Sunday, 15 May 2016


The conductor’s baton is held loosely; the orchestra not engaged.

In 1952, American composer John Cage premiered a now notorious piece of music which required the performer(s) not to play their instruments. For 4 minutes and 33 seconds.

The result was silence. Well, almost silence. Certainly, no musical notes were issued from the instruments. So any noise created during that time was the noise of the building, the audience, the traffic outside.

Originally, Cage’s working title for the idea was “Silent Prayer”. In it, he was trying to challenge the audience’s and critics’ perceptions of “what is music?”, or I might add “where is music?”.  In doing so, he brought us into fascinating territory.

If we sit in a concert hall, the pianist opens the piano, we will expect music. If we walk into a meeting at work, we expect talking. If we walk on a beach, we expect the sound of waves and seabirds.

Silence challenges every part of us – our expectations of ourselves and others, our need for predictability and more. Silence can bring us peace and, in different circumstances, bring us anxiety. It is a universal sign of respect, yet also a sign that we have forgotten what it was we meant to say.

Richard Foster directs us towards moments of solitude and silence in our day. He calls them sanctuaries. They are the empty places (and spaces) where we listen to ourselves, listen to God. They are the silences that put the noise into perspective. They are the times of alone-ness  where we see ourselves in relation to others and to God.

Just as Cage’s piece encouraged listeners to ask those challenging questions concerning the nature of music, it is in silence, too, that we are inevitably drawn to the eternal questions of our place in God’s universe and heart.

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