The great song, the great sound,
comes out of silence, or it isn’t a great song.

BROTHER DAVID STEINDL-RAST encourages us to ask: how can we, in the ordinary commonplace tasks of our daily lives, “come fully alive?”. Asking the question is one of our most important life-tasks, he suggests. And the answer, however it’s formulated in words, will always have a great deal to do with our capacity for “contemplative living”, with our setting out, on a daily basis, to discover The Great Song.

Now I’ve got to be honest about the folks who harrumph at such a suggestion! Many apparently devoted church-people, one or two bishops I’ve known amongst them, would take issue with my own inclination to frequent silence and contemplation, an inclination that comes the more particularly to the fore in my case whenever parish life revs itself up to being “busy”. There are the driven souls who, I sense, want to gee me up, and the wider Church, too. Such people are all for action, they tell me. All for doing. But I’ve noticed that they don’t often look very happy. And I don’t like the haunted look in my own face-in-the- mirror on those occasions when I’ve lost track of the call to find the great song.

Yet, thankfully, there are the very many others. Every day I have the privilege of conversation with people, ancient and modern, who appreciate the invitation to silence, who appreciate the invitation to recall Jesus going off “up a mountain”, who look forward all week to the “quiet bits” in our liturgical worship. And I’ve noticed in every case that the people who become even a little bit practiced in the art of contemplation smile a great deal. They look comfortable in their own skins. They often look happy!


Even though the world changes like cloud formations
all that is fulfilled returns home to the changeless One.
Above all the turning and changing
wider and freer, remains Your Song,
God with the lyre, God with the heart.

Sufferings have not been learned,
loving has not really been learned,
and what separates us in death
has not been unveiled.
But the Great Song above the earth
hallows and celebrates it all.

– Rainer Maria Rilke
translation by Brother David Steindl-Rast

Now, kind reader, you may well already have watched the above short video with Brother David before you’d read thus far. But whether you did or you didn’t may I encourage you to watch it now? It won’t take you long to recognise which of the two different kinds of person Brother David is. Take particular note of his face and its expressions. Listen carefully to the tone of his voice. Join me in asking, once again, Brother David’s question: how can we, in the ordinary commonplace tasks of our daily lives, “come fully alive?”. I think he’s got his finger on the pulse of an answer.

See also A Good Day

3 thoughts on “THE GREAT SONG

  1. Thank you for this lovely post, Simon.

    More and more I become convinced that one of the great lessons that our church needs to learn in this frantic, frenetic age is the beauty and empowering quality of contemplative silence. And those of us who feel drawn to this path need to find ways of encouraging others to take the risk of weaving silence into their days.

    I wish you joy and enabling as you return, again and again, to the refreshing of silent contemplation … it is the place from which Godly actions flow.

  2. Thank you for this Simon. My dad, Ron Powell, pointed me towards it. I have made it part of my Good Friday.
    Chris Powell.

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