We live in a world where total silence is impossible.
A friend went on a walking holiday in New Zealand. She said it was beautiful, but noisy. “Really?” someone said to her, “Weren’t you miles from anywhere?” Yes, but there was wind, birds and streams.
The external world is never silent, God made it that way. That noise is God’s will.
Some people are uncomfortable with silence, associating it with being alone and lonely. Some can’t see the point, others look forward to being with just their thoughts.
Silence is a source of great strength. – Lao Tzu
Silence as key to a strong spiritual life:
• Christ went off into the ‘silence’ of the desert several times to pray and reflect, away from the crowds and even the disciples.
• The desert fathers sought solitude and silence in their battle against sin.
• Hermits have sought the silence that leaving society may offer.
• We include periods of silent reflection and prayer in our community programme.
Plus, there is a lot of guidance…
From the Psalms
I said, I have resolved to keep watch over my ways that I may never sin with my tongue. I was silent and was humbled, and I refrained even from good words (Ps 38:2-3).
And St Benedict is very clear about the importance of silence -
From the Rule
The Prophet indicates that there are times when good words are to be left unsaid out of esteem for silence. All the more reason, then, should evil speech be curbed so that punishment for sin may be avoided.
However, silence is not simply a spiritual discipline. It is a way of living a healthy life. Silence is internal and communal. We can’t control the communal; however, we can do something about the internal.
I was on a bus after a difficult meeting, mulling it over, when a group of school kids got on and took over the back of the bus. They were behaving normally, but gradually the noise started to annoy me and I found myself getting agitated. I wanted to think!
I told the story to a friend. ‘’I just needed a few minutes quiet’’.
She smiled. “Maybe you weren’t being quiet.”
“What??????” I said, quite agitated (again).
“Maybe you need to learn to be internally quiet and not interfere with others in your head", she suggested.
It took me a while to think that one through.
We need to seek a positive approach to internal silence.
We need to create:
A Quiet Heart – my first mistake
A Still Mind – my second mistake
A Peaceful Spirit – so this doesn’t happen.
I could have opened communication with God and offered up my confusion, but as I hadn’t followed that simple process, I was agitated.
Our attitude to internal silence should be as a friend in a distracting world. We are tempted by sound, noises, and thoughts - which may also be the temptations of the devil.
I could have enjoyed the energy of the school kids, and not allowed myself to get caught up in the tempting distraction of frustration.
Let’s create space in our lives where internal and communal silence is the norm - not an add on. Christ, the desert fathers and Benedict give us plenty of guidance on just keeping silent.
As St Benedict says: Monks should diligently cultivate silence at all times.
The rest of us non-Monks need to follow that powerful advice.