Thought for the Day, 8 July 2005
The Most Rev. Rowan Williams
'Dead silence, except for the occasional sirens.' That was how people were describing what it was like in London yesterday afternoon. Just as when we face a personal shock or loss, there comes a moment when we don't know what to say, or how we feel, or what can be done: dead silence.
Terrorist violence aims at just such a reaction and wants it to last. They want to silence human speech - not only by killing, but by paralysing us all.
The terrorist's goal is a situation in which our fear of violence and our grief and pain over violence have become stronger than our positive hopes and commitments.
For most of the last two weeks, the thoughts of millions of people have been focused on the G8 meeting: positive hopes and commitments were uppermost. People knew what they wanted - justice for the poor, firm promises to address the environmental crisis: they wanted to be able to be proud of themselves and their leaders, they wanted to be confident that this was a world where moral vision and power still worked.
And then on Wednesday we had that great vote of confidence in London. Once again, hopes and commitments were in the air and people were being stirred by new possibilities.
So yesterday's atrocities could not have come at a crueller moment. In addition to the terrible fact of plain human loss and suffering, there's the sense of a kind of defiant insult being flung at all of this.
And just as there are insults that leave us as individuals feeling too sick and empty to respond, so there are moments when a whole society feels like that.
An Old Testament Prophet spoke these words: 'How doth the city sit solitary that was full of people'; he spoke them as he looked out over the ruins of his home and the bodies of his friends.
But that sick desolation is what the terrorist wants. If our passion for justice, renewal, reconciliation is silenced, the path is open for whatever distorted and inhuman agenda is ready to fill the gap. So we have to ask 'do we have the strength still to say no to this? Do we truly, commitedly, want what we wanted before this tragedy erupted?'
We must take courage. We may not feel we have much strength, we may still feel partly paralysed. There's a passage in the New Testament where Paul says something like this: 'we don't know how to pray or what to hope for sometimes. But the spirit of God is working with us, and even our wordless cries and groans become part of the Spirit's action'.
There's another kind of silence, where we breathe deeply and 'gather' ourselves, anchor ourselves in what matters and what lasts. The only finally adequate response to terror and evil is to gather ourselves like this - to reach down into what feeds the roots of our spirit, trusting that justice, mercy and joy are never going to be silenced or paralysed. And when we know that, we're ready to begin again on the long road, the long task, of making humanity really human.