Silence is golden, so why is there so much noise inside of us, to say nothing of the pulsing world of social media around us? This cacophony cannot cancel the command: “Be still, and know that I am God” (Ps 46:10).
The belching of buses and the roar of trailer trucks; the crunch of cement drills; the siren screech of police cars and ambulances; the drone of unwanted background music in waiting rooms and on elevators—all such noise makes it even more imperative to set aside times of intentional quiet to preserve silence for the sake of hearing God’s word in our heart and having the courage to act in accordance with it.
Spiritual masters concur that only in stillness can we hear God’s word and discern its meaning. Silence quiets countless distractions and creates space for us to abide with God in the hermitage of our heart. A starting point is to bring to closure our possibly addictive curiosity to access without cease the information highway. Perhaps now is the time to go on a “cyberfast” that enables us to enjoy extended times of stillness for the sake of listening to the Holy Spirit’s leading.
Noise levels rise in our minds and imaginations when we focus too intently on our own plans and projects, stirring the already raging waters of our emotions to a boiling point. The hammer of anxiety pounds on our heart; it starts to beat faster; we gulp for breath as we conjure up one catastrophic scene after the other. Our minds are like racing cars. It’s as if we run in endless loops, oblivious to the peace that awaits us when we cross the finish line.
Silence is not a luxury but a necessity for every believer. It lets us listen to God and put aside whatever hinders this encounter with the Divine. When the wind howled and waves threatened to capsize their boat, the disciples could not believe Jesus was asleep (see Mt 8:24). He rested undisturbed by the chaos caused by the storm and calmed it with a word. He silenced the fear his disciples felt, and he will do the same for us.
The more we seek God’s presence in inner silence, the more we discover new pathways to prayer. The complexity of life gives way to the simplicity of being guided by God. To honor the Lord with lip service only is no longer an option for us. Inner silence heightens our awareness of an eternal purpose that might be lost to us in the noisy stretches of time devoid of stillness. It invites us to pray and to ponder where we are and where God wants us to be in the future.
However important times of outer silence may be, in and by themselves they are not enough. We need to give priority to listening to the Spirit’s invitation to dive below the surface of life to the still center of our soul. There we can worship God with no need for words. In the adoration chapel of our Church or at sunrise on a deserted beach, we experience not merely a physiological state of calm but a peace so deep that it has an energizing effect on our external activity.
Silence is not sterile. It gives birth to communion with God and to a better quality of communication with others. We bring to our everyday life in family, church, and society what we have gleaned in our quiet times of simply being with God. At this still point of surrender to the mystery in the core of our being, we might try to place ourselves imaginatively in the presence of Jesus when he encountered the Samaritan woman and said to her:
…believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such to worship him (Jn 4:21-23).
Jesus invites this future disciple of his to a renewal of heart, telling her that worship must be rooted in inner dispositions of wonder, awe, and reverence, not merely in outer rituals.
Divine directives heard in silence then stir us to action: “What I tell you in the dark, utter in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim upon the housetops” (Mt 10:27). From Holy Scripture and the teachings of spiritual masters as ancient as the desert fathers and mothers, we learn that the best way to seek silence in a noisy world is to cultivate the art and discipline of inner stillness. Only when we recollect ourselves can we escape the threat of constant fragmentation caused by the unavoidable noise that pulsates through the highways and byways of life.
In the words of the Syrian monk, Isaac of Nineveh (+700), “Many are avidly seeking but they alone find who remain in continual silence…If you love truth, be a lover of silence. Silence like the sunlight will illuminate you in God and will deliver you from the phantoms of ignorance. Silence will unite you to God…”