Prayer as hearing the voice of Christ in the silence

Posted in Blog, Christianity

When C.S. Lewis’s wife, Joy Davidman, died, in 1960, the priest who took the funeral service was hardly able to get the words out through his own tears. His name was Austin Farrer and I am currently a fan of his writings. Farrer’s father was a Baptist minister. During his time as an Oxford undergraduate, Farrer grew attracted to the ‘high’ Anglican tradition with its style of deep and disciplined holiness. He became a Chaplain and Fellow of Trinity College and Warden of Keble College.

Austin Farrer wrote much about prayer. One of the things he said was that prayer was something like listening to silence. He wondered whether you have ever tried listening to silence. He recalled that it was supposed to be silent in his house when he was thinking about his sermons. But, instead, ‘the clock ticks on the shelf, a car faintly audible from a great distance purrs its way down under my window and off into the space and darkness. The poor tin clarinet of a little old man up the street is quavering a hymn tune. There is a background of pattering rain. There is the beating of my heart.’

Farrer said that prayer is something like that – ‘listening to silence; and directly you try, you find that silence is not silent at all’. In the silence of the mind there are so many drums beating: ‘noisy rhythms of self-conceit, of resentment, of lust, not to mention the busy intellect tapping out the various themes which amuse or which worry it; each of these rhythms competing for your attention, and setting you on to dance its peculiar tune. But you must push them aside and go deeper into the silence, until you can hear that rhythm which, though it may not be the loudest, is the firmest of all.’

Reading this you may think that it is powerful language but all a bit nebulous. But Farrer went on to root his thoughts in something that all of us can grasp. He wrote: ‘You all in a certain sense know the voice of Christ. You could all of you repeat to me many of his sayings, or turn them up in the gospel. But it is another thing to listen to them until you feel the power and the life of them; until your heart dances in harmony with them, and your hands itch to act them out. That is the control that liberates, and the release that controls; that is the profoundest happiness.’

My quotes from Farrer are from p 184 of his book Said or Sung which was published by Faith Press in 1960. I am trying to put his advice into practice in my own rather fitful prayer life.