COVID-19,  Lifestyle,  Mental Health

The sounds of silence

In his second reflection on self-isolation Richard Bauckham finds that forgotten sounds can be our best friends.

The phoney war is over and the real one begins. Or to change the metaphor, “we are sailing straight into a storm,” as someone on TV said yesterday. 

I’m very conscious that being ‘retired’ (I don’t have to earn a living) and self-isolating is a very easy life compared with the critical time this is going to be for health workers, care workers, supermarket staff, our political leaders, police and other ‘key workers’. 

From many of these heroism is going to be required. (In Italy one in 10 of those tested positive are health workers.) For most of us, this strange new world means that our first responsibility to society is simply to stay at home. This is now the first and indispensable duty of neighbourly love, a thought that may be helpful to those who face staying at home with dread. (Some of whom too may need to be heroic.)

Staying at home is the first duty of our love for those closest to us and for everyone else. But another duty is to stay connected

Our isolation must aspire to be what I called in the previous article “connected solitude.”  We need to keep our neighbourly connections going, but we also need to innovate and improvise new ways of overcoming physical distance. 

If we do this, what they call “social distancing” need be only “physical distancing.” 

In the short period I have been isolating, I have found myself in closer and more meaningful contact – by email – with a few people than ever before.

This evening the church home group I belong to is going to try meeting by Zoom. For us – of a more elderly demographic – that is quite adventurous! And prayer is vital for keeping meaningful contact. If we are praying for people, the quality of our connections with them will be greater, even if it is only virtual. 

I am so glad that (for time being at least) we are allowed to go for a walk once a day. Recently I walked down to a quiet spot by the river I have hardly noticed before. There was very little human noise, but I was treated to a concert of birdsong. I prayed for the people who have come my way today (mostly virtually) and others who have been in my thoughts, asking that they may be able to feel the warmth of God’s love and have something as joyous as birdsong in their lives at this worrisome time. 

We belong to the natural world and there is healing in nature, all the more so if we find God there.

Today I returned to my “secret” place by the river, and I was serenaded not only by birdsong but also by loudly quarking ducks (quarking is more accurate than quacking, I think). 

In this strange time, the sounds of the natural world are as important to me, if not more important, than the sights. It feels like it is a long time since listening to the sounds of other creatures has seemed so significant to me. 

Of course, with so little traffic, birdsong is more audible in lots of places than it is usually. You can walk along a tree-lined road that is usually busy and it almost sounds like a secluded woodland. 

It is good to realise that all around us are creatures who are immune from this plague and can, unwittingly, provide us with solace

For those unable to get outside I recommend this wonderful website:

You can access recordings made in all kinds of natural locations (as well as other kinds of sound). In this time of anxiety it would be worth finding your favourite recordings and listening to them sometimes in place of the unrelenting streams of news on which those of us in self-isolation are tempted to overdose.

[ click the picture to listen to the sound of the forest ]

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Professor Richard Bauckham is one of today's leading biblical scholars. He has taught at Manchester University and the University of St Andrews, is a fellow of the British Academy and is now Senior Scholar at Ridley Hall, Cambridge. His many works include the highly acclaimed Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. When he can find the time he writes poetry and has also written two children’s story books about the MacBears of Bearloch. You can go to his website on


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