The talk of the angels is always a song, but the language of God is silence. I recall approximately four-and-a-half years ago watching a very beautiful video about priestly discernment called ‘Fisher’s of Men’, and at one point a religious sister says these words: “If you look at nature and the way things grow, they grow in silence. You look at the trees and the flowers, and you look even at human beings, we grow in silence; and a vocation is very similar, and a relationship with God is very similar, and it grows in silence in an environment where one’s inner ears are opened to hear God, who only speaks in silence.”
I had the incredible opportunity to spend two days with one of my sisters who I do not get to see very often, and what a blessing it was too. On my first night with her, shortly after we arrived at her apartment, she took me out to go two-stepping. Now, two-stepping is a lot of fun, and it’s a pretty good recreational activity, but the whole time that I was there something just kept on nagging at me in the back of my mind, and I could not quite put my finger on it. Despite the fact that some people were doing some things that I consider questionable, the dancing itself was not inherently bad, so it wasn’t that. I wasn’t entirely sure why I felt so uneasy about it. I had only ever been to a club once before in my life, and the dancing that took place at that club definitely was not good dancing, and on top of that there were images of scantily clad women being projected on screens located at every corner of every wall of the club; so perhaps it was just that my experience of that club was feeding into my experience of this club. To sort through my thoughts, I found a table near the back of the building to sit down. Once there I began to Facebook message a friend of mine who I am accustomed to having deep philosophical/theological discussions with, and throughout the course of this short conversation I think I found my answer: it was just too noisy.
I have nothing against music per se, but I find that there is something very inordinate about constantly surrounding oneself with loud noise and distractions. Is dancing wrong? No, it’s not. Is music wrong? No, I don’t think it is, and I don’t want anyone to think that I am critiquing either of those right now. Can some music and some dance be bad, without a doubt; but what that is is not the point of this article. Rather, my point here is to emphasize the necessity of silence in our lives.
Of course, all of this brings up the question of why we do this, Why do we constantly bombard ourselves with all this noise and distraction? Like many people, I learn from experience, and as a fallen human being I constantly allow myself to be bombarded by the selfsame noise and distraction, and I began to ask myself the same question. “What are we getting at?” I asked my friend. “I have been listening to a lot of music since I arrived at my sister’s place, ” I continued, “and a lot of what I have listened to has given me a sense of belonging, but when it is over I feel empty and hollow.” Now, it seems almost to be an undeniable fact that music affects the soul in a very powerful way. What does this mean for us? Well, it means that good music affects us in a positive way and bad music in a negative way. What good and bad music is in my understanding of it can be addressed at another time. For now, though, it will suffice to say that much of our music today affects us in a negative way. It gives us a certain sense of belonging and even a sensation of ecstasy while we listen, but soon after it leaves us entirely unfulfilled and unedified.
Further, it conditions us to always need noise going on around us. This is true for television and video games too. We just cannot sit still and be quiet in our idle time. We feel the need for loud noises, bright colors, and lots of movements just so that we don’t feel like our lives are being wasted. But, what are we getting at? I just recently heard a wonderful homily on prayer by a Benedictine Monk at Sunday Mass here at the college, and it put things in a new perspective for me. Most of us know already that prayer is essentially a conversation between God and man, but most of us don’t like to do it because we don’t feel as though we are getting anything out of it. Personally, I believe that part of the problem is that we feel like we need to get anything out of prayer in the first place, but I digress. What this priest said that resonated so strongly with me is this:
“What is the first step of any conversation? It is to listen. When you have listened to all that the other person has to say, then you speak.”
What happens, in my experience, is that when I neglect to allow myself to sit in silence and get rid of all the noisy distractions that surround me, I neglect to let God speak to me. I never give God the chance to enter into my life, to intrude upon my day, and initiate conversation with me. After all, it is always God who initiates, never us. And, since I don’t give God the chance to speak to me, I don’t give myself the chance to respond. I never get to engage in conversation with the Creator of the universe. The most beautiful Being in all existence approaches me in silence, and I don’t allow Him to do that. What are to do then? Well, not much. Even if we were to offer Him five minutes, that would be enough. If He can multiply five loaves of bread to feed thousands, then He can multiply five minutes of your day to feed your soul. The first, and perhaps most difficult thing to do, is to simply make ourselves present, because when we do that, He can handle the rest.
Approach God, present yourself to Him, and just be okay with silence.
“And behold, the Lord passed by, and a strong wind tore the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him, and said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?'” (1 Kgs. 19:11b-13)