I am slowly working my way through Sara Maitland’s intriguing memoir of her exploration of solitude and silence, A Book of Silence. Maitland is an accomplished writer, known primarily for her novels, who writes with a kind of musical grace. In in A Book of Silence, she also demonstrates a wide-ranging familiarity with philosophy, theology, and poetry.
During a season of change in her late forties, Maitland spent a good deal of time alone in a cottage on the Isle of Skye, far north in Inner Hebrides of Scotland. She was not fully isolated from human contact, but she had long stretches of solitude and quiet. Her memoir beautifully describes the varied tones and textures of silence, and recounts the the emotional surprises and spiritual discoveries it made possible.
Early in the book, Maitland writes about those moments of silence in which she was freed from her usual awareness of the passing of time. We commonly describe those moments with phrases like “time stood still” and “losing all sense of time.” Maitland would occasionally feel like she had stepped beyond time into a realm of timelessness in which she was particularly aware of God: “If you believe in a God who is eternal, that is to say, outside time, there is a sense of being nearer to, being more permeated by, God as time recedes in both importance and sensation” (p. 68).
I thought of Elijah on the mountain who heard God speak in the “still small voice–the thin silence” which followed violent wind and raging fire. And I thought of the psalmist who said: “For God alone my soul in silence waits.”
I think it is also true that God waits for us in that healing silence that is God’s home–in that radiating and joyful stillness that surrounds and prepares us for the dancing delight of God’s own heart.