People say that “Silence is Golden” but there do not seem to be many people who actually believe it. We are a society that does not value silence. I am not immune to this either, as I write I am listening to my music and my coffee pot as they both create happiness. When I was a child, I was taught what society deemed as important: math, history, languages, cultural norms, etc. Silence was not something I was taught to value. There were times I was told to be silent (I was a loud child) but I was never taught how to embrace silence. Let me phrase this a different way, chaos and noise can be overwhelming and hellish. Now don’t get me wrong, I love people and there are days that I absolutely adore the noise and chaos that is my life; there are other days though, where I am ready to go and hide in my room to watch Netflix all day. It is only within the last year or so that I have found silence to be something beautiful and enjoyable.
I have started walking a lot. It takes me about 40 minutes to walk from my home to where I work so that is 40 minutes of silence and contemplation. On this route, I walk down sleepy avenues, quiet squares, and bustling main streets, as I walk this route I take in the beauty that is around me. This type of beauty can include a variety of things such as the blue skies, the trees, the grass, yards, birds, etc. I am quiet and I observe what is occurring around me. It is amazing what beauty can be found when you take the time to be silent. Have you ever truly seen the complexity of life around us, the beauty of art, the joy in a smile? Try it out. Examine the intricacies of daily life and tell me that you are not amazed in the silence.
I have recently come across the writings of a priest from the 1940s-1960s named Thomas Merton. Thomas was a man who desired nothing more than to spend time alone with God. He acknowledged the need of pastors, missionaries, and the noisier ministries, but he also recognized that he himself was called to silence. He stayed at a monastery in Louisville where he spent his days writing and being silent with God. Let us strive for this, not to cut ourselves off from people but to recognize that we live in a world that vies for our attention every moment, whether it is social media, chores, work schedules, television, etc. We are bombarded by noise.
Throughout the history of the church, silence has been integral. I know that is surprising right? It seems like every Christian I meet (myself included) wants to shout out their opinion for the world to hear. One of my favorite passages in the Bible comes from the Old Testament. In the book of 1 Kings Chapter 19 verses 9-18, we read the story of Elijah. For the sake of expediency, I will not read the entire passage but summarize it. Elijah had just challenged the religious leaders of the day to a duel to see whose God would listen. Baal fell short while Jehovah had come through. Elijah prayed silently to God for Him to make himself known. God responded. Jezebel (the queen who frankly was a less than pleasant entity) vowed to kill Elijah and so he fled to the desert. In the desert, he asked God to kill him. God instead sent food and drink to Elijah and told him to go to the mountain. On the mountain, there was a raging fire, an earthquake, and a strong wind at different times. God was not in any of these things. At the end of all of this, God spoke in a whisper to Elijah. He encouraged and comforted him and then sent him out on his next journey.
We are surrounded by a cacophony of noise and it is tempting to be drawn into the chaos to make our voices heard. Instead of this, let us take time to be silent, to hear God and to hear the world around us. Throughout history God regularly speaks into the silence, let us go to where God is.