For those of us old enough to remember the music of the 1960’s, one of the iconic songs was “Silence is Golden” by the Four Seasons, later covered by the Tremeloes. The protagonist, upon losing his love to someone else, knew he should keep quiet about the new boyfriend. For as much as he wanted to warn his former girlfriend about her new flame, he knew that saying something would only make matters worse. Best to be silent. Best to wait until more wisdom was gained.
Silence is not a common commodity these days. 24-hour news stations, constant notices from our phones that a message has arrived, enticements to purchase some of the proliferation of entertainment streaming services, and other clever means to attract our attention contribute to the constant noise around us. Our own homes contribute to the cacophony of sound – a barking dog, a crying child, a family member forcefully voicing her/his opinion. These are all examples of things that contribute to noise around us — but what about the noise that is within us? And why should we even care if our minds and souls are often full of chatter?
It is difficult to hear or experience God amidst all the noise. We may try every new and sure-fire spiritual practice, or we may run to every conference or read every new book on how to be better Christians, but all too often God seems to be slipping away. No matter how fast we run or how hard we try, it seems that our goal of engaging with God gets further away. If that’s the case, maybe there’s something wrong with all of the frantic activity. Maybe, just maybe, we should try being silent.
The Old Testament stresses the importance of silence as we come into God’s presence. In the Book of Job, Job struggles with the mystery of suffering. He wonders why God permits evil and why it seems to abound. God tells him: “Give heed, O Job, listen to me; be silent, and I will speak. If you have anything to say, . . . speak. If not, listen to me; be silent, and I will teach you wisdom.” Job 33: 31 – 33. Essentially, God tells Job to be quiet unless he has something important to say; it is only in being silent that Job will truly encounter God and God’s wisdom and love.
Church fathers and mothers also recognized the importance of silence. St. John of the Cross, a Spanish priest who lived in the 1500’s, addressed how we best express our love of God as we strive to become more intimately known by God: “What we need most in order to make progress is to be silent before this great God with our appetite and with our tongue, for the language God best hears is silent love.” St. Faustina, a Polish nun who lived in the early portion of the 20th century, said that a “talkative soul” is incapable of intimacy with God.
Thomas Merton, who also lived during the 20th century, was a Trappist monk. He was a writer, mystic, social activist, and scholar of comparative religion. Throughout his writings he stressed the importance of silence and time for contemplation. In his 1955 book No Man is an Island (1955), he said: “If we strive to be happy by filling all of the silences of life with sound, productive by turning all life’s leisure into work and real by turning all of our being into doing, we will only succeed in producing a hell on earth.” He is advising each of us to slow down and find room for silence. But why should we have that silence in our lives? It is because “God spoke His eternal word in silence, and He wishes us to receive His words in silence.” (The Monastic Journey, 1977.)
So, then, how do we silence ourselves – our minds, bodies, and hearts — if we want to hear the word of God?
Being silent is not easy nor does it mean never engaging with the world. Thich Nhat Hanh is a contemporary Buddhist monk whose book Silence has become a source of learning of how to quiet minds and hearts for persons of all beliefs. He also tells how many have used the strength coming from silence to address inequities around them. In plain language, he describes how to take those first hesitant steps at learning how not to be “disturbed inside . . . without constant internal chatter.” Whereas many teachers of the practice insist on rigorous beginning methods, he recommends starting by slowly breathing in and out; for only a few minutes, becoming aware of one’s breath. After a time and with some practice, you may notice the silence that is being created by those deep yet gentle breaths. In that silence listen for the quiet rustlings of the Spirit. Listen for God’s Word of Love spoken directly to you.
Being silent is not easy. Creating a space for silence in our lives and hearts takes practice. But try it, for God is waiting patiently to tell you that God loves you.
Let us pray...
Dear Lord, help us to be quiet and listen to you. Enable us to find the space in our lives to turn from all the noise. In silence, let us become aware of your Love for each of us, your dear children. Amen.