Nothing New Under the Sun: Silence

In recent months, as my eyesight decreased and I went around in a frustrating blur of light and shade, I became more and more aware of sound. Listening to the Italian Quartet playing Mozart or the clear fluting of a local blackbird could almost reduce me to tears. Almost, but not quite. What did cause a moist eye was hearing hate-filled speech on the radio: cruel voices clamouring for vengeance and calling it ‘justice’ instead; others making rash accusations and false promises, denigrating, stirring up hatred, doing the devil’s work with unholy glee. Being unable to see made it so much worse. There was no opportunity to register facial expressions or those little details that sometimes make the actual words less ugly — the pinched face, the obvious poverty of the surroundings, even the politician’s crumpled suit or ashen countenance. The problem was, how to deal with it all without being drawn into a reactive anger myself.

The conventional, pious answer would no doubt be to pray and do what one can to present an alternative view — the prayerful activism of the committed Christian. I have no problem with that, but it wasn’t the way that suggested itself to me. As a Benedictine, my way was to go deeper and deeper into silence, letting the anger and turmoil ebb away until it was, practically speaking, noiseless and unable to do harm.

To choose silence and stick to it isn’t easy. It means checking one’s own first angry response, the desire to give a smart answer or argue a case one is convinced one will win because, of course, one is right. It means acknowledging one’s own helplessness in the face of something that seems very powerful and hostile. Silence does not immediately soothe. In fact, initially it makes everything much more painful. One feels more, not less. Only with time does one begin to see why silence is important. It allows God into a situation which otherwise is full of human noise and discord. More than that, it allows God to be God in that situation, not our idea of God, which can be misleading and dangerous.

At present there is a lot of violence and anger informing our political discourse, our online activities, even, alas, our social relations. Some will respond with the kind of activism I mentioned above. Others may find more helpful the practice of silence — not the easy, empty silence of the cowardly but the more challenging silence that finds its origin and fulfilment in God.

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13 thoughts on “Nothing New Under the Sun: Silence”

  1. Thank-you. To CHOOSE Silence and stick to it isn’t easy.
    That’s the line that resonates in me.
    Blessings, in gods grace to you dear sister.

  2. Thank you for these very true words, and it has come just the right time for me to sit back and think in silence , reflect on what I am going through just now and talk to our Lord and listen to Him, asking for His forgiveness and guidance in my life. Klara

  3. Dear Sister Catherine
    Glad you are back being thought provoking- to take that path seems hard, or perhaps desirable, so a good lead on from yesterday – patience and persistence and less lazy. Thank you

  4. I admire the way you manage to turn physical shortcomings into fruitful lessons not just for yourself (that in itself is very admirable indeed), but also for others. As so often, this post hit a nerve with me. In my job, I am expected to speak. Worse (I never thought I’d call that “worse”), I am expected to speak on difficult contemporary topics (I teach business ethics at a university). The more I get speech-less, the louder the outside clamouring, the hate, the non-sense, and the split between those students who join in, and those who seek if not spiritual, at least conceptual guidance from me. My workday consists of checking angry responses in myself and others and trying to deliver “something”: At least, some contextual understanding and maybe a hint at the importance to think, and discern, for oneself. Which implies teaching young people to bear the silence. I really should pray more before lectures. Meanwhile, I printed out this post. Thank you again. I’m grateful that you are back in “publishing” mode.

  5. My husband is also losing his eyesight. L is gone R at 20/80
    I will read this to him later. Please pray for him, Bill, he’s aldobon dialysis & a double amputee & the sight makes it impossible for him to walk w/out a walker. God bless you for blessing us with your writtings.

      • Dear Sister Catherine, your wisdom and, in this instance, that borne from experience are pearls from the Lord. I am so pleased for you that the first cataract operation has been successful. All the prayers of your followers have been answered.
        I was born blind in my left eye and have focusing problems in my right eye. I wear an heavy duty corrective lens to enable me to read and to see over medium to long distances. I am grateful to the Lord for the miracle of varifocal vision.
        The past few weeks have been an undoubted trial for you but you have remained undoubted in your love for the Lord and for humanity.
        Thank you for all that you do for the world. Peace and love be with you xx.

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