As a good old protestant clergyman (tongue firmly in cheek) I use too many words. I know that. I have a capacity to make the still small voice a massed football crowd; volume and length winning out over simplicity and clarity. I often recall the words of Martyn Joseph, sung semi ironically, in ‘Sing to My Soul’:

‘I am slick with words and sentences I am silver with my tongue

If a story’s to be telling then baby I am the one’

Lately in meetings I do not chair (and in many that I do) and in social encounters I have been trying to say much less. I haven’t always succeeded; talking while others listen is a strange addiction. However, in other meetings-particularly with the ordained- I have come back with a headache or a head full; why do we talk so much endless, endless words? Sometimes I wonder if it is because we are frightened of the silence of God or not secure in our own roles. Anyway, I have been musing on these words from Henri Nouwen for a while:-

“How can we minister in an apocalyptic situation?” In a period of history dominated by the growing fear of a world that cannot be won and an increasing sense of impotence, the question of ministry is very urgent.As a response to this question I have presented the words, “Flee from the world, be silent and pray always,” words spoken to the Roman aristocrat Arsenius who asked God how to be saved. Solitude, silence, and unceasing prayer form the core concepts of the spirituality of the desert. I consider them to be of great value for us who are ministers as we approach the end of the second millennium of Christianity.

Solitude shows us the way to let our behavior be shaped not by the compulsions of the world but by our new mind, the mind of Christ. Silence prevents us from being suffocated by our wordy world and teaches us to speak the Word of God. Finally, unceasing prayer gives solitude and silence their real meaning. Thus we enter through our heart into the heart of God, who embraces all of history with his eternally creative and recreative love.

But does not this spirituality of the desert close our eyes to the cruel realities of our time? No. On the contrary, solitude, silence, and prayer allow us to save ourselves and others from the shipwreck of our self-destructive society. The temptation is to go mad with those who are mad, and to go around yelling and screaming, telling everyone where to go, what to do, and how to behave. The temptation is to become so involved in the agonies and ecstasies of the last days that we will drown together with those we are trying to save’.