The Big Silence
By |   December 9, 2010 |   in Contemplation

“When we enter into periods of silence, we start to see things with greater clarity. We come to know ourselves, and get in touch with the deepest part of ourselves. That is our soul.”

Abbot Christopher Jamison

This week the Lyfe group at Bible Society (England and Wales) have been exploring the discipline of silence.  It was interesting that the eight of us all chose the same exercise—simply a common need for some simple R & R—or were we all in desperate need of an antidote to the head rush of caffeine-fuelled, busy, distracted, everyday living?

We were recently inspired by a three-part series on a mainstream TV channel in the UK called The Big Silence, where five volunteers take breaks from their highly pressured lives to spend many hours in silence at various retreat centres.  This is led by Benedictine monk, Abbot Christopher Jamison of Worth Abbey, Sussex—who is convinced that everyone ‘in the real world’ can also benefit from periods of sustained silence. By all accounts, although initially strange, counter-intuitive, even scary, each person in the programme found something powerful in silence and all were profoundly changed by the experience.

As for me, this is still a new exercise. I am a learner in the school of silence; grabbing moments of silence whilst walking the dog, or on long journeys in the car or simply sitting still with a cup of tea. Initially under pressure to ‘make the most of this time’–I am now learning to relax, to ‘be still and know’, and to enjoy the moment to re-centre on God.

Recently I enjoyed a few hours of silence at the end of an intensive, but thoroughly enjoyable Renovaré Institute retreat in Colorado Springs. Initially I took books, studied Scripture, journaled, prayed and reflected on my current workload – desperately trying to fill up the five hours we had been given if I am honest! But then I took myself outside, breathed in the mountain air, watched some chipmunks scurrying up trees and enjoyed a can of Coke in the sunshine (a novelty for a Brit!).  It was then that I sensed God say to me – ‘don’t take yourself too seriously’ – it was a tonic for the soul, to know that it is ok to be a learner, an apprentice, in-training.

Is silence golden?  Yes, I think so–but I still have much to learn and much to gain.  Perhaps you are more skilled in silence than I am–what would your advice and counsel be?

Join the Conversation

What advice would you give Rob?

How have you struggled with silence? How has it helped you?

Rob Hare:
Rob Hare is the Lyfe & Spiritual Formation Officer at Bible Society UK.

1 Comment


  1. Rob, I have a sense that the gentle whisper you did hear has encouraged you to risk a bigger space for listening next time around.

    When I take groups on retreat and introduce them to 2½ hours of silence there is a lot of anxiety about how they could possibly fill up that much time, as well as some fear about what they might be faced with as they’re left alone with themselves and God.

    But the enthusiasm afterward is always exciting. “Wow, God spoke to me!” “I can’t believe how fast the time passed!” “I want more!” Even “This was easy!”

    I guess the best way to grow is to just do it. Take out the agenda and plan in a retreat. Value silence enough for what it will offer to give it priority in the midst of all the other things which pull at us. I’m learning too, and am so much the richer for the journey.