The Gift of Silence

Our world is full of noise. If you live in the city then you rarely experience true silence. There are always cars going by with their horns and their mufflers. There are people arguing in the street. There are parties happening at all hours of the day. There is constant hustle and bustle and very little room for silence, unless one seeks it out intentionally.

It is not only in the city that we are bombarded by sounds, however. Our culture and technology have made it so that we are constantly watching videos, listening to music, or reading memes no matter where we live. True silence is not only the absence of sound, but also the absence of all distracting media. If you are in a quiet room but scrolling through your news feed, then you do not have true silence because your mind is being filled with a thousand other voices.

The world wants to constantly bombard us with information, most of which is designed to sell us something. The sheer volume of sensory input we experience in our culture is overwhelming and makes the contemplative life difficult to maintain. This was true in the ancient world but it is a thousand times more true in our modern world. There are distractions everywhere and if we do not find them in our surroundings, then we have easy access to them in our pockets. Our phones constantly inundate us with distractions. The contemplative life requires us to seek after silence instead.

The fact that silence is not entirely about sounds can, perhaps, best be seen in the presence of a waterfall. It makes a great deal of sound, but it is not a sound which is demanding your attention. The music of a waterfall is content to not be heard by human ears. If you are sitting in the garden in the morning listening to the birds sing their praises to God, then you are sitting in silence. Yet, if you are sitting in the laundry room listening to the dryer crash and bang then you are not. There is something about the harmony of nature which speaks with the silence of God in a way which our busy human noises do not.

Now, this is not to say that a person cannot find inner silence without outer silence. However, the truth is that it is much harder. There is a reason why monks around the world retreat from society and find peace in the desert, or the forest, or the mountains. Many, if not most, people who spend considerable time in silence find that it is not truly empty. Lying underneath the distractions of noise and commotion lies the Word of God patiently waiting. Silence is the foundation of existence. It is the home of true prayer. It is love most beautifully expressed. 

If we wish to become one whole being then it is incredibly helpful to be in silence. In the silence all things are one. It is words and discourse that creates divisions, and at times these divisions can be helpful. But they should be something which arises out of silence, not the backdrop upon which occasional bouts of silence appear.

Not only should we seek silence in our surroundings, but we should be mindful not to interrupt the silence without due cause. There are times when we must speak, when there is no ethical option other than to break the silence and speak the truth, but we should be mindful that we do not live our lives in argument with everything. We cannot heal the world by shouting at it. Silence heals. 

If we wish to be a healing presence in the world, then we should cultivate a life of silence. If God calls you to speak (or write) about something then do so, but do not feel the need to fill the empty space. We are too often uncomfortable in silence and this is typically because we are not comfortable in our own skin. When we become comfortable with silence then we have found true peace. When silence scares us or makes us nervous, then it is a sign that our hearts are divided and so, a monk is to cultivate silence. Silence in their environment, silence in their words, and eventually silence in their thoughts.

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