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A friend told me that she’d been very impressed with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams when she’d been to hear him speak.  Here is the story she told:

Dr Williams had spoken at the event and been very well received.  He was answering questions from the floor impressively, then one woman asked him this: if he had to give a mission statement for the Church of England – sum up its purpose in one sentence – what would it be?

The Archbishop acknowledged that this was a serious question and one which deserved a well-considered response.  He then asked all present for two minutes’ silence while he gave the matter some thought.  Everyone dutifully granted his request of course, so he set his phenomenal brain to task and after two minutes he gave his considered response.

I’m afraid I don’t remember what he said in response – I’m not even sure my friend told me – but what impressed her (and me, in turn) was his courage in asking for time to think.  We’re all used to hearing interviewers demanding immediate responses of their subjects and if, on occasion, someone is unable to give an immediate answer, they come across as ill-prepared at best.  Although no-one was going to say ‘I’m sorry, I’ll have to hurry you’ to the Archbishop of Canterbury, there were hundreds of people present and in such a situation, the temptation to value form over substance must be fairly large.

In the midst of my PGCE, I remember being told that on average, teachers give their pupils two seconds to answer a question.  That’s all well and good when the question is 7×8 but for anything more open ended, two seconds is not long.  Why do we expect answers so swiftly?  When answering, why are we afraid to ponder a little?  Are we really in such a rush, or are we uncomfortable with silence?

Perhaps we’re afraid of silence, which is a shame, as it is potent stuff.  Consider Jesus favouring silence in His solitude in the desert, or with His disciples on Lake Galilee, in prayer, when writing in the sand in the presence of the woman caught in adultery, in calming the storm (be still!) in ousting devils (again, be still!) and most notably throughout His passion.  If it’s good for Him, it’s good for us.

Let us pray for the courage to use silence more effectively in our lives and to listen attentively in that silence to the still, small voice of calm.

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