The Group Monthly Letter – An eloquent silence, for a friend

by Geoff Hall on October 31, 2011

October, 2011. An eloquent silence, for a friend.

Dear Arts Mentoring Group,

I was watching a film last night about Martin Luther and a phrase popped up in the dialogue, that a monk who observes the vow of silence does so not because he has nothing to say, but that he keeps an ‘eloquent silence’. This is a silence which attends to the heart. In the words of Henri Nouwen (‘Spiritual Formation’) it is an ‘inward journey of the heart’.

There are soft words and there are sharp words. Mishap is a soft word. Suicide is a sharp word that cuts to the heart, especially when involving a young friend or member of the family.


I’m thinking of a friend who arrived at the House of Saints yesterday looking the worse for wear. The first thing I noticed was that he sat behind me and not next to me. I thought this was odd. On seeing his face, it was clear that something was dreadfully wrong. A simple question opened the story of terrible news. He started by telling me he didn’t know how he got there, but he did. He’d just been given the news of a family member’s suicide; no details here, we are not sensationalising for effect! All we could do was pray for him and so that is what we did. The rest of the service passed in silence, with one arm around his shoulders.


The temptation is to flood the conversation with words created from our own curiosity and not the needs of the person suffering, but prayer rather than questions was enough at this time.


When we receive such personal news we are flooded with questions of why and how. This is followed by ‘ifs’, if I had done this or if I had said that, maybe it would be different. Such questions reinforce our powerlessness, however the fellowship, the intimacy of sharing in his sufferings calls sometimes for silence.


I was reading Song 84 this morning and came across some wonderful words; quickening words, not sharp words.


Our lives ‘are roads which God travels by’.


Amazing! If our questions are concerned with how we bring hope or love to people who are mourning, then be aware that as you travel to friends or family your life is the road God travels by, to them.


Nouwen wrote in ‘Finding My Way Home’ (p137),


And every time there are losses there are choices to be made. You choose to live your losses as passages to anger, blame, hatred, depression and resentment, or you choose to let these losses be passages to something new, something wider, and deeper. The question is not how to avoid loss and make it not happen, but how to choose it as a passage, as an exodus to greater life and freedom.


This is a time for eloquent silence, to allow the inward journey of the heart to take place, letting the thoughts bouncing around in our minds to travel to our hearts and see what the Spirit is saying. For my dear friend I know those words will be of comfort and love, that he will hear those wonderful words, “Love Wins”! This situation is out of our hands, but firmly in God’s.


I’m reminded of the words of Steve Garber, that ‘the artist feels the world first’ and in this sensitivity we are also the first to reveal reality to the world. Our work is one of revelation.


We can take the passage which leads to anger or depression, or we can show through the life of the artist that there is something new, something wider, something deeper to be found in an eloquent silence. In choosing this way, our lives can be roads along which God travels. May this be so for you, my dear friend.


Peace and Love to you all,


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