listening to the silence

one of the great tragedies of our modern existence is the temptation to speech—to fill the quiet around us with the thoughts running through our heads. nothing is more feared in broadcasting than so-called dead air. this term suggests to me that the constant noise we seek is designed to fill a space that we think would otherwise be dead.

one of the hallmarks of religious life, however, is to stare at the silence around us and listen from it and learn from it. that silence is a golden tool in God's hand to fashion our souls. but in order for that silence to have any effect on our lives, we must listen to it, and enter in to it, and allow it to mold our lives.

the rule of the brotherhood requires that each brother spend fifteen minutes in each day in meditation. the primary objective in this time is to be quiet and still before the presence of God. all christians are well advised to make such silence a regular part of their life.

all too often our church services are filled with busyness; a hasty rushing from this to that, all to make sure we finish in time. moments of silence are often filled with shuffling, nervousness, and a sense that someone has forgotten what to do next. many presiders are made so uncomfortable by silence that they maintain a steady patter throughout the service: adding to the supple and stark words of the liturgy, they might supply commentary, wit, casualness, and a so-called personal touch that seems to make the liturgy more human, but instead succeeds only in making it less divine.

the quiet that fills the sky is a tremendous resource for each person. to sit and listen to the stars takes discipline and a real desire to learn from the quiet. at first, we tend to notice our own thoughts. they race past, and ask to be spoken. many of us have a habit of maintaining a running internal commentary on events—a way to escape the silence in our own minds.

but the silence is there, quietly waiting for us. anytime we turn to it, it is there. silence appears to our fearful selves to be the absence of meaning, the absence of life, the absence of value. but when we practice silence, we find that Christ is there, in the silence.

Jesus comes to us in that silence. he has already penetrated the darkest places that exist, and the darkness of silence is made glorious by his presence. more than that—because in the silence he is the only thing there, we learn to see in the silence nothing less than the very presence of God.

this has led some spiritual writers to praise silence as if noise is unredeemed. that would be an error—Christ is also present in the marketplace, the war-zone, and the operating room—but it is an understandable error, for to the well-tuned ear, Christ is most audible in silence.

in fact, it may well be that the only way to learn to truly see the face of Christ in everyone we meet is to learn to hear the love of Christ in silence.

spiritual essays