Silence and the still small voice

I’ve just found an old leaflet based on an extract from a publication called The Power of Silence which was written by John Edward Southall (1855 – 1928) a lifelong and strongly convinced Quaker who describes his experience of silence as the vital element in his approach to religion and life. He writes how God was waiting in the depths of his being to talk to him if only he could get still enough to hear the voice. He goes on to say that he thought it would be an easy matter but as he began to get still he had a perfect pandemonium of voices that reached his ears, a thousand clamouring notes from without and within, until he could hear nothing but their noise and din. Whilst he understood that some were his own voice and his questions and prayers, others were the voices of the world’s turmoil. I like the way he says ‘never before did there seem so many things to be done, to be said, to be thought; and in every direction I was pushed and pulled, and greeted with noisy acclamations of unspeakable unrest.’

Southall goes on to say whilst it seemed necessary to listen to some of the voices he was reminded that God said ‘be still and know that I am God’… And setting aside the conflict of what had to be done the next day, the various duties and cares, he still remembered ‘be still’. And as he listened and slowly learn to obey and shut his ears to the sounds he found that after a while when the other voices either ceased or he stop listening there was a still small voice in the depths of his being that began to speak with ‘an inexpressible tenderness, power and comfort’. He writes that this was God’s prayer in his secret soul and was God’s answer to all his questions, was God’s life and strength for soul and body, and became the substance of all knowledge, and of all prayer and all blessing – ‘for it was the living God himself as my life and my all’. He goes on to say how this is our soul’s greatest and deepest need how we can’t go through life strong and fresh on constant express trains but we need these quiet hours in secret places and times of waiting upon the Lord he then says that we go forth from that experience of deep silence ‘like the flower that has drunk in, through the shades of night, the cooling crystal drops of dew. But, as the dew never falls on a stormy night, so the dews of his grace never come to the restless soul’.

The Quaker pamphlet had been reprinted many times my copy was the 29th and I picked that up in 1982 but of course the message is timeless.