VALERIE is inconsolable. The man whom she kicked out of her
house is causing her problems. He has got her spare front-door
keys, he has taken all the money
iHgVXaWR0aBsAAAAAAAA2QAEAAAAeBkhlnk card and PIN. So I can see why
she is in a state, with no money to buy food for herself or her
child; but she has not yet mentioned the thing that most concerns
"He's got my phone," she says.
It transpires that it is the loss of her phone which she cannot
cope with. The stolen money and a vulnerable bank account are of
little consequence compared with the loss of her phone. "What am I
going to do?" she cries out in abandonment. Her phone, stuffed with
smart technology, gives her connection, relationship, and meaning:
it is her god. Without her distracting god, there is a terrible
I am reminded of a silent retreat that I led recently. You might
imagine that those who choose such a retreat are ready for silence;
but what became apparent was just how hard people found it.
I met participants, one to one, and raw from the quiet, strong
emotions, and some terror emerged. We should not be surprised.
Silence is increasingly unfamiliar, and we cannot assume that we
will know what to do with it, or how to handle it - this former
friend now becomes something that frightens.
Valerie, an urban single mother, panicked in her phoneless
silence; but then so did some professional Christians on retreat.
In silence, we may soar skywards in spiritual liberation. But,
equally, we may spiral downwards, if voices of self-hate are
allowed free rein. In the Vale of Silence, we are both wonderfully
open and wretchedly vulnerable to the deepest truths of our
The next week, I took part in a Pippa's Progress
evening, which included a question-and-answer session. One of the
questions concerned social-media technology, which gives Pippa an
unsatisfying experience along the way.
"Are you against this technology?" the questioner asks.
"Not at all," I say. "It's remarkable. My only fear is that it's
breeding a generation that is terrified of silence, and is
increasingly unable to use it. It's the new disability."
You don't have to be Trappist or Quaker to feel that silence has
been squeezed out by much religious practice. But we will approach
it with caution, remembering that the first rule of silence -
whether it is five minutes or five days - is this: be kind to
Notice yourself honestly; notice the thoughts and feelings
arising, beautiful or otherwise - but never judge yourself. A
self-judging silence reveals nothing, and may make you
Simon Parke is the author of Pippa's Progress (DLT,
The columns by Angela Tilby and Paul Vallely will return