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Is It Hard to Be Silent?

After reading about monk’s commitment to silence I was up late and engaged with just a portion of the great movie Into Great Silence, which is based on an amazing book, An Infinity of Little Hours. It’s the story of Carthusian Monks who keep silent mostly reserving speech only when absolutely necessary. Here’s just a clip:

It’s an amazing movie and it’s pretty long, nearly 3 hours. A friend mentioned to me that he actually drifted off during the film in the theatre and when he awoke he wasn’t lost at the movie at all. He hadn’t slowed down in some time and his body took advantage and “told him” to recharge a bit more deeply.

But the large question is how comfortable are we with silence. At our student mass we start out with “calling for silence” which when I look at the words they almost sound dumb. “Now we’re going to be silent.” It’s very countercultural and the students love it. We ring the bells and draw people more deeply into the mindfulness of the moment of being with God, of the need to be no place but there in that moment. We’re silent again after communion together as one body in Christ.

At times it seems awkward to me, but the students and the permanent community tell me otherwise. They remind me of their need for quiet, for silence and it’s made me reflect on how much noise exists in my life. The buzzing of my cell phone instead of a loud ring tone even makes noise to alert me of more sounds coming my way. My dog barks sometimes at an ear piercing screech. My wife and I are talkers and sharers, filling up our days with chatter. Often my wife puts a TV or radio on moments after she enters the house. Our staff at St. Joe’s is very talkative and loud and we like it that way. We enjoy each other’s company, laughter and presence.

And so silence to me and to those around me doesn’t come naturally. But lately, this lent, I’ve been craving it. Hawaii, was quite silent at times and I enjoyed just some of the natural sounds of the water and the wind as we gazed into the sunset or looked out from Diamond Head’s peak.

Right now it’s well into the morning here in Buffalo. My body is still adjusting back to East Coast time. I crashed today at 9PM and awoke at 11p and headed to bed, waking up again at 2:30AM and the dog got cranky and wanted to eat, his body thrown off by my own unnatural rhythms as well. Right now he’s lying next to me as I type. It’s become my favorite time where the silence envelops us and we can sit and just be still for hours at a time. I start to type and reflect in the silence but even the clacking of these keys break the easier stillness, which if I’m honest, I need daily.

Silence is hard for most, especially in a world of noise. But it is in that silence that we often meet God a bit more intimately than we do otherwise. And in that silence we also find ourselves sometimes feeling uneasy at our lives, our situations. Our worries rise to the surface, even some superficial ones. God points out where we are most uncomfortable in our lives and calls to us in the silence to address that.

This past January I went away with the students to Kentucky on an alternative break. I had been feeling uneasy at that point and wasn’t really feeling engaged with my work. But I had plenty of time for silence that week and I took advantage of the small chapel from time to time or a nice long walk in the woods. Even during service time, I found myself talking less and packing groceries or tossing wood in silence. And there I was able to admit my worries to God about my life and was able to hear God calling me further into discovering where I feel most called with my students and where I needed to address matters with friends, co-workers, students and family. In the silence, I found not only myself, but God—calling me into relationship and comforting my afflictions, prodding me to repair relationships and challenging me into a deeper sense of ministry.

Today, I love the silence. Sometimes I even get annoyed when it’s unnecessarily broken. In the bible “the fool” is often portrayed as the one who chatters incessantly about nothing. While the wise one is quiet, waiting until the right moment to speak. I find that to be especially helpful as an image for me as a spiritual director, where indeed, I need to listen more than talk and wait in silence for the right words to come to me.

And then, and only then, can I break the silence in hopes of helping another find God.

And hope that I too, in the silence am patient enough to wait for him to come again, and whisper to me in the silence that I love.

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