Why sound of silence is a blessing when we are drowning in noise
One of the great, and enduring songs of the Sixties was Simon and Garfunkel's 'The Sound of Silence'.
Originally recorded in 1964 it took almost a year before the single version topped the charts, and it has remained popular ever since.
The song reminds me of an event taking place today in St Anne's Cathedral. This is a 'Day of Prayer for our Land', which is being organised by Brother David Jardine, and his colleagues from the Divine Healing Ministries.
It was to be held at Balmoral Park, at the Maze, but the event has been switched to St Anne's because the choice of the original venue was apparently hurtful to many of those people who had suffered in the Troubles, and particularly the victims groups.
The decision to change venues was a courageous and wise decision in order to avoid any kind of stand-off which would have been an anathema to a day of prayer.
The intention in St Anne's is to give people a safe space in which people try to deal with their hurtful memories of the past and to find peace by remaining quiet and thoughtful in the reflective atmosphere of a cathedral.
This is something which other groups and other churches should do more often. We live in an age of clatter and chatter, rushing from pillar to post, and thereby crowding out all possibility of being at peace with ourselves and with other people.
In fact it is very difficult to make peace and to remain at peace with others, if we are still churning inside and somehow still at war with our inner selves.
We live in an age when we have never had so many advanced tools of communication, but it is doubtful if we communicate any better than our grandparents whose lives were never cluttered by mobile phones, iPads and other marvels of technology which constantly threaten our peace.
On a recent holiday I watched people at the next table in the hotel dining room spending most of their evening meal using their mobile phones, and hardly talking to one another. I wondered what kind of communication kept their relationship alive and fresh, or did they have nothing left to say to one another.
Recently I read an article about a Danish 'Happiness Institute' where the director discovered that people who decided not to use their Facebook all the time, gradually felt an 'uplift' in their lives.
The lack of silence in the modern world can seriously threaten our sense of well-being. The cacophony of sound blaring from restaurants to supermarkets hardly gives us time to think, and anyone who asks for the noise to be turned down in a restaurant runs the risk of being regarded as an ancient fuddy-duddy.
I also read recently about a diner who politely asked the proprietor of a restaurant to turn the sound down slightly. She replied: "It's good enough for me," whereupon the diner turned and walked out of the restaurant. Good for him.
Silence is also elusive in churches. Before a service starts, and after it ends, there is an unholy chatter which diminishes the silence of a holy place. Some people still fail to get the point.
It's also noticeable that when a speaker in a church asks for a 'moment', a silence, there is almost a sense of panic if this goes on too long. This often happens when I ask for silence before I speak.
So many churches now depend on huge decibels of noise in the clap-happy atmosphere which all but crowds out the Holy Spirit.
Recently I talked to Terry Waite, who knew all about silence during his five years of solitary confinement as a captive of Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Terry now attends Quaker services where the silence can help to create "a harmony that our poor divided world so desperately seeks".
You could well say that Simon and Garfunkel were prophetically spiritual when they recorded their iconic song about The Sound of Silence so long ago.
We could all do with more silence. Why not enter the silence of St Anne's Cathedral today?