Friday, 6 March 2009

Fertile Inactivity

My friend and colleague, Nigel Coles, kindly blogged on a phrase I used as I prayed for him in relation to his forthcoming sabbatical. The phrase was 'fertile inactivity', in the sense that his sabbatical would have at least a dimension which wouldn't be frenetic in activity, but have something of the fallow about it, which from my understanding of agriculture, produces ultimate fruitfulness. 

Actually, the trigger came from a fascinating programme on Radio 3, presented by Rowan Williams, on silence, in which he interacted with the deaf virtuoso percussionist, Evelyn Glennie, the author Sara Maitland, and the Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sachs, and others.

Evelyn Glennie acknowledged, ‘While the body is resonating, beating, breathing, blinking, there is no such thing as silence. Any movement in nature creates noise.’ And one of the profound comments that Rowan Williams made was, 'When people long for silence, they don’t long for absence, a void, but another sense of being.' There was the recognition that silence could be a fertile silence, and this was the connection with my prayer for Nigel. By contrast the silence of Aushwitz, where Rowan Williams interviewed Jonathan Sachs, a moving part of the programme, was 'a silence which is like a black hole' and one that was not affirming or nurturing.

John Cage, the twentieth century composer, explored silence in a radical way, making a similar point to Evelyn Glennie, that actually there is no such thing as silence. But in a broader sense it's the silence in music that makes sense of the notes, its the rests that give the music the space to breathe. And we're back to fertile inactivity.

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