What silence is not …

We need to be clear what silence is not. In the first place, silence is not just an absence of speech or sound or noise, any more than peace is merely an absence of conflict. Silence has its own being, its own reality, its own richness, its own presence, and its own nurturing power. True silence is an affirmation, not a negation, and is the precondition, as noted earlier, of true reverence for speech. Just as there is “a time to speak,” there is also “a time to be silent” (Ecclesiastices 3:7).

Second, true silence is not to be confused with its counterfeits, its deformations. Most have known at some time or another the destructive silence of someone’s bitter refusal to communicate – the so called “silent treatment”. Further, we have known, by either observation or experience, the silence that simply cuts another off in disdain, rejection. And we have experienced silence that is merely empty, nervous, useless.

Third, silence is not an end in itself. Exterior silence is for interior quiet, and both aspects of silence are for the world, all dimensions of the word. The word – whether it be the divine Word, human words, the word of the indwelling Spirit in our own hearts, or “the word” in the communication of arts or the created word – the word has its origin in silence. It can only be heard in silence, and if it is to be effective and fruitful, it must rest in that receptive silence and be nurtured to maturity there.

What, then, is real silence? It is a positive receptivity, a creative waiting, a welcoming openness. It is openness to God, to our deepest selves, to others, both as individual persons and as the human community, to beauty and truth and goodness, to mystery – and to the word of Scripture that reveals God, to the Word who is God’s son. The word that brought the created world into being was spoken out of the creative silence of God. Scripture is full of the call to “Hear the word of the Lord!” And the daily prayer of Jews today, the Shema, begins with that ringing call from Deuteronomy: “Hear, O Israel”.

If we are to hear, truly and deeply, we must be silent enough to really listen. “But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother: my soul is like a weaned child that is with me” (Psalm 131:2). “In returning and rest you will be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength” (Isaiah 30:15).

(Silence, Solitude, Simplicity – A Hermit’s Love Affair with a Noisy, Crowded and Complicated World by Sister Jenny Hall OSB, p. 72-73)

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One Response to “What silence is not …”

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