Friday, February 05, 2010
SILENCE IS A GIFT
I had almost forgotten this. Much as I had tried to maintain an atmosphere of peace and quiet around me, I had failed, and some time ago, imperceptibly, accepted the din and confusion of the world in which I live, and had even become used to it.
I live with six other people, five television sets, three computers, surround sound stereo, and various other "music"-emitting speakers. Very often there are extra people in the house. Outside, Navy jets routinely roar overhead and helicopters circle around looking for goodness knows what. A block away, across the field, 50,000 cars pass by on a daily basis.
But worse than all that, I had lost that interior silence, the one in which the soul is still and open to hearing from God. Long ago, I must have given in to allowing my thoughts to whirl around inside me, to allow fear and folly to run amok inside my head. For days on end I might find myself without a plan, merely racing from one duty to another, talking, shouting, complaining, and in a word, reacting to everything and everyone.
The externals cannot affect a soul whose eyes are fixed on God. Brother Lawrence, an obscure little brother who served in a French monastery long ago, was assigned to perpetual kitchen duty. But among the clatter and confusion of a busy kitchen, his spirit communed with God, and the simple man whom his superiors thought to be not much good for anything but scullery work, wrote about his life with Christ, which has now become one of the great spiritual classics, Practicing the Presence of God. You can read about him here:
Last weekend, when we got an actual snowstorm (rare, for my area), the outside world became unusually quiet; nothing was flying overhead and almost no cars were on the road. Two of our visiting relatives had left the day before, and two of the young people were out of town. The others slept in, and lo and behold, it was so still in here that I could actually listen to my own thoughts. And I felt uneasy! I suspect this is why the vast majority of people today keep the noise pumped up. It can be scary to be confronted with oneself, to have to tune into what is really going on inside of our minds and hearts. I actually felt kind of depressed.
And I think that just being allowed to experience that feeling of the empty nest made me sad and lonely. I was really surprised at those feelings, which hit me like a strong gust of wind in the face. So, immediately, I began to thank God that I do have a busy life, with loved ones all around me. And I realize how grateful I should be, that I have strength and health to do the work I have been given to do.
Beyond that, I believe that the Lord was speaking to me about the need to remain filled with the Holy Spirit, with Whom which there is always fellowship and never a need to feel lonely, whatever the circumstances may be. So that the issue becomes one of maintaining that interior silence, in which one receives all kinds of gifts and graces. Being filled with these, we begin to truly perceive what is going on around us, and we gain wisdom and insight. Instead of just reacting to what someone says, one whose interior life is quiet and well-ordered will understand the meaning behind the words, and be able to really respond to the speaker.
In short, I believe silence, both external and internal, makes us sane and centered. It takes us out of the driver seat. When we are silent, we can hear again. When we are silent, we stop competing; we refrain from shooting off that caustic, snappy comeback. We stop feeling the need to defend ourselves. We give the benefit of the doubt. We do not have to prove our points or ourselves. We trust God and His holy angels to intervene on our behalf and learn that blessed grace of acceptance.
"Keep silence before me, O islands; and let the people renew [their] strength: let them come near; then let them speak: let us come near together to judgment." Isaiah 41:1
"But the LORD [is] in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him." Habbakkuk 20:20