Cars careen down the road, auto-tuned radio music thundering out the rolled-down windows. Life in living rooms is deadened by the drone of powered-on televisions. Bus stops and waiting rooms are deprived of eye contact and cordial smiles as headphones and scrolling have taken over.
We live in a world dominated by noise — distracting sounds and images that pull us away from what should truly claim our hearts and minds. With so many forms of communication and entertainment surrounding us every day, it is difficult to escape into solitude and silence. Silence’s scarcity, though, does not mean that we are not in desperate need of it. On the contrary, we need silence now more than ever.
The past several months have been especially clamorous. The news, with its sensationalism and pessimism, has exacted even more control over people. Streaming services have released more and more content in an effort to drown worry in a whirlpool of colorful unreality. Social media usage has increased as true community and intimacy have diminished under quarantine and distancing guidelines. Saldy, these astounding levels of noise and distraction have only served to further banish peace from our lives. We are living with the anxiety of radio static and need to break free.
Silence has always seemed daunting to me. Since childhood, I have been a chatterbox. Whether written in ink or spoken to whoever would listen, words never seemed to elude me. During my teenage years, I discovered a deep appreciation of music, and rarely did I turn the keys in the ignition of my ’05 Ford Ranger without also turning the knob of my radio up, up, up. By the time I got to college, “unwinding” often took the form of becoming absorbed in a television show or basketball game.
Time for silence did not become a common feature of my days until I said “I do” and moved into a little white house with my husband. In that house, we had a room that we filled with books and very little noise. We developed a habit of starting each day in that room, drinking coffee and entering into silent prayer. In the beginning, those mornings brought me more trial than comfort. To exist in quietude for that period of time when even the birds were jabbering felt like a great challenge. Over time, though, I found that I could hear God’s voice more clearly on those mornings and, consequently, throughout my days.
Recently, that beloved routine has been replaced by a new and beautiful routine — that of caring for my newborn daughter. While I rarely have time to sit alone in silence like I used to, I have found that the Lord is still very present in the quiet rhythms of my day with my daughter. He is present as I quietly nurse her and as I tiptoe across the house with the laundry basket, doing my best to not wake the snoozing babe. He is present as we take our morning walk under his yellow-hued trees and as we rock back and forth in the nursery chair.
The Lord has been teaching me much during this stage. He has shown me that there is abundant love in silence. Every day, I fall deeper in love with my child who does not yet know how to speak. I fall deeper in love with the Lord who has also reminded me that he is present at all times — especially in those moments or hours when noise is absent. He is not in the wind, nor the earthquake, nor the fire, but in the “light silent sound” (1 Kgs 19:12). He makes himself known in quietude, visiting us when our hearts and minds are still.
Consequently, he has also revealed to me the many ways in which I need to disengage from the world so as to arrive at this stillness. Social media, the news and dialogue (or, as is often the case when I am speaking, monologue) all tempt me away from that light, silent sound. The wind, the earthquake and the fire appear far more riveting. Learning to step away from these sources of noise, however, has enabled me to uncover a greater peace in my heart. For, when not filled with such distractions, there is more room in my heart for his presence. Of course, this is an ongoing process — a continual Lent of sorts. There are days when I can tuck my phone in my nightstand drawer and lose the external. There are many more days when the world begs me to pay attention to it, and I capitulate. Yet, through it all, he is patient.
A guide during these days has been Cardinal Robert Sarah’s book, “The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise.” Over a year ago, I pulled this book from my shelf and began to read. A few pages in, however, I set it aside; I was not ready to receive its contents. Then, a month before the arrival of my daughter, the Holy Spirit prompted me to take it up again. This time, his words inflamed my heart: “The greatest mysteries of the world,” he writes, “are born and unfold in silence. How does nature develop? In the greatest silence. A tree grows in silence, and springs of water flow at first in the silence of the ground. The sun that rises over the earth in its splendor and grandeur warms us in silence. What is extraordinary is always silent.”
It is this final image of the sun warming us in silence that I come back to time and again. Our Father is the sun — ever present and constantly caring for us, helping us to grow and thrive. And he, like the sun, is silent. I must turn toward the sky more to marvel at the sun and all that it does for us. I must turn toward the Lord more and marvel at all that he does for us. In silence, I must gaze in wonder and awe.
Despite what the world tells us, silence — in all of its forms — is beautiful and draws us into a deeper relationship with Christ. If we are lacking peace in our lives, it is often a sign of a “dictatorship of noise.” Visiting the Lord in adoration, praying the Liturgy of the Hours, spending time in nature, attending a silent retreat, and fasting from social media and television are all sure avenues to liberating ourselves from the bonds of this menacing dictator. While stepping away from the world and into greater silence may seem frightening and burdensome, it actually evicts fear and trial from life. For God is in the silence. He is silence. And, therefore, when we find silence, we find God.