The Sound of Silence

It’s easy to become lyrical about silence, isn’t it? All the great religions of the world seem to hold silence in veneration. In Christianity we have the immense paradox of  the creative word God speaks into the silence of non-being which is the Logos, the Word of God Incarnate. In the Benedictine monastic tradition, silence is the natural counterpart to the liturgy we celebrate in choir. We are immersed in silence, bathed in it all day long; but I don’t think you will find a single monk or nun who wouldn’t admit that, far from being the enviably peaceful state many imagine, it can be a searing experience. It confronts us with our inner poverty, challenges us to conversion of heart, casts a searching light on all that we would prefer to keep hidden.

The U.S. Senate report on the use of torture by the C.I.A. shows us another kind of silence, the collusive silence of fear and shame which has nothing redemptive in it. It is the silence of Adam and Eve after they had eaten the fatal fruit. This morning I think we all feel our humanity has been diminished — not because we are personally responsible, but because whatever one human being does to another affects us all. This shameful silence, too, has to be taken into our prayer, has somehow to be transformed, so that it is no longer destructive.

During these days of Advent we try to be a little more silent than usual because we are preparing to receive the Word of God as Saviour and Redeemer. We need to listen. Sometimes all we’ll hear is the sound of silence, like the beating of a bird’s wing against the air or the pumping of blood around our heart. We need the Holy Spirit to come and overshadow us with his mighty power,  just as he overshadowed Mary. If we ask, he will; but we must be prepared for the unexpected. God’s ideas are always so much bigger than our own.

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5 thoughts on “The Sound of Silence”

  1. I was reminded of Ecclesiastes 5 when I read your blog:

    Ecclesiastes 5:1-2 NIV
    [1] 5
    Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong. [2] Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts, I always find them relevant and helpful .

  2. I think silence is the hardest thing about prayer for people outside a monastic environment to get to grips with. We are bombarded by communication devices as well as the noisy conversations with family/colleagues/friends who all have different things to say at different times of the day. This is not an excuse – we just lack the order and structure that provides a silent/still framework. I find that it takes great effort to make time for quiet. It often irks others and they find it hard to respect the quiet time, suspecting something is amiss. My silence makes them uncomfortable…While this makes it a challenge it makes the rewards all the more precious – when it can be created (If one can create an absence) silence is a powerful tool. How I would feel about it if I had a surplus of it because of a change in circumstances I do not know. At the moment it is all too easy to fill the silence with distractions. Being distracted away from God seems a dreadful shame.

  3. I think that there are some people who find silence intimidating, almost frightening or threatening. They have to fill each waking moment with some kind of sound.

    While I have no real evidence to support my opinion, it seems to to me to be those people who have no faith who have most trouble bearing silence.

  4. Dearest Sister: absolutely “right on” about the different kinds of silence! I feel ashamed for my country today for the guilty, collusive silence of the utterly horrible ways we treated our prisoners! I was well aware of what was happening in those days, and many did speak out.

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