Cape Town 2019

A reflection on silence

Chumani Bontsa, was born in the Eastern Cape region, and spent his youth in the Khayelitsha township of Cape Town. In 2014 he spent three months at Taizé as a volunteer. He is involved in his Anglican parish and works as a fisheries inspector.

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Thinking back I realize that silence has always been a big part of the life of people in Africa, when we were still true to who we are and we respected each other. I remember growing up in the Eastern Cape and the total loss of the spirit of Ubuntu when there was a death in the village. The village would be so quiet that you could hear the drop of a penny; it was so quiet that travellers on horseback would get off the horse and start pulling the horse, they would even take off their hat. These travellers did not need to be told what had happened: they would immediately see, because the whole village would be observing silence until after the funeral. I remember also going to Church with my grandmother. We would leave home, get to Church early and observe a moment of silence and this would allow one to reflect on the week gone by and have a moment to speak and listen to God. I realize this now.

When I was member of the Servants of the Sanctuary this is something that we continued because we would even be silent during our preparations in the altar and 15 minutes before the service we would observe a few moments of silence. I have never really realized that silence is a part of who we are and how important it is until I went for the week of silence while spending some time in Taizé. This for was a time of reflection and a time when I got to deepen my relationship with God. God spoke to me, — well, I felt closer to God — and I felt that my near death experience the previous year was God’s way of bringing me closer to him, because I felt the loneliness and the things people were saying about me at home. During the silence I learnt that we sometimes feel lonely, and instead of embracing this and allowing God to fill it and speak to us we find things to distract us. But in actual fact silence and loneliness leads to a greater solidarity with God. There was a time when I felt I was losing my mind, but I found strength in the fact that I was losing my mind for God, we have to die to self in order to live in Christ.

The fact that we do not want to be silent and we do not want to be lonely closes the door to a very personal relationship with God. It has found us wanting and looking for miracles and the noise that some people bring, and that has opened us to exploitation. If we were to be silent for just a little while, then we could find our way to a Christianity that is alive, a Christianity that has actions. The Church is failing to listen as well, so much so that prayer has in most cases turned into a competition of who can be the loudest and the longest, and this is scary to young people and is causing them to leave, because they feel that they don’t belong if they can’t pray. I personally feel that next year’s pilgrimage of trust in Cape Town is a great opportunity for young people to encounter God in a different way.

Silence for me was something that was foreign before I went for the the silence retreat towards the end of my stay in Taizé. I remember before going for the silence retreat, Gerald from Kenya went. On the Sunday after he was done with his retreat we had a meeting for all the Africans in Taizé, and when he shared his experience he said that when the storm had come after he had asked God for a sign and he had said ‘’no this was a coincidence and that it could not have been God’s way of talking to him’’ until the storm started again a few minutes after he had said this! Well I thought that during my week of silence I would experience something big as well but I was surprised because it didn’t happen. But I remember the first Church I visited was in the village of Ameugny and in the visitors book, someone had written long ago: ‘’even broken mirrors reflect the image of God’’. The things I had gone through had broken me and I was reminded that I reflect the image of God even with all that I have gone through, this helped to come back home and fix the broken relationship I had with my dad and we are closer now than we have ever been. The second thing I found was a key ring that had a small shoe with “I love you” written on it, and this for me said even in our brokenness God still loves us and that was a reminder that I am truly and unconditionally loved and that I even though I am broken I still reflect the image of God. Well nothing as big as with Gerald happened but I felt God speak to me. 

The question of silence in the African context is something I would like to explore further because I feel it is something that is deep and has more significance than I know. 

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