitting down for my quiet time. My heart may be determined to listen to God, but before I know it, I’m worrying about what on earth we’re going to have for tea.

One of the biggest challenges in teaching music to young children is in getting them to WP_20160502_19_51_39_Pro[1]understand the significance of rests, and to allow spaces between the notes. Often, we have to start by saying the word rest aloud at the appropriate moment – which in one sense defeats the point of the exercise, but at least it helps them differentiate between symbols which are played and those which have other meanings.

I tell my pupils that the rests they gloss over in the music are an important part of the whole thing. They provide the opportunity to listen to another instrument and add shape and meaning to the rhythm. In the same way, learning to be still before God helps us to listen to him, and gives meaning and structure to our lives.

 

What about you: how easy do you find it to appreciate silence?

What have you learned that helps you to rest in God’s presence?

 

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4 Responses to The space within the noise

  1. Thanks Fiona. What a lovely reminder about the beautiful necessity of silence. I relished a few days’ break in Hunstanton recently and enjoyed the quietness by the sea.

  2. Fran says:

    I have a similar approach when I’m teaching pupils to deliver speeches. It’s so hard to convince them to slow down, leave pauses, make the most of little silences, because these have just as much impact on an audience, in the right place, as the words themselves. ‘Even when you lose your place,’ I say, ‘don’t fill the silence with anything. No apologies etc. Just pretend it was deliberate, and move on.’ By the way, I heard once that a BBC Radio audience can take 8 seconds of silence before it assumes that something’s wrong, and someone picks up a phone to let the BBC know! We’re scared of it. I know I am, in my own personal life.

  3. fjlloyd says:

    That’s an interesting angle – I hadn’t thought of silences in that context, but it makes perfect sense. Thanks for commenting, Fran.

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