Fasting from chatter and remembering dust

I usually fail my Lent commitments. Surely this year, I’ve chosen one which is a manageable minimum - I only have to stay silent for 24 hours!

However, it turns out not saying anything is easier said than done, especially when in company of loved ones. I tried it for half an hour the other day. There was an almost irresistible desire to fill the terrifying gulf of quiet - fill it with anything, even if it is just hot air.

I think this is because I prop myself up by speaking. To feel like I’m being heard, prompting conversation and ideas - this serves as a sort of crutch. Maybe we all have one of these something which reassures us that we’re still ticking and still valuable.

And yet, on Ash Wednesday, we are told “remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return”

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Even though this phrase, accompanied by the mark of ash on the forehead, kicks off the penitent season of fasting, we need not read it as an indication of our worthlessness. Even when we are dust and will return to dust, we are dust made alive by God’s breath (Genesis 2). Even when we don’t offer anything, when we don’t “perform” and when our lives seem like useless fallow earth, we still reflect God.

So, I’m looking forward to being silent for a bit. Being freed from all those trumped-up efforts to justify my existence, just watching them roll by like tumble-weeds might be quite a relief…

The other side to the Million Minutes siLENT project is an important form of witness that there are those with less voice or whose voice is less heeded.

Amidst all the unimportant chatter, every so often there is something very important to be said. But how often are they swept under the carpet? And how often are those who speak them silenced?


Francis Stewart (CAFOD Theology Programme Advisor) will be staying siLENT for 24 hours on March 28th along with other individuals, schools, parishes and communities throughout the Lenten season. Please support them in their endeavours by visiting: