Silence and Listening
An assembly from the Culham St Gabriel archive
Suitable for Key Stage 2 - Church Schools
To consider silence and noise, and the art of listening.
Preparation and materials
- You will need a piano or a keyboard.
- Familiarize yourself with the story of Elijah meeting and listening to God in 1 Kings 19.
- Begin with a long pause.
Following the pause, inform the children that today, you are going to tell them three stories.
- The first story is about the American composer, John Cage. He died some time ago, but many people today consider him to be one of the most important composers of the twentieth century.
Some of his music is very unusual. His most famous piece is called ‘4’33”’, which consists of four minutes and 33 seconds of silence.
Tell the children that you are going to play the beginning of the piece for them. Sit at the piano for as long as you or the children can bear.
After your recital, ask the children what they think about the piece.
- When ‘4’33”’ was first performed in 1952, it caused a great sensation. Some people thought that it was a really good practical joke, whereas others thought that it was an outrage and that John Cage was a conman.
What he was really trying to do, though, was make people listen to the sounds all around them in everyday life.
- Invite the children to listen to the sounds that they can hear outside the room or hall.
Then, ask the children to listen to the sounds inside the room or hall, without making any sounds themselves.
Explain that listening is a very important skill – one that we all have to learn before we can learn anything else.
- In the Bible (1 Kings 19), there is a story about a man who was taught to listen by God. The man’s name was Elijah.
Elijah Meets God
Elijah was very depressed. He lived at a time when it seemed to him that he was the only person in Israel who loved God. Everyone else, including the king, had turned away from God and, because of Elijah’s beliefs, he was a wanted man. In panic and fear, Elijah ran away to the desert and hid in a cave. He thought he was safe, but God found him.
God asked him, ‘Elijah, what are you doing here?’
Elijah said, ‘Everyone has turned away from you, God, and they’re all doing the things that you say are wrong and now, because I love you, they want to kill me!’
Elijah was in a total panic.
God wanted to say something important to him, but he knew that Elijah was in such a state, he would not listen. So, God told Elijah to go and stand at the mouth of the cave and wait for an important announcement.
As predicted, Elijah was not listening, so he stayed where he was, hidden away at the back of the cave. God then sent a great storm . . . still no response. Then, he sent an earthquake . . . still no response . . . Then, he sent a raging fire . . . still no response.
- Inform the children that you want them to help you re-create the sound of a storm.
There are four components to this aural storm.
– Light rainfall: finger clicks
– Heavier rainfall: slapping own knees
– Thunder: feet and hands drumming on the floor
– Lightning flash: a vocal sound, accompanied by the throwing up of hands
Practise each sound in turn. Then, when you’re ready to start, explain that you will initiate each change of tempo or sound, and then each row of children is to follow your lead, starting with the front row. First, only the front row is to follow you, and then each of the rows behind should follow the row in front of them. In this way, the sound should travel from the front of the room to the back, rather like a Mexican wave of sound.
Build up the sound of the storm gradually by starting with slow finger clicks. When this has reached the back row, increase the tempo. Then, move on to slapping knees, and then to drumming on the floor. At the height of the storm, signal for three lightning flashes in succession.
After the lightning flashes, cause the storm to abate by returning to slapping knees, and then rapid finger clicks, slow finger clicks and finally, rest. The sound of slow finger clicks should gradually die away.
- Resume the story of Elijah.
During the storm, the earthquake and the fire, Elijah was cowering in the back of the cave. With all the noise, there was no way he could listen to what God had to say. However, in the silence that followed, he heard a gentle whisper. Elijah made his way to the entrance of the cave and listened to the gentle voice of God.
Now that Elijah was listening, God told him the important announcement: Israel was to have a new king and Elijah himself was to have someone to help him. ‘Incidentally,’ said God, ‘you are not alone. There are another 7,000 people in Israel just like you. People who have never turned away from me.’
Elijah left the desert and went to find the helper God had chosen for him.
In this way, Elijah learned to listen to God.
Time for reflection
Tell the children that the final story today is about a woman who was very good at listening to God. Her name was Mother Teresa. Every day, she would spend at least an hour in silence, listening to God.
Once, someone asked her what God said to her in the silence. With a smile, Mother Teresa replied, ‘Oh, he doesn’t say anything. He just listens well.’
Conclude with a period of silence, during which the children can listen to the sounds outside and inside the room and reflect upon Mother Teresa’s words.
Please help us in the business of each day to take time to be silent.
Please help us to listen to the world.
Please help us to listen to other people.
Please help us to listen to you.
Thank you that you are always here to listen to us.
‘Find the silence through the noise’ (Kidsource (Kevin Mayhew), 59, 1999 edition)