// in praise of silence, and TIME magazine

globeI could just have easily have spent this afternoon, my day off, playing Pro Evolution Soccer in the lounge – but I didn’t. Instead I spent it on my own in a Caffe Nero reading TIME magazine. Pretty much the same thing goes for Armando Iannucci’s brilliant satire, In the Loop, which I saw on Tuesday night – I could have gone to see 17 Again instead (the offer was there), but I’m still confident that I made the right choice. These two things were easily two of the most relaxing experiences of my week, even as, in some respects, they were two of the most terrifying.

TIME is this week writing soberly about Obama’s first 100 days in office, the electoral situation in India and the drug gangs in Juarez, Mexico; all of which paints a picture of a world that is in very great need of stability and solidity in a period where that kind of stability is conspicuously absent. Balanced a magazine as it is, it’s nonetheless still a scary read; it leaves you in a situation where you are forced to consider these things without the comfort of easy solutions, and uncomfortably aware that even the people supposedly in control of these circumstances don’t have any easy answers.

The same is true, if not more so, for Iannucci’s satire – for most of the film, it functions as a fairly savage expose of New Labour’s spin tactics, until the moment, about two-thirds of the way through, when it becomes painfully clear that this is far, far less than a joke. Specifically, when the focus shifts onto events which parallel the invasion of Iraq and the audience is forced to consider how the actions of our political leaders have made the world into an infinitely more terrifying place to live. It’s a brilliant piece of defamiliarisation, and horrifying though it is, I loved it precisely because it reminds me firstly that we are not separate from this world, and secondly, that we are not powerless within it…

The danger of Oxford at the best of times, and especially during exam season, is that it encourages you to think as though your whole purpose in life, at least while you’re there, is just to work. There’s nothing more – the goal and aim of this time is to work as best you can, so that then you can get into a job where, guess what, you work as best you can until you retire. That’s the pattern, and it’s a brilliant ‘wool-over-the-eyes’ trick, but it’s a lie; three years in you start to realise that all those deadlines, all that competition, week-on-week, to prove yourself, is just part of this system that you’ve found yourself within, and then you realise that in about a month that’s all going to be over. And maybe you should have worked slightly less hard and gotten engaged with this amazing, vibrant place slightly more… Of course, the comparison goes beyond just Oxford, but you know what I mean, right?

That’s why I’m enjoying sitting here with my copy of TIME magazine quite so much, i think, as it reminds me that my world doesn’t stop with the Oxford Ring-Road. That there is a world out there that is bigger than the Oxford Union, the week-to-week essays, the ‘re-imagined’ plays and the stupid gossip. In short, it reminds me that I am a human being, in a world filled with other human beings, and not just some essay-writing machine, only useful for what I can produce at the end of this degree. And it also encourages me to think bigger. As, make no mistake, this world is a scary place, in a lot of ways, and that’s a lot more evidently recently than it has been in a while. But we are not just a people of a pious, impotent rage. Pieces of art like “In the Loop” remind me of the sheer power of art, the power of response – point out that accepting that ‘this is just the way things are’ isn’t the only answer, and we could all do to remember that, too.

A passage in the Bible that still amazes me is Isaiah’s address to the people of Israel, when he declares:

This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says:
‘In repentance and rest is your salvation,
In quietness and trust is your strength,
But you would have none of it…”

I don’t know about you, but I can identify with that; that implicit rejection of the need to be still, to stand in ‘quietness and trust’, especially there’s so much that I need to do. Even today, I have a large number of things that really, desperately need doing, and in the midst of that I still need to carve out space to ‘relax’ at some point. But all that said, though, it’s the spaces this week where I’ve stopped, carved out that time for quietness, rest, space, to remember that I’m a human being and my life is bigger than just the next essay, those that have been the valuable times. Everyone knows that verse, “be still, and know that I am God”, but when was the last time any of us did it? Saw our God in context, not as an ‘Oxford-God’, but as God of the nations; ‘First and Last’; God, full stop?

That’s surely where any kind of true perspective of God comes from, with being still, looking to something bigger, remembering that the world doesn’t stop with our immediate sphere of influence. Recalling that we are called to be a part of this whole world, by the God of this whole world. And daunting though that is, don’t you agree that’s also an exciting thought to carry into a Monday morning?

“He’s got the whole world in His hands…”

    • JoAnna
    • April 27th, 2009

    mhmm, great post. I definitely understand about being still and knowing He is God… It takes a conscious effort to make that time, and it encourages me to read about you taking it.
    Something that I got a taste of last semester when I studied in Oxford was the enormity of God – it’s amazing to have your eyes opened and realize that He doesn’t only live in your cozy little town, but He’s everywhere, all across the globe, and even more than that. Knowing this gives me hope.

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