When is the last time that you got away from everything? When is the last time that you turned off your phone, your TV, your computer, your car, left your house, left your job and the people around you, and spent time in real, true, pure silence? Do you remember going for a walk, accompanied only by the sound of your feet on the path, the breeze in the air, and the animals in the brush? Do you remember the sound of silence?
Josh Raymond recalled a time when he took his family camping in a forest on the edge of the Rocky Mountains. After taking time to pitch the tent, set up the fire, and become acclimated to the camping ground, a ranger approached them and invited them to a presentation he was giving on the night sky. Josh and his family attended, but after a while, Josh left them to go check on the fire and their setup. And as he left behind all the noise of talking and activity, he encountered pure silence. He remembers the significance of those few minutes so distinctly because of how untouched and untainted it was.
Father Mike Martin joined Josh on The Inner Life to discuss the importance, significance, and power of silence, especially today in an age where silence is so much more difficult to come by.
It seems that as time goes on, we become more and more inundated with different stimuli and it becomes harder to “hear” the silence in our lives. Father Mike referred to silence as one of the most wonderful dimensions of the human experience, let alone the Catholic journey. But it’s becoming a rare commodity.
Noise is not intrinsically bad: a beautiful symphony, the sound of conversation and laughter, the soft cries of a baby, the toll of bells, or the clinking of glasses in a toast are all sounds that delight the human ear. But all things should be taken in moderation. When the noise becomes constant and unceasing, we become accustomed to it and there is no longer any room for respite. We are forced to fight to put life on pause.
Why is silence so important? It helps us detach from the “noise” of the world, and not just the literal noise. Our daily lives are rife with stress, anxiety, important decisions, deadlines, emotional drama, socializing, people’s perception of us, or our perception of others. The “noise” is infinite. But silence gives us the thing that Christ brings to every encounter: Peace. Silence allows us to clear our heads and speak to God.
We have been trained through our careers and education to constantly seek ways to be productive. What emails can I check? What chores can I finish? What tasks need to be done to advance this project? And most of the time, that’s the correct mentality. We shouldn’t waste time. But finding ways to regularly occupy a place of silence is far from wasteful.
“The lie that we’ve been fed is that there’s nothing worth our time in the silence, said Father Mike. “And most importantly, the biggest lie is the fear of missing out. Unless I’m staying connected, I might miss something. And invariably, we’re not missing anything.” Ironically, we’re missing out on a spiritual engagement with our Lord and with our contemplative nature when we reject silence in favor of useless stimulation.
Silence is the language of God. As imperfect, physical creatures, we turn to verbal and recited prayer as a way to express our united intentions, but a deeper form of prayer, mental prayer, is properly approached from a clear mind and an environment free of distraction. Jesus, the most perfect human being who ever walked the earth, was known to withdraw from His disciples and the crowds in order to go out into the wilderness and pray to His father: His forty-day fast in the desert, His agony in the Garden of Gethsemane.
“The report about him spread all the more, and great crowds assembled to listen to him and to be cured of their ailments, but he would withdraw to deserted places to pray.” (Luke 5:15-16)
Josh and Father Mike cautioned their listeners by emphasizing that there was a difference between silence and isolation. As Christians, we are not called to shun society in favor of living a life alone with God. We are called to be social creatures, to spread God’s word, and to engage others where they are. In fact, silence is not an isolated good in itself. Silence is a tool for growth in our relationship with God so that we can then return to the world better for it.
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