On Silence

Some years ago, I attended a retreat. I had requested a room alone, thinking that the silence would be perfect — an opportunity to reflect, meditate, and so on. So when I got to my room, I eagerly closed the door. The silence was thunderous to the point that I wanted to escape. I wanted to drink.

Thankfully there wasn’t a drop of alcohol in sight and the silence did in fact turn out to be a powerful positive experience. In my arrogance, though, I had naively assumed there would be nothing frightening in that silence.

As Doris Grunsbach observed, “Absolute silence is noisy.” (Fifty Days of Solitude, p. 56). How true that is! In silence, we have nothing to listen to but that within which demands attention. We may face painful memories. We may face our failures, our vices, our inner darkness. As Grunbach said, “One must go into himself armed to the teeth but also wearing a full plate of armor.” (p. 91)

In large part, this is one reason why we avoid silence. We drown it out with noise. The noise of I-Pods. The noise of cell phones. The noise of empty talking. Being silent seems like a lost art.

You see, silence also offers gifts. Henri Nouwen observed that “…silence is the discipline by which the inner fire of God is tended and kept alive.” (The Way of the Heart, p.37) In silence, we can uncover creative energy. In silence, we can heal. Some such as Nouwen would even say that it is only in silence that we can hear the Voice of God.

This coming week, try being silent for a few minutes. Welcome it and welcome what it brings. Although the silence may initially be a place of fear and pain, take a deep breath and stay. You just might uncover gold.

Reflection: 1. How often do you cultivate silence? What do you fear about it?