The Empty Silences
It’s been quiet here on this blog of late. It’s been hard to write. Hence the silence.
I feel like my life has been buffering – in such a constant state of transition that nothing ever seems to be fully resolving. Ideas that bounce around in my head of all the intriguing topics I want to explore in writing remain locked away inside there. When life just seems to be one giant emotional quandary that I can’t (for a variety of reasons) write about here, it somehow seemed false to prattle on about theology, and culture, and faith, and all those things that felt so far outside myself. And so I inevitably became silent, even as I ruminated in my own silence. Yet the longer I kept my thoughts inside and kept my voice silent, the more filled with silence my own mind became. Because I felt I couldn’t speak, I lost the ability to have anything to say.
The silence became an empty silence.
On my trip to England and Wales this past December I visited the ruins of Caerphilly Castle in Southern Wales. My visit fell on a weekday in the off-season on a near-freezing and drizzling day. Needless to say I was the only person touring the castle that afternoon. At first I was secretly delighted to have the crumbling archways, damp corridors, and blustery towers to myself. But I wanted more than just the silence of the ruins. I wanted to know its stories or at least to populate its grand hall with tales of conquering knights and court intrigue. But devoid of listening ears, the emptiness of its silence pervaded instead. More than that the stories weren’t being told, it felt like they had drifted away over time as the silence retook the crumbling stones.
It reminded me of that thoroughly Welsh poet R.S. Thomas’ poem “In Church”
Often I try
To analyse the quality
Of its silences. Is this where God hides
From my searching? I have stopped to listen,
After the few people have gone,
To the air recomposing itself
For vigil. It has waited like this
Since the stones grouped themselves about it.
These are the hard ribs
Of a body that our prayers have failed
To animate. Shadows advance
From their corners to take possession
Of places the light held
For an hour. The bats resume
Their business. The uneasiness of the pews
Ceases. There is no other sound
In the darkness but the sound of a man
Breathing, testing his faith
On emptiness, nailing his questions
One by one to an untenanted cross.
Sometimes it takes encountering the emptiness and asking questions into the silence before one realizes that the shadows have advanced on an inanimate body. Sometimes to embrace that silence in the darkness is a needed respite. But sometimes it slowly takes possession until the moment one realizes the walls no longer tell stories and that inanimate body in shock realizes that it is half-sick of shadows and wonders if it is possible for dry bones to live once again.