Most of us don't know how much we need silence, or for that matter, how much silence we need. But when life is too loud to hear yourself think, it's definitely too loud to hear God speak.
It's been a long time since I've been able to go on retreat. Of course, if I'm honest, that can't be true because I've managed to do so many other things since my last one -- too many other things. Checkboxes and requirements aren't all bad. Sometimes they're what you need to force you to do what you know you should -- even what you actually want -- to do.
At any rate, last weekend, I found myself on a mostly silent retreat. As round four of COVID is winding down, as we're still waiting for the hurricane debris to be picked up, as I've been struggling to catch up with disrupted work, it couldn't have come at a better time. The level of noise has been a bit higher than usual of late -- certainly higher than where it should be, so I looked forward to the promise of quiet.
Most of us don't know how much we need silence, or for that matter, how much silence we need. But when life is too loud to hear yourself think, it's definitely too loud to hear God speak. All your body parts might be there, but the connective tissue isn't. Silence isn't the empty space between things; it's what holds things together.
There's a kind of built-in irony whenever someone talks or writes about silence. And yet, some of the most memorable moments of our lives -- the things we hold on to when there isn't much else to hold on to -- are wrapped in it.
That's especially true in our relationship with God. The prayer that shapes us most isn't filled with our words, our voices, our cries for help; it lies on the other side of all that, in inner space where stars light the darkness and a tangible presence warms all that has gone cold. Prayer might begin with putting it all out there, with laundry lists of concerns and heartfelt needs, with fears and worries, disappointments and regrets, with hopes and deep desires. But if we never move beyond all that, we've only lived half of the spiritual life God wants to give us.
But oh, how easy it is to turn off the smartphone and tone down the conversation. But when we do, if we do, we often discover just how much noise is locked deep inside us. Turning that off, or at least toning it down, is a whole other matter. Internal voices are often louder than anything external. The self-talk or constant commentary that runs beneath everything is a current that often carries us away from our true selves and from God. It's amazing how far we can wander from ourselves and from the one who, by grace, dwells in us.
I think most of us believe that solitude equals loneliness; that all the noise we surround ourselves with will keep us from realizing just how alone we are in this world. Nothing could be further from the truth. Silence isn't absence, but presence. Silence and solitude lead us to communion. "Be still and know that I am God" is not a command but an invitation. When a few moments of silence manage to break through the noise, we don't experience loneliness at all, but rather the enveloping presence of the God "in whom we live, and move, and have our being."
Silence is a scarce commodity. Noise is everywhere -- even in church. We're always moving: onto the next prayer or reading or song. We usually aren't given anywhere near enough time to "recall our sins" or articulate the "prayers we hold in the silence of our hearts." I don't know if you have built silence into your life. I do know that I haven't for much too long. And that needs to change.
- Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother of eight. Inspired by the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, she is an author, speaker, and musician, and provides freelance editorial services to numerous publishers and authors as the principal of One More Basket. Find Jaymie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.