In my idler moments, I wonder if sound was there as soon as creation took place. After all, the Big Bang could not have taken place without there being a bang! As I write this, I am aware of all the sounds that are around – the clicking of the computer keys, the radio that someone is playing rather loudly, the cars passing by, the planes taking off from or homing into Stanstead Airport, human beings talking and laughing on the street and a myriad other sounds. I can’t think of any activity which does not produce some sound, even as a bye-product.
It is difficult to find silence.
The Zen philosophy recognised this problem and, very seriously, asked the question: Can you hear the sound of a one-handed clap? Much has been written about this question, but no one has solved the enigma in it. Years ago, I faced my own personal enigma about silence. I had the privilege of knowing the Bishop of Tehran who had suffered terrible personal tragedy under the rule of the Revolutionary Guards in Iran. I had launched forth on some favourite hobby-horse of mine to him, and the saintly Bishop gently said to me:
Chandu, please be quiet so I can hear you.
That remark has stayed with me ever since. It took me a long time to realise that God had already made a similar comment to more than one person: Be still and know that I am God. Feeling God’s presence requires only one pre-condition – to be still. It is the only condition that a retreat centre in Gloucester requires of you; no books, mobiles or notebooks – in fact they deprive you of them to assist you in your stillness! And then they gently guide you to recognise your breath in stillness as it gently touches your upper lip. A reminder: God had breathed his breath, his spirit, into a lifeless form to give it the gift of life!
It is good to go back, from time to time, to that moment, and to experience the breath of life afresh.