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18    Silence in Modern Life

The worst aspects of modern life especially in the West are at the antipodes from Quakerism and its traditional silent worship. This is not because Quakerism rejects all modernity, only those manifestations hindering spiritual growth, but because modern life is full of frantic activity, economic, political, social, and indeed sporting. The rhythm of such busyness hinders that quiet reflection which evaluates principles and practices at the moment they are perceived.

Today material things and actions produce adverse reactions even against our will. Too much noise leads to confusion and sickness. Too much traffic, industrial production, technology, advertising - all lead to physical and moral pollution. The generalisation of symbols causes staleness; the spectre of poverty causes fear and the search for success and power; the horror of death tempts one to flee from its presence by vainly seeking pleasures as one's only refuge.

These causes of ethical and spiritual impoverishment, though apparently superficial, are enough to drive one to seek true religious values as antidotes. Wherever it may be encountered, silent worship is an easy way to seek together with others an uninterrupted flow of values, which one by one are given to the spirit in the time of worship. A soul may experience a sort of soothing, no matter how wounded of sorrowing, - as though an invisible hand were laid upon it leading towards healing. The formerly distant and antagonistic world becomes a great invalid for us to heal without rancour in our way, yes even by our own hands.

Not all meetings for worship are therapeutic and creative like this; not all the messages spoken by inspired persons reach every one. It is not always clear where good and evil stand, but it is always clear that without a vibrant religious life, long silent meditations and encounters in worship, we waste our time far from God. And so from people.

The way to divine truth is long, steep, and full of man-made difficulties. Obstacles increase as long as is captivated by consumerist modernism with its illusion of gaiety; but the hand of God which can be felt almost concretely in deep awareness can help us overcome them, without for a moment giving up healthy amusements and non-competitive sports.

Livorno, Ardenza, 9 XI 1990

Seek with me -
the last love on earth,
the gift of farewell to life,
the last blessing of man.
Today my purse is empty.
All that I had to give
I have given freely.
The little gifts that I receive each day,
a bit of tenderness, a bit of forgiveness,
I will take with me,
when I make the last crossing
in my little raft
to the quiet festival of the end.

Rabindranath Tagore, on his last birthday, 6 May 1941

Translation by George T. Peck

[Original Italian]

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