Silent Retreat, or Maybe Not

The title of this post is somewhat tongue in cheek as I return for a silent retreat.  The retreat itself was good and I might blog about that at another time, it has certainly given me a idea for a Lent Course which I will be working on for next year, but I digress let me get on with the post.

Silence?

The gentle afternoon snoring from the room next door.

The whispers that aren’t as quiet as the whisperers think they are!

The shrill clanging of the fire alarm as the refectory is filled with the black smoke of burnt toast, shortly followed by the crunching of gravel as the fire engine makes its way up the college driveway.  The cries of the firemen turning to guffaws as they discover the source of the claxon call.

The distant ringing of an old fashioned telephone.

The half sucked crunch of someone trying to eat Pringles quietly.

The clacking of black shoes on the tiled floor punctuating the silence before the Eucharist begins, the tinkling of the bell late in its notification that the priest approaches.

The rumblings of stomachs awaiting food, the clearing of throats dry from lack of lubrication, the coughs and sniffles that the damp air has brought on and the not so silent yawns which like a pebble cause repeating ripples in the stillness.

The peal of a bell marking each passing 15 minute interlude.

The rustle of taffeta supplementing the Mass.

The clip clopping of horses hoofs invading dreams and breaking through the morning silence even before the birds have begun their song.

The reading of James Herriot castrating a year old bull as we sit supposedly only opening our mouths to eat.  The reader milking the colourful language as it if where a cow the tale was all about.  The sniggers, chortles, spluttered watered and food caught in unexpectant throats as chocking joins the chorus echoing round the high vaulted ceiling.

The sneeze and the unspoken ‘bless you’ that fills the air straining to be uttered.

The cawing of the crows and rooks high in the tree tops as the day progresses.

The barking of a dog as its owner chatters away on a mobile phone about the plans for the night ahead unaware that silence is trying to claim the place.

The scrape of cutlery across plates and bowls, the clink of glassware, the swoosh of water, the pop of another bottle of Lidl’s finest claret being opened.  The blowing on food too hot and clatter of empty plates being pushed aside, the clang as a chair hits the radiator just bit too close behind for comfort.

The tip tapping of fingers fleeting across a keyboard.

The rhythm of the psalmody and canticles in the morning and evening spoken as one.

The gurgle of pipes, the flush of toilets and banging of doors like an alarm call, the jingling of keys and babble of boiling kettles as softer accompaniment.

The crunchy turn of newspapers papers and gentile flick of book being turned over in the library as the readers making unbidden noises in acknowledgement of a new discovery they have just encountered.  Then raising their hands to their mouths as to push them back deep within.

The click, click clicking of the lighter, one, two, three times as the taper for the candles is lit.

The woeful humming of wasps fighting their death call now summer is past.

The clear tweeting of the birds no longer dampened by the steady drizzle acting like some acoustic blanket to keep all sound at bay.

The distant rumbling of the food trolley across the stone slabs before its load is transferred with much scraping and clanging into the heated cabinet and then the crashing of the gong calling us to eat.  With the answering response of movement as people lift from their chairs and make for the door.

The unanswered burp pleading to be pardoned.

The subdued roar of a boiler kicking into life.

The creak of wood and rush, the squeal of leather as people lower themselves and getting comfortable in chairs.

The unaccompanied voices of song filling the dark Cathedral at Compline, harmonies adding to the offering of reverent but non-silent praise.  The squeak that slips out when a note is too high, the vibratos and estranged notes not meant to be there.

The hum and slosh of the dishwasher.

The sound of nails and skin meeting as itches are scratched.

The dripping of radiators longing to be bled, the hiss of a slow value as a cistern gradually refills casually conveying, ‘What’s the rush’.

The chattering of school children as they break for lunch drifting high from the playground, carried in stillness over the graveyard, their laughs and their cries tumbling together, the young and the old, mixing life and death.

The litany of chatter by the staff as they go about their tasks.

That comforting glug of sherry being poured from a newly opened bottle.

Somewhere not too far away, like a thunderstorm out of sight, the sound of stone or the like being tipped from a lorry, a rumble a couple of louder claps before a rumble again.

The rustle of the leaves as the wind blows through trees still mostly green, autumn has not yet got her pallet fully out.   While the few leaves that have fallen crackle as footsteps light upon them, making even silent footwear break into sound.

The slurping of someone sucking a boiling.

A lone goose honking, searching for its travelling companions.

The chiming of cup placed upon saucer followed by the gulping of the hot liquid flowing from the flask, sloshing into the waiting receptacle.

The hush of that moment, or collections of moments, when a room full of people is expectantly waiting for the gap to be filled, filled not by words, but by God, by the Sons’ presence among us, by the Spirit bringing her deep peace into the silence, into the space, into our hearts.

The muted mumbling of those replanting the flower beds.

The angels ever singing holy, holy, holy.

The clatter as something crashes to the floor making far more noise than it would have done had silence not been the order of the day.

While carried on the morning air the gently lowing of the cows could be heard, echoing from the past a familiar prompt that once autumn has played her part and winter again takes centre stage eyes will turn towards a manger bed.

And this is a pause worth savouring, because the world will soon be complicated again.

This post was inspired by ‘If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things’ by Jon McGregor, the opening chapters of the book to be precise.  The quote directly above is from the first chapter of the book.  It is a wonderful book which deserves to be a classic if only for that self same first chapter, which in turn reminds me of the classic short film ‘The Night Train’.  You know the one I mean when a postal steam train journeys from London to Scotland, that one.  It is the book which accompanied me on my retreat for bedtime reading, theological reading shouldn’t happen at bedtime!  I haven’t finished it yet,  I kept re-reading the opening chapter as I liked it so much, it is a poignant book, yes that is the best word to describe what I have read so far.  A book of memories, a book of quiet sadness, a book of hopes that seemed so great an yet simply ran through fingers unbidden until it was too late.  Indeed it might one day become an Advent course, but I digress again.  I did also take away with me, on my trusty Kindle, ‘The Gospel of John and Christian Theology’ edited by Richard Bauchkam and Carl Mosser, for reading during the day.  Having lent my hard copy of this book to a member of the congregation who wants to have a chat about John’s Gospel I felt prudent to refresh myself on its content before said meeting, so decided it would be the latest of my theological books to move from the bookcase to the Kindle.  It is book well worth a considered read if you ever have any plans to spend some time with John and his Gospel.  It is a collection of essays on various aspects of the Gospel written from a variety of viewpoints; some of the offerings are excellent and I was glad to reacquaint myself with them, others well I don’t think it was the intention of one of the essayists was to make me laugh!

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