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Vicar's Musings for Easter 6

10 May, 2015

We can live with such clamour, it is true, in spite of what assails nervous systems attuned to the past, but we pay the price, and do so at our peril. I think the loss of quiet in our lives is one of the great tragedies of civilization, and to have known even for a moment the silence of the wilderness is one of our most precious memories.
Sigurd Olson, cited by Maggie Ross

I was asked to give a lecture on silence and contemplative theology this week at Trinity College Theological School. One of my guides in preparing the talk has been the Oxford anchorite and mystic Martha Reeves, whose vows were heard by the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. In her former life Reeves was a Stanford educated professor of theology, but she now writes from her anchorhold under the nom-de-plume Maggie Ross. In her most recent book, Silence: A Users Guide (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 2014) she writes about the task we have in Western Society of retrieving lost silence (p. 11): "Life hangs in the balance. The choice for silence or noise, for carefulness or carelessness, is ours in every moment. To choose silence as the mind's default in an accelerating consumer culture — a culture that sustains itself by dehumanising people through the unrelenting pressure of clamour, confusion, and commodification — is indeed a subversive act." This has not always been the case, of course; for centuries the highest calling in Western culture was the contemplative life, and we have a rich tradition of contemplative prayer and theology that rivals anything on offer in the East.

Our worship at St Peter's, through the influence of the Oxford Movement, is deeply rooted in the contemplative tradition. The liturgy invites us into a place of deep communion with the Risen Christ. At High Mass the music, the preaching, the ritual, the Eucharistic prayer and Holy Communion all culminate in a symbolic moment of silence before the altar. Similarly at all our Sunday Masses silence is a crucial element of the liturgy. Last week a parishioner said to me: "Fr Hugh, have you noticed, the silences seem to be deeper and more profound at Mass these days? Or perhaps it is just that I am noticing them more. It is one of the things I love about our worship at St Peter's: the silence. It somehow sits beneath all the music and the words, and pours out from time to time."

The Rev'd Dr Hugh Kempster



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