Keeping quiet

A quiet evening at the Jurong Lake promenade
A quiet evening at the Jurong Lake promenade

I had been preparing the messages and workshops for a Methodist church retreat in June. It is a preached retreat to introduce fervent evangelicals to a few spiritual disciplines and spiritual formation. The topics include Slowing down, Silence, The six stages of the life of faith, Journey through he wall, The review of the day (examen), Devotional reading (lectio divina). I was preparing the talks, the Powerpoint and collecting material. Then I chanced upon this beautiful poem in Chee Soo Lian’s Facebook entry. As is often the case, the Lord has his way of bringing suitable materials to help me teach. This is a poem by Pablo Neruda, Nobel prize winning poet and writer. In one of the sessions in the preached retreat I will lead the people into a great silence or grand silence –  a lengthy period of keeping quiet usually practised in the monastery. Imagine young people doing this! I will use this poem as a summons to launch the grand silence.

by Pablo Neruda

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

For once on the face of the earth,
let’s not speak in any language;
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fisherman in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.

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