The Meaning and Value of Silence in Christian Living an Apologetic Critique
“Man’s passion to communicate and receive communications seems as central to his success as a species as the fin was to the fish or the feather to the birds”.1
God created man in both His own image and likeness. God walked in the Garden of Eden and spoke with Adam as it is written, “The Lord said,“It is not good for a man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” (Genesis 2:18).
Before the word is spoken there must be another to speak with.
God is solitary within His own essence. “Who is like unto Thee, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like Thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?
God was alone without a heaven, angels, a universe, human beings or any other thing that had a real and independent existence.
The Blessed Trinity, Elohim, is eternal, in need of nothing, no stimuli, in order for Him to exist or to share Himself. Nothing was essential, fundamental, vital or cardinal to be added to the eternally, existing God, the Blessed Trinity to have self-existence. Nothing outside Him would be able to improve the Divine Essence.2 The creation of heaven, angels, the world and mankind did not add anything to God essentially for “He changes not.” (Malachi 3:6) His essential glory can neither be added to nor diminished.
The Blessed Trinity was under no obligation to create. The decision to create was motivated through a sovereign, loving act caused by nothing outside of Him. It was motivated simply because it was the good pleasure of His will to do so. (Ephesians 1:11)
Fr. Tomlins used Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s quote. “We keep silence solely for the sake of the Word, and therefore not in order to show disregard for the Word but rather to honour and receive it.”
It was with a still small voice God spoke to the prophet Elijah. When He called to the young child Samuel, this too was with a distinct voice.
(1Kings 19:9-12, 1 Samuel 3:4-10)
Revelation: The Word From Silence Proceeding
After using quotes from the Epistle of St Ignatius of Antioch to the Magnesians, Fr. Tomlins states: “The word proceeding from silence has become our means of access to reality, to the rights of the mystery of God.”
This written assertion may appear to suggest that there was only silence within the Godhead. After careful reading of Holy Scripture the author of this critique does not have a predilection for Fr. Tomlins understanding that God is silent within himself. The Word proceeded from the Bosom of the Father and dwelt among us. Jesus throughout his ministry spoke concerning His works that the Father works and the Son is following the role model of the Father by doing the works that He has seen the Father doing. (John 5:17-20)
There is a mutual communication between God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. There is an agreement within the Triune God. There is a unity with God. The same unity, agreement and communication that is to be among His Church, the Body of Believers, Christ Jesus being the head. (John 17)
Fr Tomlins writes; The Christian life is one of discipleship. Discipleship involves learning from a master and implementing what is learnt. Jesus pointed to his disciples as “those who hear the word of God and put it into practice” (Luke 8:21; 11:28)
The Apostle Peter exhorts those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith that is as precious as his own. (2 Peter 1:1-3) “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.” (2 Peter 1:5-8)
Paul, Christ Jesus’s Apostle to the Gentile, affirms to the believer that nothing shall separate the believer from the Love of God the Father that is in Jesus Christ our Lord. “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Moreover, like the Apostle Peter, the Apostle Paul directs the man of God to the Divine source that will equip him for every good work, that is, to the God the Holy Spirit - breathed Holy Scriptures. (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:21)
Fr Tomlin adds from St. Benedict’s Rule: “To speak and teach are fitting for the master, but the disciple should be silent and listen.”
The Epistle according to James: “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:19-20)
A Biblical story that illustrates, The Discipleship of Listening, is found in the Gospel of Luke. It is the story of two sisters Mary and Martha.
“Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42 but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)
Martha was busy about making a meal fully prepared and ready for the Lord. Mary modestly sat at His feet while Jesus spoke with her. Martha exhorted Mary to help. Jesus affirmed Mary’s decision to listen.
As Christian believers we are assured of the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:39). We have access to the Holy Scriptures, which is our instruction manual (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Again, we have an exhortation towards spiritual direction from the Apostle Peter (2 Peter 1:5-8).
Christ Jesus is the head of the one holy catholic and Apostolic Christian Church. (Ephesians 4:4-7) We are members together of the body that makes up the Christian Church. (Ephesians 2:11-22) We are to listen in order to know the direction the Head is taking the body. We are to sit before we learn to walk. (Ephesians 3:14-21)
Fr Tomlins alleges to comment on noise without mentioning the differentiation that noise may have with sound for example, one may fine within the confines of nature. One is walking in a forest.. An airplane flies overhead and the reverberation is interpreted to be noise because it distracts him away from the moment.
He continues his journey and finds himself approaching a lake, the disruptive thoughts of the plane drifts away. Over on the other side of the lake he sees wild horses approaching. They are running at a distance and are not aware of the man’s presence and thus are not distracted. Joy fills the man’s heart as he observes the activity that is going on all around him.
This virgin territory few men have traveled. He is observing the sounds and interprets them not as noise taking note of God’s creation.
He is no longer distracted by the sounds. He is brought closer to the rhythms of God’s heart. He sees through the eye of the Master.
He continues to observe …
The sound of the hoofs of horses as they gallop over the fallen leaves which lie upon the side of the brook stream breaks the stillness of the day.
The combination of gulls and ducks express themselves as each within their own feelings share the sun’s rays and the chilling wind’s breeze which shimmer over the top of the lake.
He listens to the sound of the flapping of wings as birds pass through in search of a resting place but finding none they go on their way.
This man is inspired through what he is witnessing. Within the depths of his heart thoughts within solitude rise to the surface and communicate within his heart to himself.
He ponders to himself: What is a touch? What is a grasp? What is intimacy? Is there a common bond between the three? Is it wrong to want and to hold in the little time that we have left? Is it wrong to be touched and to touch? To experience the closeness that all of us need both rich and poor, bond or free?
Intimacy needs to be experienced. A poem needs human expression. Human expression needs poetry. Then the man receives the revelation: We are the poem of our Creator’s expression.
Solitude and Silence
Fr. Tomlins quotes from The Nobel Peace Prize 1961 winner Dag Hjalmar Agne Carl Hammarskjöld (July 29, 1905-September 18, 1961). Religion Lutheran/Church of Sweden.
"Only tell others what is of importance to them. Only ask them what you need to know. In both cases, that is, limit the conversation to what the speaker really possesses.--Argue only in order to reach a conclusion. Think aloud only with those to whom this means something. Don't let small talk fill up the time and the silence except as a medium for bearing unexpressed messages between two people who are attuned to each other. A dietary for those who have learned by experience the truth of the saying, "For every idle word...", but this is hardly popular in social life."
According to the Epistle of James: “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (James 1:26-27)
“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:19)
Accompanying the Apostle James’s exhortation regarding controlling the tongue, the Apostle Paul wrote in his second epistle the Corinthians, “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.” (2 Corinthians 10:4-6)
The Apostle to the Gentiles does inform the believer what one is to think upon. “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9)
Holy Scripture does not state that a man is to be without verbal expression. He is to control his tongue and be slow to speak. He is to control his thoughts and follow after roll models written in Holy Writ.
Fr. Tomlins uses the reference of John of Gaza to clarify this: “Like most people you do not understand what is meant by the silence of which the Fathers speak. Silence does not consist in keeping the mouth shut. A man may speak ten thousand useful words and it is counted as silence; another speaks a single unnecessary word and it is counted as a breach of the Lord’s commandment: “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned." (Matthew 12:36-37)
Purity of Heart
Fr. Tomlins quotes from John Cassian: Conference 1:6. The translation that Fr. Tomlins uses is different from the one written in The Classics of Western Spirituality. This author quotes from the latter translation.
“Perfection then is clearly not achieved simply by being naked, by the lack of wealth or the rejection of honors, unless there is also love whose ingredients the apostle described and which is to be found solely in purity of heart. Not to be jealous, not to be puffed up, not to act heedlessly, not to seek what does not belong to one, not to rejoice over some injustice, no to plan evil – what is this and its like if not the continuous offering to God of a heart that is perfect and truly pure, a heart kept free of all disturbance”?
Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone was born in 1182. Pietro Di Bernardone, Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone’s father was a wealthy cloth merchant. Tradition suggests that this young man, Francesco, appeared naked renouncing his garments, that they belonged to his father Pietro and that he hence forth chose not to regard Pietro Di Bernardone as his father whereupon the Bishop clothed him in a cloak Francesco is better known as St Francis of Assisi.
This behavior, that was acted out in front of the people in the town square as tradition suggests, appears to follow the writing of John Cassian written hundreds of years earlier.
“Perfection then is clearly not achieved simply by being naked, by the lack of wealth or the rejection of honors, unless there is also love whose ingredients the apostle described and which is to be found solely in purity of heart.”
A traditional prayer called Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi affirms John Cassian’s process of achieving a perfected heart, a pure heart.
Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury,pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen
Silence and Prayer
“Life and prayer, to be real must always be correlative,” Fr. Tomlins writes.
There was a parable that Jesus shared with his audience one day. The story was about a Pharisee and a publican. While the Pharisee identified with all the religious activities that he participated in, he spoke through self indulgences stating that he was glad that he was not like other men.
The publican smote his own breast and kneeling low before the presence of God said simply, “be merciful to me a sinner.” (Luke 18:9-14)
The Pharisee’s life reflected his pray. Just as the offering of Cain was refused; he too was not heard by God. The heart of the Pharisee was rooted in a cursed soil
The publican was heard and accepted. He was justified. He came as Abel’s offering had been offered. His petition was rooted in faith.
Fr. Tomlins goes on to write about John Cassian and St. Benedict, “Laying purity of heart is the foundation of prayer. Growth in this form of silence facilitates a deepening of the life of prayer.”
The author of the Psalms himself, King David, had troubling times. He turned to God in prayer with godly sorrow while seeking once again to be pure in heart. (Psalm 51)
King David’s relationship with “God grew in faith over time and through experiences which led him to places no human being was able to comfort him. He committed adultery and murder. He counted the people of Israel against the command of God, yet King David of Israel was known by God as “the man after God’s own heart.” (Acts of the Apostles 13:22) King David learned to rely wholly upon the Lord. Turning to God, King David’s faith was answered.
Through studying the first three verses of Psalm Eighteen a deeper understanding of the growth that is formed of silence which facilitates a deepening of the life of prayer that is spoken of by Fr. Tomlins may be observed.
The LORD Is My Rock and My Fortress
To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David the servant of the LORD, who addressed the words of this song to the LORD on the day when the LORD rescued him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul. He said:
I will love thee, O LORD, my strength.
The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower.
I will call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised: so shall I be saved from mine enemies.
King David refers to the LORD as1) my rock, 2) my fortress, 3) my deliverer, 4) my God, 5) my strength, 6) my buckler, 7) the horn of my salvation, and 8) my high tower.
A rock could be a natural fortress as at Rimmon. (Judges 20:45, 47), or it could be a mountain, (1 Samuel 23:25-26). A rock is something that is stable when all else is falling. An earthquake or a mighty wind may come but a solid foundation built on a rock is secure from the storm.
God is King David’s fortress. Every city in ancient times was fortified by a wall and its citadel. Usually a city was built on a hill and the city’s fortification followed the natural contour of the hill. The walls were built of brick and stone many feet thick.
King David attributes his strength and stamina to God. God has become his foundation upon which he can rest. No matter the situations, God is there to hold him up.
God is a deliverer of his people. God delivered His people Israel by the hand of Moses through the wilderness out of the land of Egypt into a land flowing with mink and honey.
King David acknowledges God as his deliverer. God had been his deliverer at the Philistine battle between Goliath and him. God delivered him likewise from the jaws of the lion and claws of the bear that he fought when he was a shepherd. (1 Samuel 17:34)
A buckler is a small shield carried on the left arm.
This Psalm appears to demonstrate the significance of God’s importance in the life and times of King David.
God is his rock, a solid foundation. A fortress, protection from outside enemies. God is King David’s tower to see the enemy coming. A buckler, King David’s shield in battle. God is King David’s strength and deliver from his enemies. God is his God, his all in all.
Study and meditate upon King David’s descriptions of God. Christian believer, ask God the Father to show you through the Divine Holy Spirit how His love for you through, God the Son, the Lord Jesus God the Son, has been demonstrated in your life when you have gone through times of crisis and distress.
Christian believer, you have a personal relationship with this same personal God whom King David called upon.
Just as God was with King David through his life, He is ever resent with you beloved, to love you and deliver you.
David Tomlins article, The Meaning and Value of Silence in Christian Living, has introduced many questionable key elements. Review the six sub-categories. Review the concepts that have been introduced. Study the Word of God for yourself. Ponder within your own heart the treasure that is within, God has called. Respond to His invitation. Commune with Him!
Publisher Information: De Windroos, Beernem, Belgium: 1982.
1. David Attenborough OM, CH, CVO, CBE, FRS, FZS, FSA: Life On Earth (Collins, 1979), title of the final chapter.
2. “Essential implies belonging to the very nature of a thing and therefore being incapable of removal without destroying the thing itself or its character. Fundamental applies to something that is a foundation without which an entire system or complex whole would collapse. Vital suggests something that is necessary to a thing's continued existence or operation. Cardinal suggests something on which an outcome turns or depends.” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary