Silence

monk-praying-sunset
Most of us live lives in which silence is difficult, in a world characterised by noise, and in a society in which silence is viewed negatively. People who desire silence are thought of as being anti-social, being “withdrawn” or depressed. A desire for silence is likely to be viewed by most other people as eccentric, or even pathological.

We are surrounded by noise, not only noise generated by others, but by environmental noise like the sound of traffic, and the sounds of radio and music and television. We are often pressed to create noise by engaging in conversation even when we do not wish to.

Many people seem positively afraid of silence. They seem driven by the need to talk whether to people nearby or through mobile telephones, or to listen to noise (which they would almost certainly defend as music!) via headphones. Endless chatter, most of it not involving any significant communication, dominates any gathering of two or more people. In many homes, television, often at high volume, plays out even when here is no-one watching it, or even in the room.

Noise is both external and internal, and noise is both active and passive. It is external noise that is most often identified, but it is internal noise that can be more difficult to eliminate: the noise of “thoughts”, the internal “sound tracks” in the mind, the conversations with the self. Active noise is that which is intentionally created – music, speech, traffic. Passive noise is that which simply exists in the environment: wind, the rustling of leaves. Even in the most remote desert, such passive noise exists and, in the absence of active noise, can seem to have an excessive volume.

Silence is, essentially, the absence of sound. Few people ever experience anything approaching absolute silence. Even in acoustic laboratories specifically designed to eliminate all noise, a person will usually hear something (for example, the beating of her heart or the sound of his breathing).

We seek silence as part of our quest for solitude, but solitude does not presuppose silence. We usually assume that silence must be experienced in solitude. However, it can be a measure of the depth of a relationship – love or friendship – that two or more people can sit together in comfortable silence.

While the Christian spiritual life does not require permanent silence, and such a state (like that of the traditional Trappist monks) is really an exception, even an aberration, some silence is necessary for spiritual health and growth. It may a few minutes in a day, or perhaps an hour or two during a week, or perhaps a day a month. The time must be realistically decided; anyone unaccustomed to and uncomfortable with silence needs to begin with short periods, and anyone with personal responsibilities needs to take those into account. Christian silence cannot be self-indulgent or a means of escaping responsibilities.

It can be beneficial to have “planned silence” – that is, to set aside a regular period of time to be silent. Each individual will have to discover what appropriate silence is for herself or himself. One may really require physical withdrawal to some remote and isolated place; another may be able to experience it in an inner city park or sitting in a bedroom. Some may find “walking silence” beneficial, or “silent activity” may be more suitable for others (for example, working silently in a garden). Some who work in cities may find sitting in an essentially deserted church (of which here are now many!) appropriate.

We are not essentially seeking silence to study or to pray or to meditate or to write, although silence may facilitate or even be necessary for all those activities.

We seek silence to be quiet in the Presence of God.

For readings on silence, see: https://citydesert.wordpress.com/?s=silence

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