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The value of silence

Benjamin Church meets World

As I have grown in my spiritual life, I have come to treasure the value of silence. The American culture today does not have any idea of the value of silence. Just as we tend to fill our days with activities, we tend to fill our lives with sounds and music, conversation and noise. When we find ourselves alone, we would rather make calls on the cell phone, play some music, or turn on the television (or all three at once!) to avoid that uncomfortable silence. Even when we are with others, we tend to turn on background noise, to make sure that any lapses in conversation will be paved over with sound.

When I was working on my doctoral degree, I had to learn to appreciate silence because I cannot read or study or write with music or television in the background.  I knew that if I did not spend quality time reading, studying, and writing, I would never finish my doctorate, and so I had no choice but to live in silence for hours and hours.  After a while, I discovered that there is something great and awesome in the silence.

Think, for example, about an empty canvas; it has infinite possibilities because anything can be painted there.  Once you put something on the canvas, its possibilities are limited.  The same is true of silence.  There is something infinite about the silence which makes it so much greater than whatever noise we might make.  Sound comes and goes, and noises rise and fall, but the silence is eternal and unchanging.

Our brothers and sisters, the monks and nuns, are the ones who have discovered the secret of silence: God is present in the silence.  They have discovered that learning to spend time in silence is an amazing pathway to enter into deeper communion with God.

Pope Benedict talked frequently about the value of silence.  He taught that silence is absolutely essential in order for the Word of God to come to us and make His home in us. Reading that talk makes Pope Benedict’s decision to retire every more understandable: he felt the need to live in silence.  Pope Benedict’s last great message for the Church is his quite life of prayer.

I hear a lot of young Catholics today talk about the importance of being engaged in the culture. I constantly feel that the idea of “being engaged in the culture” gives a good-sounding reason to dive head first into the great, rushing flood of electronic chatter. I rarely hear Christians talk about the importance of being engaged in God’s Word. The truth is that we cannot be engaged with God unless we disengage from the noise in serious and deliberate ways.

Ruthlessly keeping the noise down in order to preserve silence in your life is absolutely indispensable for receiving and nourishing God’s word. +