The importance of quietness
by Helen Redfern (revised, originally published in 2011)
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To remind us of the importance of silence.
Preparation and materials
- You will need to be familiar with the story of Elijah found in 1 Kings 17-19 for the ‘Assembly’, Step 4.
- Silence! (Shout this as loud as you can and see what response you get!)
Silence is what we are going to be thinking about today.
What does the word ‘silence’ make you think of?
Ask the students to call out their answers or discuss the question in pairs.
Answers may include exams, a minute’s silence on Remembrance Day, a really strict teacher, peace and quiet, boring times alone with nothing to do and scary times when every noise is sinister.
- Most of us experience very little silence in our busy lives. We are always surrounded by our friends, watching TV, listening to music or chatting on our mobiles.
Some of us find silence uncomfortable and would do anything to avoid it. Not many of us would admit to finding silence enjoyable.
- However, all religious traditions value silence and regard it as an essential element in the search for spiritual growth. Inner silence is understood to bring someone into contact with the divine or ‘ultimate reality’.
William Penn, an English Quaker who founded a colony near Philadelphia in America, and after whom the US state of Pennsylvania was named, said, ‘True silence is the rest of the mind, and is to the spirit what sleep is to the body – nourishment and refreshment.’
- One man who found that out for himself was Elijah, a character from the Old Testament. Listen to this account of what happened and of what he might have said and felt. (The whole story can be found in 1 Kings 17-19.)
Dejected . . . depressed . . . desperate . . . what words can I find to describe this misery I feel?
I wish I were dead. Leave me here to die. Alone. So alone.
The only prophet left in the whole of Israel. Can you imagine what that feels like? I just can’t speak out for God on my own any more. I’m weary, so weary.
Can you imagine how hard it is, standing for God in such evil times with evil kings doing such evil deeds? I’m afraid, so afraid.
The threats of the wicked Queen Jezebel are ringing in my head. I got rid of her prophets of Baal and now she wants me dead.
Just leave me here to die.
‘Elijah, stand up on the mountain. The Lord is about to pass by.’
What’s that? What’s going on?
A wind. A mighty, rushing wind. But the Lord is not in the wind.
An earthquake. A rumbling, rock-splitting earthquake. But the Lord is not in the earthquake.
A fire. A fierce, destroying fire. But the Lord is not in the fire.
And then silence. A sound of sheer silence.
All at once, I know.
I connect with the living God.
He has always provided for me.
He has always heard the cry of my heart.
He will not stop now.
- Elijah met with his God in the silence and the Lord gave him a new sense of hope and purpose. He also provided a helper, Elisha, who would carry on Elijah’s work for God.
Time for reflection
The religious writer Elisabeth Kübler-Ross said, ‘Learn to get in touch with the silence within yourself and know that everything in this life has a purpose.’
Elijah discovered for himself the truth of this statement.
Perhaps we could take the time to discover it, too.
Let us reflect on the importance of silence.
Pause to allow time for thought.
Read again the words of William Penn: ‘True silence is the rest of the mind, and is to the spirit what sleep is to the body – nourishment and refreshment.’
Prayer (taken from the introduction to A Silence and a Shouting by Eddie Askew (Leprosy Mission International, 1982))
Sometimes, Lord, often –
I don’t know what to say to you.
But I still come, in quiet,
For the comfort of two friends sitting in silence.
And it’s then, Lord, that I learn most from you.
When my mind slows down,
And my heart stops racing.
When I let go and wait in the quiet,
Realizing that all the things I was going to ask for
You know already.
Then, Lord, without words,
In the stillness
You are there.
‘Be still, for the presence of the Lord’ by David J. Evans, available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZugvUQ4m90U (2.52 minutes long)
‘The sound of silence’ by Simon & Garfunkel, available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NAEppFUWLfc (3.58 minutes long)