‘You are on mute,’ is a regular expression of exasperation on zoom calls.
It can be rectified, of course, by the click of a mouse. But being on ‘mute’ when people want to hear what you have to say isn’t a good thing. On the other hand, I’m pleased I have a ‘mute’ button on my TV remote, to cut the sound when I need some quiet to concentrate on something else, to read a book, or listen to a conversation.
I wonder if we might also use our own ‘mute’ button when it would better if we said nothing. We talk about an eloquent silence, and in that sense, Shakespeare has it right:-
“Says she be mute and will not speak a word,
Then I’ll commend her volubility,
And says she uttereth piercing eloquence.”
(The Taming of the Shrew)
Shakespeare has Petruchio say of Batista’s daughter, Katherine.
Katherine’s silence will be voluble. Her ‘mute’ will be a ‘piercing eloquence’. She needn’t say anything to say a lot!
A couple of Sundays ago we intimated, during the service, the crisis in Israel and Gaza. Whilst reflecting on what God was inviting us to in the reading from Matthew, of the King and his son’s wedding and noting that it is not just a feast, the joy of God’s abundance but the hard places, the valleys of disappointment, we sat silently, before our prayers of intercession, because with that tough piece of news, nothing could be said that would mitigate the effect.
There are times, like our Remembrance service to come in November, where silence is really important. We mark the two World Wars, but sadly there have been more conflicts and in recent times the Ukraine and Russia situation and Israel and Gaza continue to remind us that we learn very little.
Silence can be hard if you are the type of person who is a ‘doer’ and likes to have things tidied up or make things better for folk.
Sometimes the piercing silence, eloquent, voluble, deep, says all that needs to be said.
In a pastoral care seminar with a group of experienced clergy, the comment was made that ‘it was not what you say that matters, the value of your visit is when you stand in the doorway. You are there. You have bothered to come. You care. Anything else you do is extra. Indeed, if you say nothing at all, the pastoral care will still be eloquent.’
I have sat at bedsides in hospitals, homes and hospices, not knowing what to say, words failing me, feeling that churchy words were a cop out but, in the silence, aware that the quietness was what was needed more than anything and where God was.
In those times, whether as a minister or not, you can say a lot by not saying a lot.
Good things can still develop when we are confident enough to allow the silence to work. So I thank God for the muted times on zoom and the mute button on my television… and how I wish the world could also press the button, like the one on my TV, that takes me back to what I have missed, back to the beginning, in the hope that we stop the mistakes being made in the first place.
Your friend and minister,
George C Mackay