The reassuring sounds of silence

The reassuring sounds of silence
A Sunlit Absence: Silence, Awareness and Contemplation

By Martin Laird (Oxford University Press, €15.85 / £11.99)

Angela Macnamara



The key to unlocking doorways of prayer is in our own silence.

We live in times when ”our attention is riveted to surface noise” and silence is difficult to achieve. Even though some people live alone in enforced silence, they may not have plumbed the treasure that silence has to offer.

Christ’s words, ”Look, I am standing at the door knocking” (Rev. 3:2), call us to probe the silence and discover contemplation in its fullness.

Contemplation in its depth is about awareness of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit with which one is ‘invisibly companioned’.

This is a book which encourages us away from superfluous noise and chatter. The author tells us of St Augustine’s friend Alypius (later bishop of Thagaste), who had a ”nearly addictive relationship with the entertainment industry of the day” as modern people can have to phones, internet, email and chatter.

Alypius was helpless in the face of his ”incredible obsession for the gladiatorial spectacles”. Our inability to be still is no different to the helplessness of Alypius in the face of his obsession. We are, and like to be, distracted from stillness which many of us regard as negative emptiness.

Martin Laird points to the very real possibility of the exciting opposite. The practice of contemplation enables us to understand what is happening to those of us who are addicted to busyness and noise.

He writes that ”in an entertainment culture such as ours the onset of boredom in prayer can come as a rather rude awakening”.

We see this in the oft proclaimed ”boredom at Mass”. The practice of contemplation enables us to understand what is happening to us when such boredom grips. When tumbling thoughts intrude on contemplation itself so overwhelmingly as to tempt us to give up, recognise ”that it’s okay for the noise to be there” and simply move to our prayer word (which he explains).

We should ”make stillness be your criterion for testing the value of everything, and choose always what contributes to it”. Martin Laird explains the process in an understanding and convincing way, leading us into the depth of the ‘sunlit absence’ of noise.