Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven, and you upon earth; therefore let your words be few. (Ecclesiastes 5:2)
In a recent article on the National Catholic Register website, Dan Burke wrote on the importance of silence.
In our culture, noise is everywhere. Day after day, our peace is invaded by television screens at gas pumps screaming ads and programming at us, music in stores, and thousands of television, internet and radio encounters that pump this poison into our souls.
Recently, I spent some time with a relative who appears to be spiritually dead. Her daily routine looks something like this: Rise, turn on the TV and get ready. Leave the TV on until daily activities take her from home — time to get in the car and turn on the radio to listen to music or talk radio or to make phone calls. Once back home, turn on the TV again until it is time to go to sleep (or sleep with it on). When I asked if she ever allowed for silence (as she reports that she prays often and is “spiritual”), she guffawed as if I were suggesting she enjoy a bowl of dry oatmeal.
And so in that vein…
— 1 —
In Letter #22 of The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, the senior demon Screwtape is lecturing his nephew and novice tormentor Wormwood on the use of noise and how to use it to disrupt a soul’s ability to grow in intimacy with God.
Music and silence—how I detest them both! How thankful we should be that ever since our Father entered Hell—though longer ago than humans, reckoning in billions, could express—no square inch of infernal space and no moment of infernal time has been surrendered to either of those abominable forces, but all has been occupied by Noise—Noise, the grand dynamism, the audible expression of all that is exultant, ruthless, and virile—Noise which alone defends us from silly qualms, despairing scruples and impossible desires. We will make the whole universe a noise in the end. We have already made great strides in this direction as regards the Earth. The melodies and silences of Heaven will be shouted down in the end.
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Dan Burke again:
Those who understand the realities of how God works and speaks to us know that silence is critical for the health of our souls and to develop any degree of intimacy with God. We must cultivate times of silence daily if we are to learn to hear his voice. If the Lord seems a mere distant reality to you, maybe it’s because the enemy has sucked you into his plan of noisy distraction. He is working overtime to ensure that God’s voice never makes it past the noise you have allowed into your life: the noise of busy-ness, the noise of entertainment, the noise of news, the noise of music (even Christian music), and even the noise of a prayer life limited to vocal prayer (yup).
So maybe it is time to choose to face the silence, even if it means a bit of spiritual surgery. I have never met anyone who has taken this challenge and has regretted it.
We must be still to know that God is, and to find the healing and fulfillment that can only come through a living relationship with him. Ironically, it is when we are surrounded by silence that we can hear the most.
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When we are surrounded by silence we can hear the most. This has been my experience as well.
Last night I read the following paragraph in a new book I’m enjoying and I think the author nails down the consequences of our failure to set aside time for quiet reflection, meditation and silence.
God is never so hidden for long, provided our eyes are open. Indeed no one grows in faith without finding signs of God’s help and intervention in daily life, small favors that could be dismissed as chance until we begin to notice their frequency. Fragmentary, perhaps, seemingly unlinked, these quiet signs reveal a personality of great kindness in God. But even more, they may reinforce the pain of those times when his concealment seems to be again steady and enduring. – Contemplative Provocations by Fr. Dan Haggerty, page 31.
When consumed by noise we are unable to notice the interlinking of the small (or large) blessings in our lives. We can miss the Divine Connection to the kindness of God. By not finding those links we feel abandoned and it follows that we are unaware and ungrateful, burying our attention into Fruit Ninja on our smartphones or whatever cacophony we pump through earbuds and into our brains.
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In a recent article on the Crisis magazine website our own Bishop James Conley provided an insight into the importance of silence and a valuable lesson he learned about how it works in concert with beauty:
In my first semester, I discovered that new seminarians needed to find a spiritual director. A number of my brother seminarians recommended Fr. Anton Morganroth, one of our professors.
Fr. Morganroth was a Jewish convert to the Catholic faith who fled Nazi Germany with his family in 1938. He was a tall, imposing figure. He was both loved and feared by the seminarians.
One day I mustered up the courage to introduce myself to Fr. Morganroth and I asked him if he would take me on for spiritual direction. He gazed down at me in silence, sizing me up, and then simply said “report to my quarters next Tuesday at 7pm.”
After dinner in the refectory, Fr. Morganroth would return to his room to play his piano—he played brilliantly. If you had an appointment with him he would leave the door ajar. You were to simply push the door open and take a seat in a chair next to the piano.
I remember making my way down the hallway toward Fr. Morganroth’s rooms for the first time, hearing beautiful classical piano music coming from his room. The door was ajar. I stood outside the door for a moment and just listened to the music. Eventually I pushed the door open, entered the room and took a seat. He looked over at me from the piano and nodded in approval.
I sat there, listening to the music. There was a musical score on the piano—a Mozart sonata—but Fr. Morganroth had his eyes closed the whole time. He was not reading the music. A few minutes went by. Then five minutes. Then seven minutes. Finally ten minutes went by. He completed the piece and there was silence.
I’ll never forget that silence.
We were both caught up in the beauty of the moment. It was probably the first time I had ever really heard classical music at such close range. It was something like perfection.
After a few moments of silence, eager to get started, I broke the silence and said “so, Father, are we going to have spiritual direction?”
Fr. Morganroth turned. He stared right through me and said “son, zat was your spiritual direction, you can go now.”
I returned the next week and we began our regular sessions, which were wonderful. But it was the beauty of that music that led the way; that opened my heart and mind to the realities of the spiritual life.
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“A monk is a man who has freed his intellect from attachment to material things and by means of self-control, love, psalmody and prayer cleaves to God.”
~ St. Maximus the Confessor (580-662)
You may not have the desire to become a monk but you can still work on freeing your intellect from material things through silence, prayer and beauty.
Our high school’s vocal choir students did just that after the events of a trying week.
Have a great week. Try to set aside some time for the beauty of creation.
Pray. Observe. Listen.
You’d be surprised at what you hear in the silence.
Photo credit: Gargoyle at Paisley Abbey in Scotland