Book: Words out of Silence

  • Bernadette Meaden

Words out of Silence by Jill Segger - Published by Ekklesia -

In these turbulent times, as the President of the United States frequently demonstrates, anyone with access to the internet can comment on events as they happen. But as the speed and ease of communication has increased, so the space and time for careful consideration seems to have diminished. Instant opinions become ever more polarised, views get more entrenched and divisive.

In such a context, this collection of comment pieces and poetry is both timely and countercultural. It demonstrates a radically different way of responding to the world, a way which is intellectually rigorous, emotionally connected, spiritually humble, and rooted in silence.

For author Jill Segger, an active member of the Religious Society of Friends, this silence is the silence of the Quaker meeting, which has formed the bedrock of her life and values. As she says in the dedication, her parents gave her both a love of words and a love of silence, and it is from a deep well of this silence that her prose and poetry is drawn.

Unlike many of our current politicians and commentators, who seem to equate dogmatic certainty with validity, Segger always starts from the Quaker position, "Think it possible that you may be wrong." This unfashionable starting point means that her commentary always seeks to be fair and civil, whilst searching for the truth at the heart of an issue. But that is not to say it is timid or lacking in conviction. Far from it. An unwavering belief in the core Quaker values of equality, justice, peace, truth and simplicity mean speaking truth to power, and being unafraid of expressing an opinion which may prove unpopular. This is perhaps most evident in Segger's writing on war and peace, and society's relationship with the military, where she questions our acts of remembrance and what lies behind them.

The comment in the book is very wide-ranging, from social and political issues, to personal experiences like the death of a neighbour or recovering from surgery. This combination of the personal, political and spiritual, and how they interact, makes the book engaging on many levels. The author manages to step back from events in a way that gives perspective, but never becomes emotionally detached. There is tenderness and compassion, and a deep appreciation of even life's simplest blessings.

Balancing the prose, and giving the book its own particular rhythm, is the poetry. The poems are short and beautiful in their clarity, often conveying a single vivid image loaded with meaning, or a fleeting but profound emotion. They seem to carry the deeper truths which the author cannot express in prose. Perhaps what they all have in common is that they seem to spring from a deep sense of connectedness, or love. Love of people, love of community, love of music, or a love of the natural world, which began in the author's native Cumbria.

Readers from all backgrounds, religious and non-religious, may find this book thought-provoking and engaging, and ultimately, encouraging, as it tackles the most serious of issues whilst never forgetting to rejoice in what is good and true.

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Tags: Book, Silence, Jill Segger, Quakers

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