We live in a world surrounded by noise. We listen to music while in the car, while making dinner, or even on a hike. We turn the tv on just to have it in the background and, on that tv are loud people with loud personalities competing with louder personalities to determine who can be the loudest personality. Every time there is a lull in a conversation, we call it an “awkward silence.” Why are we afraid to be alone with our thoughts? Why does that thought fill a lot of us with an existential dread?
Christ often went out alone to pray in solitude. He went out in the wilderness alone to fast and be tempted. We also see that Jesus often went out alone to pray. All the times He was by Himself He was glorifying God. Just like He did when He wasn’t alone. How can the silence we try so hard to avoid allow us to be drawn closer to God?
The quieter you are, the more you hear.
“Those who know do not talk, those who talk do not know” – Lao Tzu
By keeping silent we become more receptive to our surroundings. How often do you find yourself outside and forget the beautiful singing of the surrounding birds? Then, in a moment of silence, you hear a call that reminds you that they are there and have been there for a good while. Depending on the type of bird the call and songs can be a wonderful soundtrack to your outdoor evening; a time to bask in the beauty of God’s creation. For me, it also serves as a constant reminder that God is always close by whether you are tuned into him or not. Similarly, how often do you find yourself sitting in your house and you hear the clock ticking. The clock was always ticking. The clock is always ticking. You can only hear it if you are quiet.
We all know people who love to talk but hate conversation. They talk about what they want to talk about with little to no regard for the words that come out of your mouth, if any. If we are in contact with them for long enough, we recognize that they only talk about the same 3-5 topics. Each time bringing nothing new to the table. If we refuse to keep quiet nor listen to what others have to say, we only share what we know and don’t learn anything.
The Inner Life
“A fool is known by his speech and a wise man by his silence”- Pythagoras
Being quiet helps us learn about our environment and recognize dangers that we would have missed if we were too busy talking. But it also allows us to gather information about ourselves. Often, people are so busy overthinking, worrying, ruminating, and analyzing that they are shutting down the underlying voice that is trying to speak. We forget to listen to our intuitions; we block ideas and solutions that are already in us from surfacing because our conscious minds make too much noise.
Nowadays most of us are in constant contact with other people. You wake up, you grab your phone, you check your social media. Where do you have the time to develop an inner life? The inner life is a contemplative and introspective aspect of yourself that is dependent on no other person but yourself. If you constantly have external input, what room do you have to think? You constantly end up reacting to others.
You can try this experiment. Next time you get in your car, don’t turn your radio on. Don’t turn a podcast on. Just be silent and see what happens.
Silence speaks louder than words
“The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause” – Mark Twain
In Dutch culture there is what is called the Silent March; a ritual that grew out of the silent Catholic walks in Amsterdam. This Catholic tradition was a reaction to a prohibition on their processions by the Protestant establishment. A march in silence, without prayer, singing, religious garments, or attributes, wasn’t prohibited, and so, a new ritual arose that survived to this day. As for the Silent Marches (often a response to senseless violence), people react in a way that transcends the many hollow words swirling around after a tragic event and our ‘culture of noise,’ in which violence so frequently occurs. Similarly, the annual Remembrance of the Dead answers the killing and murdering of all Dutch victims of wars and peacekeeping missions with two minutes of silence. It’s silence that makes these rituals so powerful; there’s no music, no words, or singing to distract oneself from the purpose. Moreover, what better resistance to the deafening noise of war and the loudness of violent people engaging in mindless bloodshed is there besides silence?
At the last trial of our savior, when He was asked to defend himself, He remained silent. He had already defended himself against the jews multiple times. That silence led him to Pilate. That silence led him to be crucified. That silence is why we are here today. That silence is why we are saved.
Silence is minimalistic and empty, yet imposing and powerful. We can’t verbalize silence, but everyone understands it. It’s all-encompassing: mysterious but clear, soothing but painful, idle but useful, consenting but rebellious, and elusive, but accessible to anyone.