Why silence really is golden

By Moira Billinge

The few very hot summer days we have experienced on our UK shores so far this year will probably have done nothing to change the minds of the global warming sceptics.

Despite the message of Pope Francis's recent encyclical Laudato si' (Praise be to you), which called on us to respect and value all aspects of human existence and included concerns for the environment, the debate about the effects or otherwise of the pollution of our planet by carbon gases will remain deeply polarised.

Noise is one of the more immediate and obvious forms of pollution in our modern times. While sound is essential to our daily lives, noise is not and though it probably causes less harm to humans than water, air or land pollution, it is an increasing problem.

Mobile phones, household gadgets, radios, road vehicles, car and house alarms, industrial noise, and the mind-numbing piped music played in shops (together with the commands bellowed out to staff over increasingly loud PA systems in supermarkets) all combine to create a clanging cacophony of sounds which continually assail our senses.

'I can't hear myself think’ will be a familiar adage to many of us and it says something about our constant immersion in noise that some advertising gurus have even responded by cleverly producing silent television adverts that grab our attention immediately.

Silence is very important to the welfare of human beings and a lack of it can deprive us of the many opportunities to appreciate and reflect upon the beauty of the world around us. Mother Teresa of Calcutta wrote: "We need to find God, and He cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass – grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence. We need silence to be able to touch souls."

Referring to Good Friday at the beginning of August is rather out of sync with the liturgical calendar, but this year, before leaving the altar after the 3pm celebration of the Lord's Passion, the parish priest at my local church turned to the extremely packed congregation and said: "As you leave this church today, please do so in silence, reflecting upon all we have seen and heard during our Good Friday service, as we accompanied Jesus during His Passion and death on the cross.

"Carry that silence and peace with you, out of church, into the streets and into your homes. If, as you leave, you are tempted to speak to the person next to you, please don't. Have some respect for that person and their desire for silence."

The effect was profound. Hundreds of people processed from the church and made their way home, through to the car parks and along the pavements of the busy main road nearby, in total silence. There were so many people, but no one spoke. Little did the priest know, as he made his appeal for silence, just how generously his parishioners would honour that request; indeed, what followed was a beautiful, prayerful public witness to the sacredness of the day. On that rare occasion, the silence spoke volumes.